Movie City Indie Archive for August, 2008
OSCAR® NOMINATED “NO END IN SIGHT” TO BE SHOWCASED
ON YOUTUBE™ DURING HEIGHT OF THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
DIRECTOR CHARLES FERGUSON TO MAKE HIS AWARD WINNING DOCUMENTARY
ACCESSIBLE AD-FREE AND UNINTERRUPTED ONLINE FROM SEPTEMBER 1 TO NOVEMBER 5
NO END IN SIGHT, Academy Award® nominee for Best Documentary Feature and winner of the Documentary Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, the first film of its kind to examine the American policies that sent Iraq spiraling into a civil war, will also be the first widely released feature film to screen in its entirety on YouTube™ starting on September 1 and continuing through the 2008 presidential election on Tuesday, November 4. The film will be featured on its own YouTube channel and available to anyone with a computer and high-speed internet connection… NO END IN SIGHT is being made available free to the public to reveal the facts about the Bush Administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq to voters concerned with the issues of national security and the adverse economic impact of the war when making decisions in this crucial election. NO END IN SIGHT condenses and clarifies the murky decisions made before and after the invasion and is invaluable to the public’s understanding of what went wrong. The film is both an analysis of an ill-conceived war and a plea to consider the impact of future military actions. According to the film’s director, Charles Ferguson, he underwrote the exhibition of the film on YouTube because, “I wanted to make the film, and the facts about the occupation of Iraq, accessible to a larger group of people. My hope is that this will contribute to the process of making better foreign policy decisions moving forward in Iraq and elsewhere. During this election year, it’s important to examine the leadership mentality and policies that caused Iraq to descend into such a horrific state that after 4,000 American deaths, at least a quarter million Iraqis killed, 4 million refugees, and over $2 trillion spent, Iraq remains in a state of near collapse.”
For the TIFF08 doc blog, Toronto programmer Thom Powers asked for three nonfiction entries that looked most appealing; my choices are here. Among them: The World’s Biggest Chinese Restaurant. The trailer for another pick, Of Time And The City, is below.
“STATEMENT FROM METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER STUDIOS INC…. LOS ANGELES, CA August 25, 2008– Contrary to recent media reports, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM) is not for sale. There is no “asking price” for the company. MGM’s existing financing arrangements are sufficient to meet its needs. Goldman, Sachs has been retained to explore enhancements to MGM’s long-term capital structure. All of the MGM shareholders, including Providence Equity Partners, TPG, Sony Corp. Of America and Comcast Corp, are pleased with the Company’s current momentum and are committed to the future growth of the studio.” [Not that momentous, but it’s a good excuse to run this MGM logo that’s been defunct for over 30 years. I wonder if it was the one in front of the print of Ice Station Zebra that Howard Hughes watched over and over and over…]
Rhetoric abounds but there’s little indelible in terms of imagery in 2008’s domestic politics, at least in light of August 1968, at least in light of influential radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh’s repeated cry for insurrection in the streets of Denver in the coming week. [Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia: other stories-in-pictures await.] Soaring, hopeful words, perhaps, instead of heart-breaking moments in time: I’d settle for that. Of the image above, by the then-30-year-old Josef Koudelka, among the thousands of images he shot as the Prague Summer died, taken at the second the Soviets rolled into Prague, time told courtesy of a passerby’s wristwatch: tell me one thing you can find wrong with it. [Larger.] Aperture’s published “Invasion 68: Prague,” and the 70-year-old Magnum contributor talked to Sean O’Hagan at The Observer. “[A] year after Russian tanks rolled into Prague, Josef Koudelka visited London with a Czech theatre group. One Sunday morning he was walking out of his hotel near the Aldwych Theatre when he saw some members of the theatre group perusing a copy of the Sunday Times magazine. As he passed, he saw to his surprise that they were looking at his own extraordinary photographs of that Russian invasion and the spontaneous street protests it provoked. The same photos have since become the definitive pictorial record of a pivotal event in 20th century history. ‘They showed me the magazine where it said that these pictures had been taken by an unknown photographer from Prague and smuggled out of the country,’ he says, shaking his head as if he still cannot believe it. ‘I could not tell anyone that they were my photographs.
It was a very strange feeling. From that moment, I was afraid to go back to Czechoslovakia because I knew that if they wanted to find out who the unknown photographer was, they could do it.’ .. When I meet him today, in the back room of his new apartment in Prague, Koudelka unfolds a battered map of the world he has just found in one of the many boxes stacked along a wall. It is covered in spidery ink trails that trace his wanderings through Europe and beyond, his handwriting providing a runic commentary of the festivals and gatherings he attended along the way. The map dates from the Seventies and looks like a strange work of art, which, in a way, it is. The real art, though, lies in the photographs Koudelka produced when he began chronicling his restlessness – and rootlessness – as well as his newfound sense of freedom. His first major work, published in 1975, was called simply Gypsies, his second, from 1988, Exiles. Their titles alone tell you much about Koudelka’s own life as well as the lives of his subjects. ‘For 17 years I never paid any rent,’ he says, laughing and raising a shot glass of slivovic, a plum brandy he has produced to welcome me to Prague. ‘Even the Gypsies were sorry for me because they thought I was poorer than them. At night they were in their caravans and I was the guy who was sleeping outside beneath the sky.’ … At 70, Koudelka has, like his late friend Henri Cartier-Bresson, achieved semi-mythic status as a photographer. Alongside Robert Frank, he is the last of the great hard-bitten romantics of 20th century reportage, and, like Frank, he is a hero of mine. Gypsies was the first photography book I ever owned, and though I cannot remember now how I came by it, I can still recall its impact on me. I was studying in London for a degree in English, and Gypsies seemed to me to possess a more powerful narrative than many of the contemporary novels I was reading. I looked at it again in preparation for this interview, and found it still retains the power to mesmerise with its raw beauty, its essential sadness. There is something beautifully melancholic in Koudelka’s images, a sadness the Portuguese call saudade, a deep-rooted longing for which there is no equivalent word in English. When I mention this, he nods in agreement. ‘The mother of my son, an Italian lady, she once told me, “Josef, you go though life and get all this positive energy, and all the sadness, you just throw it behind you and it drops into the bag you carry on your back. Then, when you photograph, it all comes out.” Perhaps there could be some truth in that.’ [Much, much more at the link.] A look at a Prague-based exhibit on the era is at The Prague Post. “‘1945 Liberation — 1968 Occupation’ includes a small group of 1968 photos by Josef Koudelka, whose photos of the invasion by Warsaw Pact troops were smuggled out of the country and published around the world. To protect him and his family from possible retribution, he was identified only as “Prague Photographer.” “It is a unique reportage, if we consider it from a world view — how one man covered one event so widely, in the middle of everything,” says Irena Šorfová, curator of the Invaze 1968 show, which offers a much broader sampling of Koudelka’s work. “He took about 10,000 photos in one week. It is amazing how great they are, considering he was just starting out in his career.” Plus : Jiřina Vojáčková remembers: “When people heard the Russian tanks were approaching, they swapped or removed street names and house numbers, as well as directional signs, and the soldiers wandered around quite lost, unsure how to get to the centre of Prague. Some of them were convinced they were in Paris. They were hungry (no shopkeeper sold them anything, not even a crust of bread – their own mobile kitchens had been caught up somewhere and delayed), exhausted through lack of sleep and startled by their Czech reception. No wonder: they had been told they were about to liberate a nation, without even knowing which one. Instead of a welcome, they were greeted by raised fists and insults. For example, a large gathering of tank crews stood on Mariánské námĕstí, then known as Vackovo. They were surrounded by enraged Prague citizens. When people heard the Russian tanks were approaching, they swapped or removed street names and house numbers, as well as directional signs, and the soldiers wandered around quite lost, unsure how to get to the centre of Prague. Another group occupied Staromĕstské (Old Town) Square and Václavské (Wenceslas) Square. Here, the soldiers were again confused. Their tanks were aiming at the Baťa Palace, thinking it was the Czech ‘Pentagon’. They even begun to fire on the National Museum, convinced this was the Parliament, where the Government was having an important meeting.” [More.]
A 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.]
From the Bob Saget roast; routines NSFW. She deserves better than making sausage jokes in Beerfest.
Manny Farber, painter, brilliant writer, indelible critic and all-round original whom some aped and few grazed, died in his sleep last night at the age of 91. He had retired from writing and teacher and devoted himself to painting and drawing. To cite Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, which early Preston Sturges savant Farber would likely not frown upon, “What a life!” Some links below, including a sweet, brief nod from Glenn Kenny. Edward Crouse’s 1999 interview is choice, including this from Farber: “If I were still a critic, I would loathe knowing the person I was writing about. There’s enough of an incestuous relationship between subject and writer. I have a great love of the actual.” And: Farber’s last art show, a May 2008 selection of drawings, as well as a monograph from a 2003 show. Frank Bruno’s fine appreciation in the December 2004 Believer is here.
Farber was one of the indispensable prose writers of our time, a great entertainer in his own write, yet deeper concerns than his own words permeate these pages. “One of the joys of moviegoing,” he once wrote, “is worrying over the fact that what is referred to as Hawks might be [screenwriter] Jules Furthman… and that, when people talk about Bogart’s ‘peculiarly American’ brand of scarred, sophisticated cynicism they are really talking about what Ida Lupino, Ward Bond, or even Stepin Fetchit provided in unmistakable scene-stealing moments.”
These essays are ripe with an appreciation for texture, for the depth or shallowness of cinematic space, for stolen moments, for the wiles of Hollywood’s cheese-headed bores. Writing on films as diverse as those of Preston Sturges, Werner Herzog, Don Siegel and Nicolas Roeg, Farber does not blink. He remains our best: a curmudgeon, but a painstaking one who concedes 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.”
Farber began writing about art and film for the New Republic in 1942, and from the start, was an ardent foe of corn and deep-dish psychologizing, seeking out movies that were content to go about “eating their own boundaries.” The long out-of-print 1971 “Negative Space” drew from his work to that date, and the new edition includes the lengthy, thoughtful, tumultuous collaborations with his wife Patricia Patterson, also an artist and teacher, as well as an interview where the duo set out their precepts for how they decided to write about the world before them. Two of the best: “Burrowing into the movie, which includes extending the piece, collaging a whole article with pace changes, multiple tones, getting different voices into it” and “Giving the audience some uplift.”
Farber gives uplift to movies high and low, and was an early champion of kino-fist auteur Sam Fuller, among other action directors. Describing Fuller’s “no-flab” work, Farber writes, “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.” Farber finesses those assertions for a few pages and moves on to the next concatenation of unlikely sparks, whaling away at the wailing sob sisters of Hollywood “white elephant” art, championing the “termite art” of painting or film that is not “yawning productions[s] of overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition…”
In the uncollected pieces contained in the anthology “Cinema Nation,” Farber weighs in on fight films, French films, John Huston—can the late bloviator take these blows? “He is Message-Mad, and mixes a savage story with puddin’head righteousness. His characters are humorless and troubled and quite reaonabl[y] so, since Huston, like a Puritan judge, is forever calling on them to prove that they can soak up punishment, carry through harrowing tasks, withstand the ugliest taunts…. The directing underlines a single vice or virtue of each character so that his one-track actions become either boring or funny; it expands and slows figures until they are like oxen driven with a big moralistic whip.” (Note the placement of the single small word: “big.” It’s what makes the sentence tick.) Or try on Farber’s description of how Gloria Swanson is called upon to overact in “Sunset Boulevard”: “This dated technique would sink the movie under minutiae if Wilder’s inveterate meanness didn’t turn every shot into a shocking, mad, controlled chewing of assorted twentieth-century cuds.” Or the chewing-up of Hitchcock as the Masticator of Suspense: “[He] has gone farther on fewer brains than any director since Griffith, while cleverly masking his deficiency, and his underlying petty and pointless sadism, with a honey-smooth patina of ‘sophistication,’ irony, and general glitter.”
Who alive is writing sentences like this today, and who would not want to? From “Negative Space”: “Good work usually arises when the creators… seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn’t anywhere or anything… It goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.”
Farber’s work is so rich with a love of the artist’s process—“process-mad,” he says—of the yeasty, yawping potential of rhetoric and style that it seems cheap to point out that the values he champions in the work of others shines like a beacon from almost every sentence he’s put to page. Farber was active as a painter, fifty-plus years into his career, his gray-shocked head glowering out from above a black sweater amid the perfumed pages of Vanity Fair from his studio only a couple of years ago, with an encomium by acolyte James Wolcott, whose prose is often a cackling caricature of what magic Farber wreaks with unlikely verbiage.
From 1975 to 1977, Farber published with his wife Patricia Patterson a handful of longer pieces that contain some of the most acute of contemporary criticism, particularly on the early work of Fassbinder, on “Jeanne Dielman,” Chantal Akerman’s attempt to bridge the discourse of commercial and structural filmmaking, and most accessibly, “The Power and the Gory,” their conflicted, unyielding take on “Taxi Driver.” For all their admiration, they still cut to the eye of the stylistic hurricane: “Lots of things in ‘Taxi Driver’ are diversions keeping the audience’s mind from the fact that it’s not getting the Promised Land: the inner workings of a repressed, ignorant fantasist, the mind of a baby whore, the experience of being a taxi driver twelve hours a day in the incredible New York street noise and jostle.”
Shortly after “Negative Space” was published in hardcover, Farber took a job teaching at the University of California at San Diego, scooping up acolytes like the director Michael Almereyda, who told me, “Manny was my first flesh-and-blood guide to movie culture, to culture as a present tense activity.” As you read these essays, head-noted with dates like “1951” or “1968,” they seem less timeless than forever timely: the force of Farber’s (and Patterson’s) mind and wind suggests they could be written tomorrow and be the freshest contrast of black on white to be found anywhere. In a joint interview with Patterson that closes the volume, Farber says, “I can’t imagine a more perfect art form, a more perfect career than criticism. I can’t imagine anything more valuable to do, and I’ve always felt that way.” Yes—and if one could say it as witherlingly, as wisely and wittily as Manny Farber.
On the occasion of a 2006 art show in La Jolla and “Roads and Tracks,” an upcoming collection of uncollected criticism, Duncan Shepherd at San Diego Reader offers personal reminiscence about critic and painter Manny Farber. “The eventual meeting would occur in the last half of my senior year at Columbia University, a school chosen solely for the number of proximate movie theaters in New York City, my primary yardstick for Quality of Life. By this time Farber—I was still on last-name terms with him—had moved his column to Artforum, readily available in the college library, and in some ways his most hospitable venue ever, where his observations on movies could share space with views of Frank Stella, Robert Motherwell, and Andy Warhol… I got wind of a writing workshop run by Farber at the School of Visual Arts, ninety-some blocks southward in Manhattan… I would follow along on that trail come Spring… And then there he was, sitting six feet away from me, his prominent brow and forehead suggesting superhuman braininess, starting off fearlessly reading aloud from a recent piece he had penned on Luis Buñuel: “His glee in life is a movie of raped virgins and fallen saints….” “Manny… was a red-blooded American sports fan as happy to talk, in after-class adjournments to the coffee shop, about the Knicks as about the new Hitchcock or new Bresson. Too, he was preparing a show of his recent paintings in SoHo or thereabouts, a side to him I had known nothing about. Film buffs as a breed have a dangerous tendency to put on blinders to anything outside a movie screen, and the broadening of my horizons to the world of art studios, galleries, openings, and the bohemian digs he shared with his fellow painter and future wife, Patricia Patterson, was a healthy thing. Most fortunate of all, he was then putting together his own collection of film criticism, and I was flabbergasted and flattered to be called upon to help sift through the file box of clippings that dated back to the Forties, The New Republic, The Nation, The New Leader…” But what Shepherd appreciates about the Man is that “It was always about looking and seeing.”
On a recently unearthed collaboration between Farber and James Agee. A review of a 2007 group show with Farber’s work in the New York Times. Noel King’s career overview is rich. King also interviews Robert Walsh, who provided the preface to “Negative Space,” in which we learn that his admirers included not only Chris Petit, who made a documentary of the same name containing Farber, but also novelists William Gibson and Harry Mathews. [Senses of Cinema describes the Petit-Farber documentary here.] And: a parting bit of wisdom.
“…carrying Folk Group of Song and Dance “Śląsk” (Silesia), at around 8pm, 15 August 2008 near Mykanów on State Road number 1.”