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Negative Space

UK, 1999 (MIFF 1999, Documentaries)

Director: Chris Petit

In 1971, film critic Manny Farber published a book called Negative Space, in which he wrote: "One of the finest moments in 1940s film is no longer than a blink: Bogart, as he crosses the street from one bookstore to another, looks up at a sign." The director of this fascinating experimental documentary, Chris Petit, is a filmmaker (Radio On [1979]), novelist and movie critic who helped create (and surf) the British 'new wave' that included Neil Jordan, Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman. After reading Farber's provocative summation of Hollywood, Petit returned to The Big Sleep and started to see what Farber was on about.

negative space is Petit's personal view of Farber: a critique of perhaps the furthest left-of-field film critic of the post-war era. Farber unashamedly embraced popular tastes in movies and insisted on practical over academic jargon. He worked against the grain of so many critics of his time. Here, Petit applies his own visual style and presents an intimate investigation of Farber's life and work. He uses the digital aesthetic to full effect, applying a split screen which allows him to juxtapose contrasting images framed as polaroid snaps. As Petit reviews a reviewer, his narrative explores broader issues of how we look at and remember films, and how films invariably change with time.

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