Manny Farber

  • The Venice Film Festival

    THE GREAT OCTOPUS, THE Venice Film Festival, whose tentacles pull in every film except the Baillie-Lehr-Snow structuralism, which is just too radical, takes place in a building as bland and depressingly familiar as Volker Schlondorff’s Strohfeuer. Neither the film palace nor the film (a young woman’s bid for freedom from her marital grind, but Schlondorff doesn’t give her a fighting chance) has a hint of Venice’s eccentric grandeur. There’s nothing Italian about the brand new two-story mausoleum which has to be perked up with massive freestanding bouquets of gladiolas (visiting sex bombs like

  • Raoul Walsh: “He used to be a big shot.”

    OFTEN DURING THE HEYDEY of the Zanuck-CohnMayer studio warlords, metaphorical approximations of the studio setup appeared in film after film. In the depression highlife movies—Holiday and Easy Living—the studio is a corpulent rich man’s silvery baroque mansion, the studio employees are a giddy loquacious parasitic family that chews up his wallet. In the Shane-Red River mythic westerns a cattle baron, chairbound Ryker or Tom Dumbson, functions as though he’s running a movie studio by driving men and cattle into broken-willed obedience. Half of the Capra-Sturges library is involved with

  • The End of Summer and Women in Love

    One of the strongest images in Ozu’s The End of Summer (1961) is the crematorium smokestack at the top of a bland, inexpressive landscape, symbolizing the end of an old rake, who sneaked a day at the bicycle races with his mistress and died of overexposure. The sinewy sturdy old man (Ganjiro Nakamura, who looks like Picasso himself with his cockiness and golden sturdy vigor) is the only rambunctious member of a very restrained, duty-conscious family—the invariable cornerstone around which Ozu constructs his pared down home drama perfections. The tactics of the long lead-in to the crematorium

  • Loving, Zabriskie Point, Topaz, The Damned, and Au Hasard Balthazar

    Despite many good things (the first notable eyes since Per Oscarrson’s in Hunger in Segal’s sodden performance, Eva Marie Saint’s intelligent and tense mimicries emphasizing a hungry, tensed-for-disaster face, the dress shop scene which has a compassionate pessimism but stops before all the material is exploited), Loving at times looks disturbingly like the “two together” cigarette commercials. Actually, the movie is a fifty-fifty movie: it shows a sensitive touch for a man who is a complete mess, whose habits are wrong from the ground up, and, along with a sharply acted wife, creates this pain

  • Space in Film

    Space is the most dramatic stylistic entity—from Giotto to Noland, from Intolerance to Weekend. How an artist deploys his space, seldom discussed in film criticism but already a tiresome word of the moment in other art, is anathema to newspaper editors, who believe readers die like flies at the sight of esthetic terminology.

    If there were a textbook on film space, it would read: “There are several types of movie space, the three most important being (1) the field of the screen, (2) the psycho logical space of the actor, (3) the area of experience and geography that the film covers.” Bresson deals

  • The Ten Best: Black Girl, Ma Nuit Chez Maud, Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son, ←→, Ghronik der Anna Magdalena Bach, Le Gai Savoir, _The Wild Bunch

    THE TEN BEST: 1) Black Girl 2) Ma Nuit Chez Maud 3) Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son 4) ←→ 5) Ghronik der Anna Magdalena Bach 6) Le Gal Savoir 7) a tie among three Hollywood eccentricities, The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider, The Rain People 8) High School and La Raison Avant La Passion 9) Coming Apart 10) They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and La Femme Infidèle.

    One. Black Girl could have been sentimental pro-African anti-white (a very quiet, particular, personal story: an obstinate, naive Sengalese, taken to France as a mother’s helper, finds that she has no freedom of movement when she gets there. Thrilled to

  • Wavelength, Standard Time, ←→, and One Second in Montreal

    THE COOL KICK OF of Michael Snow’s Wavelength was in seeing so many new actors—light and space, walls, soaring windows, and an amazing number of color-shadow variations that live and die in the windowpanes—made into major esthetic components of movie experience. In Snow’s Standard Time, a waist-high camera shuttles back and forth, goes up and down, picking up small, elegantly lighted square effects around a living room very like its owner: ordered but not prissy. A joyous spiritual little film, it contains both his singular stoicism and the germinal ideas of his other films, each one like a

  • The Underground Festival at the Elgin Theater, La Raison Avant La Passion, Cat Food, and 1933

    At the Underground Festival that ran night and day in late December at the Elgin Theater, Snow’s films were pure reflective intelligence within an exacting, hard-nosed compositional system. The direct opposite is a random, hit-and-miss quality in Joyce Wieland’s La Raison Avant La Passion, a veritable pasture of expansive landscape imagery. The film is divided into three sections, a green section of the East. Coast, then a middle which is an ode to Trudeau (mostly Canadian flags and hot orange-red-pink face shots) and lastly an extraordinary white endlessness of snowscape. With its dry middle

  • How I Won the War

    How I Won the War, a neither admirable nor contemptible altruism about the villains who coin money making war films, has enough material to stock several war films. Basically, it’s the war story of the fictitious 3rd Troop, 4th Musketeers. Among its luminous personnel are a sweating coward digging himself into holes and hiding under pots and pans; a working-class mocker in steel rims played by the Beatles’ John Lennon; a mad clown who prates Falstaffian brain-dulling lingo; and two zombies—a pink and a green man returned from the dead.

    The exploits of the boy leader, Michael Crawford, and his

  • Four Stars and Hold Me While I’m Naked

    The theaters of the Underground—often five or six docile customers in an improbable place that looks like a bombed-out air shelter or the downstairs ladies room at the old Paramount—offer a weirdly satisfying experience. For two dollars the spectator gets five bedraggled two-reelers, and, after a sojourn with incompetence, chaos, nouveau culture taste, he leaves this land’s end theater feeling unaccountably spry.

    In the clique-ish, subdued atmosphere of the New Cinema Playhouse, Tambellini’s Gate, there is more than an attempt to dump the whole history of films. One glance at the pock marked

  • Sam Fuller, Pickup on South Street, Steel Helmet, Run of the Arrow, and China Gate

    Though he lacks the stamina and range of Chester Gould or the endlessly creative Fats Waller, Sam Fuller directs and writes an inadvertently charming film that has some of their qualities: lyricism, real iconoclasm, and a comic lack of self-consciousness. He has made 19 no-flab, low or middle budget films since 1949, any one of which could be described as “simpleminded corny stuff . . . colorful though,” a bit of John Foster Dulles, a good bit of Steve Canyon, sometimes so good as to be breathtaking, Pickup on South Street is a marvel of lower class nuttiness, Richard Widmark as a pickpocket

  • Luis Buñuel, The Exterminating Angel, Robinson Crusoe, Los Olvidados, Viridiana, and Belle de Jour

    His glee in life is a movie of raped virgins and fallen saints, conceived by a literary old-world director detached from his actors but infatuated with his cock-eyed primitive cynicism. It’s this combination of detachment and the infatuated-with-bitterness viewpoint, added to a flat-footed technique, that produces the piercingly cold images of The Exterminating Angel.

    Buñuel reveals a kinship to other moderns: to Godard (the basic feeling that the audience needs educating, and he is just the one to do it), Bresson (they share an absorbed interest in the peasantry and the role of religion in rural

  • Two Rode Together

    Two Rode Together, a 1961 cavalry film that has been holed up this winter at a campsite in the Museum of Modern Art, has the discombobulated effect of a Western that was dreamt by a kid snoozing in an Esso station in Linden, New Jersey. Two wrangling friends, a money-grubbing marshall (Jimmy Stewart) and a cavalry captain (Richard Widmark, who has the look of a ham that has been smoked, cured, and then coated with honey-colored shellac), seek out a Comanche named Parker and trade him a stunningly new arsenal of guns and knives for a screaming little Bowery Boy with braids who’s only bearable in

  • Howard Hawks, Only Angels, His Girl Friday, Tender Is the Night, Scarface, and Red River

    Scarface (1932) is a passionate, strong, archaic photographic miracle: the rise and fall of an ignorant, blustery, pathetically childish punk (Paul Muni) in an avalanche of rich, dark-dark images. The people, Italian gangsters and their tough, wisecracking girls, are quite beautiful, as varied and shapely as those who parade through Piero’s religious paintings. Few movies are better at nailing down singularity in a body or face, the effect of a strong outline cutting out impossibly singular shapes. Boris Karloff: long stove-pipe legs, large boned and gaunt, an obsessive, wild face; Ann Dvorak:

  • “Canadian Artists ’68”, Wavelength, Slow Run, Cat Food, 1933, Rat Life and Diet in North America, and R34

    The best film at “Canadian Artists ’68” is a study of a room not unlike the basement room at the Art Gallery of Toronto, where the films were privately shown. A bare and spare room with the simple construction of a Shaker-built outhouse, the gallery room had an austere charm, a continuing dignity, even after twenty films had been seen. Exactly like the interiors of schoolrooms in Winslow Homer, it has a magical plain grey color and an equally magical pattern of woodwork on the side walls, four inch boards running horizontally from floor to ceiling, divided by four inch studs spaced two feet on

  • Weekend, Signs of Life, The Easy Life, The Nun, Les Biches, Secret Ceremony, Negatives, Tropics

    “Manny, how are you holding up? How’s your Festivalitis? Oh well, Lola Montes will do it to the best of us. (‘What film did you like best?’) Definitely The Nun. I liked the whole projection of the period. But my favorite director is Jancso: he’s a great stylist. (‘Didn’t you like anything about that German film, Signs of Life?’) Good God no. When the Germans deal with minutiae, they leave me.”

    ––(film critic)

    “What a corny coincidence that both the husband and wife manage to get laid in the same night. I just can’t stomach that kind of unbelievable coincidence in a film which pretends to be raw

  • The New York Film Festival, Lola Montes, Beyond the Law, Mouchette, The Immortal Story, and Capricious Summer

    There is nothing so funny in the recent New York Film Festival as the Romany-esque overland coach in Lola Montes, a blood-colored Pullman on wheels that belongs to Franz Liszt, and serves as a major trysting nest for the scandalous heroine. A love affair on wheels is a nice idea but this over-decorated vehicle is the hub for eight minor events which are nothing but crazy makeup, improbability, and an ordeal of graceless acting. Martine Carol, an hourglass made out of stale golden cupcakes, is a mock George Sand, locked on a chaise longue; her boyfriend has a goofy smile, silken curls, and stumbles

  • Contempt, The Thomas Crown Affair, Accident, The Stranger, and Persona

    A big sour yawn pervades the air of movie theaters, put there by a series of tired, cheerless, low emotion heroes who seem inoculated against surprise, incapable of finding any goal worthy of their multiple talents. The yawn is built into people who seem like twins though they are as various as the teetering scriptwriter in Contempt, the posh master crimester of the Thomas Crown Affair, and that ultimate in envy and petulance who is the philosophy professor approaching middle age in Accident. Each of these three heroes (Michel Piccoli, Steve McQueen, Dirk Bogarde) shifts constantly in a voluptuous

  • Charley Bubbles, Hour of the Wolf, Up the Junction

    Charley Bubbles is the first movie about a cool sleek 1968 artistic success: an ennui-ridden, spoiled rotten writer who can hardly breathe from the fatigue of being an acclaimed artist. It is for the most part an irritatingly stinting film, even though the photography’s pleasant, the apple orchard color is cheery, and there are two fairly good female performances by Lisa Minelli, an extraordinarily willing no veneer actress, a gnomic, quaint, slight girl with enormous eyes, and Billy Whitelaw as Bubbles’ leathery ex wife.

    It’s also a single-minded film. Bubbles, in Albert Finney’s puritanical,

  • La Chinoise, Carabiniers, and Belle de Jour

    LA CHINOISE CONCERNS A SUMMER shared by 4 to 7 youths intoxicated with Maoist communism: a humorlessly vague, declamatory crew made up of Jean Pierre Leaud (taut, overtrained exhibitionistic), Anne Wiazemsky (girl intellectual with a year of prostitution behind her) and a sensitive tapeworm with steel rims, always dunking his bread and butter in coffee. Reclusive, never penetrating or being penetrated by the outside world, they study, debate, never seem to converse but try to out-fervor one another, while the camera images suggest a scissoring motion, shuttling back and forth, giving equal