Saturday, October 03, 2009

Manny Farber On Howard Hawks' Red River

Very excited to see Library of America has just published a new anthology of Manny Farber's film criticism. Not only because I've cultivated, as book collector and reader, something of a fetish for many of Library of America's finely crafted hardcover titles. (Though it should be noted that their Farber anthology is not part of the regular Library of America series and come with "its own unique format and binding.") But because Farber's writing on film is so striking in its originality and finely stylized acuteness. His film writings ignore things like plot summations in favor of these brilliant, finally crafted declarative bursts. Sometimes it's a dazzling paragraph like this one about Howard Hawks' "ingeniously lyrical" Western from 1948, Red River:

Red River as a comment on frontier courage, loyalty and leadership, is romantic, simple-minded mush, but an ingeniously lyrical film nonetheless. The story is of the first trip from Texas to the Abilene stockyards is a feat of pragmatic engineering, working with weather, space, and physiognomy. The theme is how much misery and brutality can issue from a stubbornly obsessed bully (John Wayne, who barks his way through the film instead of moving), while carving an empire in the wilderness. Of the one-trait characters, Wayne is a sluggish mass being insensitive and cruel-minded on the front of the screen; Joanne Dru is a chattering joke, even more static than Wayne, but there is a small army of actors (Clift, John Ireland) keyed in lyrically with trees cows, and ground.

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