Skip to main content

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.

See also...

UNREQUITED LOVE

When British academic, Greg Dart, found himself the target of stalking, he felt compelled to record his conflict of emotions in a candid memoir. His writing piqued the interest of filmmaker, Chris ... More »

KAFI’S STORY/NUBA CONVERSATIONS

Kafi's Story centres on Kafi, a young Nuba man from the remote mountain region of Sudan. His story begins on a bus bound for Khartoum where he hopes to get a job and save enough money to buy a dress ... More »

HITCH: ALFRED THE GREAT/ ALFRED THE AUTEUR

"Actors come and go," Alfred Hitchcock once told reporters, "But the name of the director should stay clearly in the mind of the audience. We make a film succeed." Coming from one of cinema's ... More »

TWILIGHT CITY

... ... Twilight City won the MFF's Grand Prix for Best Short Film in 1989. Due to airline delays, however, the print was never screened (only a video was available), making this a much-welcomed ... More »

HIDDEN FACES

An Egyptian woman, Safaa Fathay, working as a researcher, and now living in Paris, has been commissioned to work as an interviewer on a film. She goes back to her country to meet the internationally ... More »

JAMES ELLROY’S FEAST OF DEATH

"A gripping peek into the dark places of America's prime crime writer. This brilliant, harrowing documentary traces Ellroy's life, work and personal odyssey. Exceptional." - The Guardian ... Academy ... More »

Select a festival
Search The Film Archive
Browse By Director