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By the 1970s he had come to see space as ‘the most dramatic stylistic entity—from Giotto to Noland, from (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967).’ Always ‘process-mad’—his phrase—Farber seems to have trained himself to experience, as though microscopically and in slow motion, contradictions within a film overall, deficiencies in its script, friction in its performances, in a sequence, even in a single abbreviated shot, and grasped how entirely and precisely time-laden, imbued with its historical present, a movie, especially a good one, tends to be.
Most of Farber’s work in his career of more than 55 years—including art and movie criticism, renowned film classes at the University of California at San Diego, and especially the paintings he began after his move to Southern California, shortly before was published—has emphasized polyphony.
He began blazing this trail quite early on and was always in dynamic if unspoken dialogue with other writers, critics, and artists, testing his perceptions against theirs, interrogating and incorporating their languages and techniques, and using them to triangulate his positions.
In addition to a comprehensive index, this expanded version of Negative Space appends eight pieces published after the original edition, nearly all explicitly cosigned by her.
In their interview with Thompson, Farber specified a bit of what Patterson brought to their criticism: ‘Patricia’s got a photographic ear; she remembers conversation from a movie. Relating a movie to other sources, getting the plot, the idea behind a movie—getting the abstract idea out of it.
In 1966 Patricia Patterson, an artist and teacher in her own right whom Farber married ten years later, began collaborating informally with him.
Though uncredited at first, she had an ever stronger hand in his .Yet the briefest look at his work reveals an astute appreciator of actors, one who paid subtle attention to body language, physiognomy, and other presentations of self.Farber had a coterie reputation, particularly in the postwar world of New York intellectuals, as a keen observer, a brilliant and original stylist, and an exacting but generous critic (as well as a pioneering painter).She is a fierce anti-solutions person, against identifying a movie as one single thing, period. She brings that into the writing and takes the assertiveness out’.After Patterson conceded that she was ‘a little more scrupulous’ and ‘less willing to let the statement be made…Again there is a personal critical voice, yet it is neither Farber’s nor Patterson’s, but an unprecedented blend.‘I can’t imagine a more perfect art form, a more perfect career than criticism,’ Farber told Thompson at the end of their conversation in 1977.He could easily skate from a quick sociological overview to spatial analysis to a punning aside on a room’s familiar bric-a-brac within the winding course of a single sentence.He probably be-came best known for his articulation and defense of ‘termite art’—a phrase he applied to any unpretentious movie that bur-rowed with no object in mind but ‘eating its own boundaries’—as opposed to self-conscious ‘white elephant art,’ artificially laden with symbolism and ‘significance.’ He would often praise ‘the anonymous artist, who is seemingly afraid of the polishing, hypocrisy, bragging, fake educating that goes on in serious art,’ singling out ‘the least serious undergrounder, which attains most of its crisp, angular character from the modesty of a director working skillfully far within the earthworks of the story.’ In fact, Farber was so persuasive an advocate on behalf of films whose directors’ names he employed as shorthand for complex webs of creative relationships that he has sometimes been mistaken for an auteurist fundamentalist who worshipped an unanointed few.also leaves no doubt that this assessment of his sensibility and aesthetic was misleadingly narrow.For Farber was always, if increasingly, aware of films as collaborative and mongrelized in all their parts. One of the joys of moviegoing is worrying over the fact that what is referred to as Hawks might be Jules Furthman, that behind the Godard film is the looming shape of Raoul Coutard, 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’.