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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

A piece on the passing of critical eras and more on Manny Farber [UPDATED.]

Mannyshow208.jpgA second consideration of the work of Manny Farber is my column this week at Newcity: “His collage of language is as restive and fidgety as the work of an artist like Rauschenberg: unexpected clashes of unpredictable beauty. His language is exact and striking: crunch and bite with a rasp like bones rubbed together. Farber, who first and foremost considered himself a painter, drew equally from high art and pop forms like boxing and jazz and comic strips, with a style that was eclectic, wide-eyed, gruff, grounded, hardly flighty, seldom grandiloquent, certainly not badinage, not at all jeremiad. But still there’s certainty in the music of his sentences. Farber’s prose has a ruthlessness and precision that bespeaks hours bare-fist punching at the Royal portable and then slashing slivers with scissors and basting with paste an ever-more accomplished cut-up. He conceded that his effects are like the layering and smearing and reworking of layers of paint, that he is “unable to write anything at all without extraordinary amounts of rewriting.”” Also, former Farber teaching assistant Carrie Rickey recollects. “With his Mojave of a forehead and cactus-flower ears, Manny (I can call him that: he was my teacher, I was his teaching assistant) resembled a cross between Walter Matthau and Elmer Fudd and was as engaging as both. A onetime football player nicknamed “snake hips” for the way he eluded tackles, the guy born in the Arizona bordertown of Douglas attended Berkeley High (two years ahead of Pauline Kael), the University of California and Stanford before making his way East… So many Manecdotes, as his teaching assistants used to call Manny stories. Here’s one. The place: New York. The time: 1980. I had taken Manny to a screening of a limp Australian film at the Rizzoli Screening Room on Fifth Avenue. In search of dinner, we strolled down the avenue, past Sak’s and its fabled windows. As we talked about criticism (and how the Australian film defied it) Manny did not fail to notice the mannequins and the backdrops. Shoulder-padded women’s clothes with inverted-pyramid silhouettes (like Russian-modernist geometry) in front of what looked like Kenneth Noland striped paintings, retro man-in-the-grey-flannel suit menswear in front of Frank Stella-like chevrons. He stopped and said, “You know, I lived through Russian constructivism, ’50s conservatism and ’60s abstraction sequentially. Now I’m reliving it all at once.” He paused, cradling forehead in hand. “Say,” he asked, “Did I just define postmodernism?” Plus: Eric Gelbert in a convincing description of Farber’s paintings (which seems to be missing its JPEGs). But: here’s a reproduction of one of Farber’s Budd Boetticher paintings. Plus: a trove of unpublished Farber, consisting of over 100 pages of photocopies of a Donald Phelps’ “For Now” magazine. [H/t Jonathan Rosenbaum.] [More of my piece here.]

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“Roger Ebert claimed that the re-editing of The Brown Bunny after Cannes allowed him a difference of opinion so vast that he first called it the worst film in history and eventually gave it a thumbs up. This is both far fetched and an outright lie. The truth is, unlike the many claims that the unfinished film that showed at Cannes was 24 minutes shorter than the finished film, it was only 8 minutes shorter. The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary. The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many. I shortened the opening race scene once I was able to do so digitally. After rewatching the last 4 minutes of the film over and over again, somewhere within those 4 minutes, I froze the picture and just ended the film there, cutting out everything after that point, which was about 3 minutes. Originally in the salt flats scene, the motorcycle returned from the white. I removed the return portion of that shot, which seemed too literal. And I cut a scene of me putting on a sweater. That’s pretty much it. Plus the usual frame here, frame there, final tweaks. If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa. Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra. Stuck with a brutal, dismissive review of a film that other, more serious critics eventually felt differently about. He also took attention away from what he actually did at the press screening. It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes. His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film. Afterwards, at the first public screening, booing, laughing and hissing started during the open credits, even before the first scene of the film. The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped. To make things weirder, I got a record-setting standing ovation from the supporters of the film who were trying to show up the distractors who had been disrupting the film. It was not the cut nor the film itself that drew blood. It was something suspicious about me. Something offensive to certain ideologues.”
~ Vincent Gallo

“I think [technology has[ its made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, ‘Now what? Now what do I have to say?'”
~ Jodie Foster