Daily Archives: April 17, 2019

They Drive by Night: The Criticism of Manny Farber

I’m reposting this as a sort of adjunct to David Bordwell’s excellent two-part study of Manny Farber (available here and here). And my relatively recent review of Farber on Film can be accessed here.

This very personal essay was written in 1993 for my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism. I’ve updated a few facts, all placed in square brackets, and corrected some typos, including one that appeared on the first page of the essay in the book, much to my irritation (as well as Manny’s) ….The photograph at the very end of this piece, before the new Afterword, taken by Andy Rector, shows Manny and Patricia with Gabe Klinger. — J.R.

They Drive by Night: The Criticism of Manny Farber

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

“What is the role of evaluation in your critical work?” Manny Farber was once asked in an interview. “It’s practically worthless for a critic,” Farber replied. “The last thing I want to know is whether you like it or not; the problems of writing are after that. I don’t think it has any importance; it’s one of those derelict appendages of criticism. Criticism has nothing to do with hierarchies.” A few years later, in another interview — published in French, so I can’t quote from it verbatim — he expressed his irritation with Pauline Kael writing about RAGING BULL as if she knew what was good or bad in every shot, in every scene.… Read more »

Getting Personal [CARO DIARIO]

From the Chicago Reader (December 2, 1994). — J.R.

Caro Diario (Dear Diary)

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Nanni Moretti

With Moretti, Jennifer Beals, Carlo Mazzacurati, Renato Carpentieri, Antonio Neiwiller, and Mario Schiano.

How many movies put us in touch with real people as opposed to stars and characters? Not very many, perhaps because we tend to go to movies to escape people — or at least to encounter them in more circumscribed and protected ways than we would in real life. Thanks to movies and TV, a good many of us think of some real people as heroes, villains, and other stock figures; witness the recent election campaigns.

One form of literature, and by extension, one form of film that’s designed to place us directly in contact with individuals is the personal essay. According to writer Phillip Lopate — an expert theorist and practitioner of the form whose invaluable anthology The Art of the Personal Essay was published earlier this year — “The hallmark of the personal essay is its intimacy. The writer seems to be speaking directly into your ear, confiding everything from gossip to wisdom. Through sharing thoughts, memories, desires, complaints, and whimsies, the personal essayist sets up a relationship with the reader, a dialogue — a friendship, if you will, based on identification, understanding, testiness, and companionship.”

Lopate is also a sensitive film critic and in the winter 1992 issue of the Threepenny Review devotes one of his own essays to defining, describing, surveying, and celebrating “a cinematic genre that barely exists” — namely, the personal film essay.… Read more »

Ethereal Girl [WHO'S THAT GIRL]

This was the first long review I wrote for the Chicago Reader after I started working there, but its publication was delayed for almost a couple of months until October 30, 1987 because the film was pulled from distribution just before we were going to press.  – J.R.

WHO’S THAT GIRL

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by James Foley

With Madonna, Griffin Dunne, Haviland Morris, John McMartin, and John Mills.

The current spate of recycled movies is only the latest stage in a process that has been in force for almost three decades, ever since the French New Wave launched the idea of a self-devouring cinema. Broadly speaking, the movement started out as esoteric polemical criticism (in print and on-screen) in the 60s, gravitated toward name-dropping and flag-waving testimonials in the 70s, and has finally degenerated in the 80s to an insidious kind of self-censorship that uses the past — and a severely delimited version of it at that — as a kind of stopper to prevent too much of the present from leaking through.

It’s a cynical truism of journalism that any story with 100 percent new information is virtually unusable. In order to provide the reader or spectator with a safety net, most of the story has to be based on old information, even if much of that old news turns out to be out of date or false.… Read more »