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cause everything he looked at was an endlessly interesting performance to him: the director’s work; the actor’s portrayal; the movie itself; even, in the case of Michael Snow’s films, “light and space, walls, soaring windows, and an amazing number of color-shadow variations that live and die in the window panes.” All of these he thinks of as “so many new actors.” But Farber himself is the natural star of each of his packed, vibrant little one-reelers, and he occasionally mugs and hams to excess. Pauline Kael’s fellow critic Renata Adler ruthlessly attacked her for, among other things, using metaphors that “[defy], precisely, physical comprehension.” If Adler believed Kael’s use of metaphors was too take-it-or-leave-it, I shudder to think what she would have written about Farber. Jon Lanthier, writing in Bright Lights Film Journal, notes that Farber’s career trajectory was similar to one of his pieces: He began with bold assertions, gained speed after a brief running start, and then toyed with our assumptions, performing forcefully and falling back in cleverly timed increments both refreshing and perplexing, only to grow silent at the very moment we felt the need for continuation roughly pressing into us, like the barrel of a loaded pistol in the slick small of our backs...

His project was more consistent and benevolent than Kael’s, though he covered less ground; each one of his essays, like his entire body of work, feels somehow complete but unfinished. He pitched his tent on calmer turf than she did, and he eventually removed himself from professional criticism entirely. What might he have made of Kael and Adler’s political in-fights? He probably would have rolled his eyes, but perhaps Kael isn’t the best writer with whom to compare him. Although these authors were writing in different contexts and at different volumes, it’s useful to look at Farber’s “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art” next to pieces like George Orwell’s “Why I Write” or Virginia Woolf ’s “Modern Fiction.” All three essays have a similar aim: use the essay as a springboard, a space to set up the terms for a literary endeavor. For Farber, as for Orwell and Woolf, that endeavor was a dogged, life-long search for some kind of truth: The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement.

If Orwell decried the loss of objective truth in totalitarian states and Woolf excavated truths in her own past, Farber was concerned with a different kind of truth—the journey to the truth, the handiwork required for its discovery, the “private runways to the truth” that he saw in his favorite films. Perhaps he was more concerned with the runways than with the truth itself. Gorin, in describing Farber the painter, described better than anyone Farber the man: someone who “always picked as a subject something that could hold on the head of a pin, and got his kicks from multiplying infinitely the entries and exits into it.” 43

Profile for Double Exposure

Double Exposure: Fall/Winter 2013-2014  

Double Exposure: Fall/Winter 2013-2014  

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