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TitleThe Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture
PublisherUniversity Of Chicago Press
ISBN 139780226352176
CategoryArts - Film
File Size1.6 MB
Total Pages183
Table of Contents
Introduction. The Film Critic as Superstar
Chapter One. The Rhapsodes
Chapter Two. A Newer Criticism
Chapter Three. Otis Ferguson: The Way of the Camera
Chapter Four. James Agee: All There and Primed to Go Off
Chapter Five. Manny Farber: Space Man
Chapter Six. Parker Tyler: A Suave and Wary Guest
Chapter Seven. Afterlives
Document Text Contents
Page 2

The Rhapsodes

Page 91


5 Manny Farbers P a C e m a n
Emanuel Farber is today’s star among my Rhapsodes. He is the cinephiles’

favorite, and his tastes, his ideas, and his prose have had enormous influ-

ence. The Library of America collection of his writings comes festooned

with praise from Martin Scorsese, Richard Schickel, Richard Corliss, and

William Gibson. “The liveliest, smartest, most original film critic this

country ever produced,” asserted Susan Sontag.

Farber carried the controlled ecstasy of the 1940s critics into later

years. A 1969 essay on Howard Hawks describes His Girl Friday:

Besides the dynamic, highly assertive pace, this Front Page remake

with Rosalind Russell playing Pat O’Brien’s role is a tour de force of

choreographed action: bravado posturings with body, lucid Cubistic

composing with natty lapels and hat brims, as well as a very stylized

discourse of short replies based on the idea of topping, outmaneu-

vering the other person with wit, cynicism, and verbal bravado.

The outpouring of words, the piling up of adjectives and modifying

phrases, the ellipsis (no time to spare for ands, let alone periods), and

the sideswipe reference to modern painting all bear the signature of a

critic who knows how to make enthusiasm infectious. Even the repetition

of bravado within the same sentence, which looks like an amateur boner,

rings with its own— well, bravado.

He’s no less adept at the honorable American craft of grousing. Where

Agee gave us elegant, if sometimes tormented, efforts to be fair to all,

Farber can act utterly fed up. A 1957 essay picks Larry Rivers, Dave Bru-

beck, and Twelve Angry Men as examples of the new middlebrow confi-

dence man.

The figure who is engineering this middle- class blitz has the drive,

patience, conceit, and daring to become a successful nonconform-

ing artist without having the talent or idealism for rebellious crea-

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m a n n y f a r b e r 83

tion. The brains behind his creativity are those of a high- powered

salesman using empty tricks and skills to push an item for which

he has no feeling or belief. Avant- gardism has fallen into the hands

of the businessman- artist.

Farber’s career breaks, almost too neatly, into distinct periods. From

early 1942 through 1946, he reviewed films for the New Republic and pub-

lished art criticism there and elsewhere. Then he stopped writing for

over two years. In early 1949 he signed on at the Nation, taking over after

James Agee left. He covered film and some visual art until January 1954.

For other venues he wrote longer pieces, many of them now famous. After

another hiatus from 1954 to 1957, he resumed writing film criticism, often

with Patricia Patterson, before stopping altogether in 1977.

His best- known work comes from the early fifties, when he celebrated

B- level crime films and hard- guy studio directors (Hawks, Walsh, Fuller,

Siegel). He coined labels like “underground film” and “termite art” to

describe his B film poets, while Hollywood’s straining significance could

only seem “white elephant art.” His late phase brought his dense appre-

ciations of Jean- Luc Godard, Rainer Fassbinder, Michael Snow, and other

contemporary filmmakers, as well as extended essays revisiting action

directors of the classic era.

The dominant image of Farber’s tastes didn’t arise by accident. When

he compiled his essay collection Negative Space (1971), he included only

two pieces from the 1940s proper and a few from 1950. His essays “The

Gimp” (1952) and “Underground Films” (1957) set the tone and framework

for the book. In “John Huston” he created a piece out of 1949 and 1950

reviews and recast it in keeping with his later thinking.

The writing he selected for Negative Space reinforces another aspect

of Farber’s image: the aesthete cowboy. Farber had played football and

baseball in high school, and instead of turning his painting skills to com-

mercial illustration, he became a carpenter, a trade that sustained him

for decades. He seems to have been at home in the pugilistic Abstract

Expressionist circles of the 1950s. Clement Greenberg claims to have

bested Farber in a fistfight, although Farber scared him. (“He could have

beaten me up. . . . He had big hands.”) Years later Andrew Sarris reported

that during a critics’ meeting Farber nearly clobbered John Simon.

In print, Farber punched at all weight levels and liked to work in close.

He said that Agee “paid out tribute like a public- address system.” He

called Sarris “a boneless Soupy Sales,” and he found Susan Sontag “cat-

like” and possessed of “a confidence that her knowledge is all- purpose

Page 182

i n d e x 173

Tom, Dick, and Harry, 46, 51

Topper, 126

Touch of Evil, 104, 138

Treasure of Sierra Madre, The, 32– 33, 77,

78, 79

Trilling, Lionel, 20

Trotskyists, 21

Troy, William, 43

Turnabout, 126, 142

Twelve Angry Men, 82

Twentieth Century, 49

Tyler, Parker: account of Rebecca and

Blondie on a Budget for the Surreal-

ist View, 11; on actors in wartime

combat films, 122; “Address to My

Mother,” 130; on American films as

group products, 118; attention to

European films and the avant- garde

in later work, 135– 37; avoidance of

the political, 27; on Lauren Bacall in

To Have and Have Not, 17; on Bicycle

Thieves, 135– 36; Chaplin: Last of the

Clowns, 114, 127– 29; on charades

played by actors, 120– 25; on Citizen

Kane, 123; Classics of the Foreign Film,

134, 135– 36; cofounding of maga-

zine View, 112; comparison of stars

to ancient gods and goddesses, 125;

concept of “crevices,” 13, 119– 22;

criticism of Underground film, 112,

138; Every Artist His Own Scandal, 134;

on experimental films, 136; as film

actor, 141; on film as myth, 125– 27; on

Gung Ho!, 130– 32; on hallucination,

12; “Hollywood Dream Suite,” 112, 130;

The Hollywood Hallucination, 3, 8, 112,

117, 122– 24, 125, 130, 132, 134; indif-

ference to directors, 141; language,

113– 14; Magic and Myth of the Movies,

3– 4, 8, 112, 117, 124, 125– 27, 130, 134,

136; Modern Things, 112; on Monsieur

Verdoux: A Comedy of Murders, 127– 29;

myth of the medicine man, 125– 26;

on narcissism of Hollywood, 118, 119;

and new film culture of 1960s, 8, 134;

A Pictorial History of Sex in Films, 135,

136; on The Picture of Dorian Gray, 14–

15, 126– 27; and poetic avant- garde, 8,

12; on post- Impressionist painting,

139; on process of studio production,

118– 19; psychoanalytic mythologi-

cal approach, 116– 17, 124, 125– 27, 129,

130, 141; publication in art journals

and little magazines, 11; recasting of

faults- and- beauties criticism, 14– 15;

and reflectionism, 114– 17; review of

films for little magazines and literary

quarterlies, 117; Screening the Sexes:

Homosexuality in the Movies, 135; self-

styled Beautiful Poet Parker Tyler, 10;

Sex Psyche Etcetera in the Film, 3, 134;

The Shadow of an Airplane Climbs the

Empire State Building: A World Theory

of Film, 134; style of late work, 135;

as Surrealist, 7, 113; and Surrealist

tradition of “irrational enlargement”

in films, 8; The Three Faces of the Film,

3, 134; Underground Film: A Critical

History, 134, 136– 37; on Mae West,

132; works, 145; The Young and the Evil

(with Charles Henri Ford), 111. See

also Rhapsodes, The (Ferguson, Agee,

Farber, and Tyler)

Ugetsu, 135

Underground films, 112, 136– 37

Understanding Fiction (Brooks and War-

ren), 32

Understanding Poetry (Brooks and War-

ren), 32

Union Station, 104

Utrillo, Maurice, 85

Vamp role, 123

Van Doren, Mark, 3, 21

Variety, 66, 71

Vidal, Gore, Myra Breckinridge, 112

Viertel, Peter, 77

View, 11, 116

Vigo, Jean, 69

Page 183

174 i n d e x

Visconti, Luchino, 137

von Stroheim, Erich, 26

Wallace, Henry, 102

Wallis, Hal, 142

Walsh, Raoul, 61, 83, 104, 134, 139, 140,


Warhol, Andy, 112, 136

Warren, Robert Penn, 32

Watts, Richard, Jr., 43

Wavelength, 137

Ways of Love, 137

Webb, Clifton, 142

Weber, Max, 85

Weinberg, Herman G., 3

Welles, Orson, 31, 47, 52, 53, 97, 123, 142;

Agee on, 61; composition, 99, 100, 101;

long static shot, 141

Wellman, William, 69, 142

West, Mae, 121, 123

Weston, Jessie, From Ritual to Romance,


We Were Strangers, 78, 80, 94, 105

What Price Glory?, 104

White Cli�s of Dover, The, 26, 61

White Elephant directors, 110, 138, 139

White Tower, 104

Wieland, Joyce, 138

Wild Bunch, The, 139

Wilde, Oscar, 122, 126

Wilder, Billy, 61, 74, 142

Wilder, Thornton, Our Town, 24

Wild Strawberries, 135

Wilson, 61

Wilson, Edmund, 20, 21

With the Marines at Tarawa, 68

Wolfe, Thomas, Look Homeward, Angel,


Wolfenstein, Martha, 116, 117, 123

Woman of Paris, A, 128

Woman’s Face, A, 120

Woolf, Virginia, 24, 30, 149

Wordsworth, William, 62

Wyler, William, 6, 47, 54, 81, 104, 142

Yearling, The, 140

Yellow Jack, 36

Young, Robert, 70

Young, Stark, 41, 42, 43, 70, 151– 52

Young, Vernon, 3

Young and the Evil, The (Parker Tyler and

Charles Henri Ford), 111

Youth Runs Wild, 95

Zanuck, Darryl F., 142

Zéro de Conduite, 69

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