Gonzalo de Lucas

For José Luis Guarner, 1937-1993


I always consider myself a political person because
I always present a program against and for something.

Manny Farber (1998: 354)


Critical ideas are not necessarily related to either good or bad judgment and in fact they don’t have anything to do with good taste. Many film critics, however, are focused in causing a good impression by demonstrating the quality of their judgment and taste. Therefore, their work tends to be predictable and redundant. 


Farber’s ideas, on the other hand, come from what we see and the movement between the image and the language. His ideas come from that in-between space in which artistic contradictions and the provisional opinions that they create are reflected: the eye is considered a sensitive slate which is always moving and that changes emotionally by the chemical reaction with a specific place —for instance, the theatre in which a film is watched— or with our own body —depending on our mood or the moment in our lives. —. It is from this process of revelation that the visual ideas com about. So that these visual ideas can be produced and sustained with words, they have to be organized at the same level: there cannot be any hierarchical relationship between the observation of an image from the center or from the border of the frame, between what apparently is big and important and what seems small or trivial.


Farber’s writing, thus, connects us to every instant in cinema ‘in which the Director (and, of course, the actors) has chosen to personally suppress himself, and instead of making the film to deliver a message (from himself or from Money), he has decided to let himself go with the game created by the “movement of writing”, so to express something that would make our hearts beat and that would help our reason penetrate the impossibility of Time’ (GARCÍA CALVO, 1995: 105).


While reading Farber, we can see how, in the same way that Bresson imposed his Cinematographer to Cinema, his writing is different from other critics’s work. Comparing both kinds of writing, we can see how they come from completely different approaches or, even, professions. Like his paintings, Farber’s articles are part of a creative process: they mysteriously develop a concealed rhythm and produce a precise form. 


His articles use the cinematographic process to develop a thought about the rhythm of language. The last phrase of the last article he wrote, together with Patricia Patterson, is dedicated to Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975) and it begins: ‘Watching the luminously magical space of a washing-smoothing-cooking-slicing-kneading near-peasant….’ (FARBER, 2009: 769). Akerman’s three hour display of household chores and Jeanne Dielman’s space is reassembled in a single phrase. Farber transforms the film’s stretched and sustained time into an energetic glimpse, through a change of velocity, which  also is able to compress the original sense of duration: mystery, impossibility of time.






FARBER, Manny (1998). Negative Space. Manny Farber on the Movies. Expanded edition. New York. Da Capo Press.

FARBER, Manny (2009). Farber on Film. The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber. POLITO, Robert (Ed.). New York. The Library of America.

GARCÍA CALVO, Agustín (1995). Técnica y política del Cinematográfo: razón pública frente al consumo privado. Archipiélago. Cuadernos de crítica de la cultura. Nº22, otoño, pp. 103-107.