Manny Farber

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Manny Farber
BornEmanuel "Manny" Farber
(1917-02-20)February 20, 1917
Douglas, Arizona
Died August 18, 2008(2008-08-18) (aged 91)
Leucadia, California
Nationality American
Known for Painter, film critic

Emanuel "Manny" Farber (February 20, 1917 – 18 August 2008) was an American painter, film critic and writer. Often described as "iconoclastic", [1] [2] [3] Farber developed a distinctive prose style [1] and set of theoretical stances which have had a large influence on later generations of film critics, influence on underground culture; [1] Susan Sontag considered him to be "the liveliest, smartest, most original film critic this country has ever produced." [4]

Painting Practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface

Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface. The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used. The final work is also called a painting.

Underground culture, or simply underground, is a term to describe various alternative cultures which either consider themselves different from the mainstream of society and culture, or are considered so by others. The word "underground" is used because there is a history of resistance movements under harsh regimes where the term underground was employed to refer to the necessary secrecy of the resisters.

Susan Sontag American writer and filmmaker, professor, and activist

Susan Sontag was an American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist. She mostly wrote essays, but also published novels; she published her first major work, the essay "Notes on 'Camp'", in 1964. Her best-known works include On Photography, Against Interpretation, Styles of Radical Will, The Way We Live Now, Illness as Metaphor, Regarding the Pain of Others, The Volcano Lover, and In America.


Farber's writing was distinguished by its "visceral," punchy style [1] and inventive approach towards language; [5] amongst other things, he is credited with coining the term "underground film" in a 1957, [1] [1] and was an early advocate of such filmmakers as Howard Hawks, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, William Wellman, Raoul Walsh, Anthony Mann, Michael Snow, Chantal Akerman, George Kuchar and Andy Warhol. [6]

An underground film is a film that is out of the mainstream either in its style, genre, or financing.

Howard Hawks American film director, producer and screenwriter

Howard Winchester Hawks was an American film director, producer and screenwriter of the classic Hollywood era. Critic Leonard Maltin called him "the greatest American director who is not a household name."

Rainer Werner Fassbinder German film director, screenwriter, and actor

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, sometimes credited as R. W. Fassbinder, was a West German filmmaker, actor, playwright, theatre director, composer, cinematographer, editor, and essayist. He is widely regarded as a prominent figure and catalyst of the New German Cinema movement.

Farber's painting, which was often influenced by his favorite filmmakers, [1] is held in equally high regard; he was dubbed the greatest still life painter of his generation by The New York Times . [1]

Still life art genre

A still life is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which are either natural or man-made.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.

Later in life, Farber focused more on art and teaching. He often worked in close collaboration with his wife, Patricia Patterson, also an artist.

Life and career

Manny Farber was born in Douglas, Arizona, the youngest of three brothers. His two older siblings, David and Leslie H. Farber, both became psychiatrists. [6] [1]

Douglas, Arizona City in Arizona, United States

Douglas is a city in Cochise County, Arizona, United States that lies in the north-west to south-east running San Bernardino Valley within which runs the Rio San Bernardino. Douglas has a border crossing with Mexico at Agua Prieta and a history of mining.

Leslie Hillel Farber was an American author, psychiatrist, director of therapy at Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, chairman of the faculty of the Washington School of Psychiatry, and vice president of the William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation.

A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry, the branch of medicine devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, unlike psychologists, and must evaluate patients to determine whether their symptoms are the result of a physical illness, a combination of physical and mental ailments, or strictly psychiatric. A psychiatrist usually works as the clinical leader of the multi-disciplinary team, which may comprise psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and nursing staff. Psychiatrists have broad training in a bio-psycho-social approach to assessment and management of mental illness.

Farber attended UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design. In the 1930s, Farber worked as a painter and carpenter, first in San Francisco and then in Washington DC. During this time, he attempted to join the Communist Party, though later in his life Farber was often critical of post-New Deal liberal politics. [6]

Stanford University private research university located in Stanford, California, United States

Leland Stanford Junior University is a private research university in Stanford, California. Stanford is known for its academic strength, wealth, proximity to Silicon Valley, and ranking as one of the world's top universities.

Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design was an art school located in San Francisco, California, best known for its courses in color and interior design. The school was founded by artist Rudolph Schaeffer.

Carpentry skilled trade

Carpentry is a skilled trade and a craft in which the primary work performed is the cutting, shaping and installation of building materials during the construction of buildings, ships, timber bridges, concrete formwork, etc. Carpenters traditionally worked with natural wood and did the rougher work such as framing, but today many other materials are also used and sometimes the finer trades of cabinetmaking and furniture building are considered carpentry. In the United States, 98.5% of carpenters are male, and it was the fourth most male-dominated occupation in the country in 1999. In 2006 in the United States, there were about 1.5 million carpentry positions. Carpenters are usually the first tradesmen on a job and the last to leave. Carpenters normally framed post-and-beam buildings until the end of the 19th century; now this old fashioned carpentry is called timber framing. Carpenters learn this trade by being employed through an apprenticeship training—normally 4 years—and qualify by successfully completing that country's competence test in places such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and South Africa. It is also common that the skill can be learned by gaining work experience other than a formal training program, which may be the case in many places.

His journalistic career began as an art critic, and in 1942 he moved to New York City and took a post as a film critic for The New Republic . This was followed by stints at Time (1949), The Nation (1949–54), New Leader (1958–59), Cavalier (1966) and Artforum (1967–71). He has also contributed to Commentary , Film Culture , Film Comment , and City Magazine . He contributed art criticism to The New Republic and The Nation during the 1940s through 1950s.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

<i>The New Republic</i> magazine

The New Republic is an American magazine of commentary on politics and the arts, published since 1914, with influence on American political and cultural thinking. Founded in 1914 by leaders of the progressive movement, it attempted to find a balance between a humanitarian progressivism and an intellectual scientism, and ultimately discarded the latter. Through the 1980s and '90s, the magazine incorporated elements of "Third Way" neoliberalism and conservatism.

Time is an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City. It was founded in 1923 and originally run by Henry Luce. A European edition is published in London and also covers the Middle East, Africa, and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong. The South Pacific edition, which covers Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney. In December 2008, Time discontinued publishing a Canadian advertiser edition.

Farber left New York City to teach at the University of California, San Diego in 1970. Reportedly, Farber traded his Manhattan loft to artist Don Lewallen in exchange for Lewallen's teaching position at UCSD after the two met at a party. [6] Once in San Diego, he focused on painting and teaching, and retired from criticism altogether in 1977.

Originally an art professor only, Farber was approached about teaching a film class because of his background as a critic. He taught several courses, including "History of Film" and "Films in Social Context," which became famous for his unusual teaching style: he usually showed films only in disconnected pieces, sometimes running them backwards or adding in slides and sketches on the blackboard to illustrate his ideas. [6] His exams had a reputation for being demanding and complicated, and occasionally required students to draw storyboards of scenes from memory. [6]

Farber retired from teaching in 1987, at age 70. Towards the end of his life, he found it difficult to paint, and instead focused on collages and drawings; his final exhibition of new work occurred just a month before his death.

He died at his home in Leucadia, near Encinitas, California, on August 18, 2008. [1]


Farber's writing is well known for its distinctive prose style, [1] which he personally described as "a struggle to remain faithful to the transitory, multisuggestive complication of a movie image." [6] He cited the sportswriters of his era as an influence, and frequently used sports metaphors, especially ones related to baseball, in his writings on art and cinema. [6]

Farber frequently championed genre filmmakers like Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann and Raoul Walsh; however, despite his fondness for B-films, Farber was often critical of film noir. [6]

"White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art"

One of Farber's best-known essays is "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art", which originally appeared in 1962 in Film Culture . In it, he writes on the virtues of "termite art" and the excesses of "white elephant art" and champions the B film and under-appreciated auteurs, which he felt were able, termite-like, to burrow into a topic. Bloated, pretentious, white elephant art lacks the economy of expression found in the greatest works of termite art, according to Farber.

"Termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art," Farber contends, "goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, like as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity." [7]

Reputation and influence

Farber is frequently named as one of the greatest film critics, and his work has had a lasting impact on the generations of critics that followed him. [6]

An appearance by Manny Farber at the San Francisco Film Festival is shown in the documentary, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism , in which he is called "criticism's supreme stylist" and his unusual use of language is discussed by The Nation critic Stuart Klawans.

Further reading


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Grimes, William (August 19, 2008). Manny Farber, Iconoclastic Film Critic and Artist, Dies at 91. New York Times
  2. Kiderra, Inga (August 21, 2008).Obituary: Artist and Critic Manny Farber, 91. UCSanDiego NewsCenter
  3. Issue 40 Editorial. Archived 2011-07-11 at the Wayback Machine .Framework
  4. Manny Farber, 1917 - 2008. Archived 2009-07-18 at the Wayback Machine . GreenCine Daily.
  5. Hoberman, J. Manny Farber 1917-2008. Village Voice
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Polito, Robert. "Other Roads, Other Tracks" Introduction. Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber. New York: Library of America, 2009. Xv-Xxxviii.
  7. Farber, Manny (1998). Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies, Expanded Edition. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN   0-306-80829-3., p. 135