Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
The Totally Insane Ending to 'Little Boy' Has Critics Fuming The Totally Insane Ending to 'Little Boy' Has Critics Fuming 'Mad Men' Has Ended Four Episodes in a Row With the Same Shot 'Mad Men' Has Ended Four Episodes in a Row With the Same Shot First Reviews of 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' First Reviews of 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' "Mad Men" Probably Won't End the Way You Want It To. Get Used to It "Mad Men" Probably Won't End the Way You Want It To. Get Used to It The Only Oral History of 'Mad Men' You Ever Need to Read. Ever. The Only Oral History of 'Mad Men' You Ever Need to Read. Ever. Daily Reads: 'Ex Machina's Feminist Sci-Fi, Native American Actors Call Adam Sandler's Movie Racist, and More Daily Reads: 'Ex Machina's Feminist Sci-Fi, Native American Actors Call Adam Sandler's Movie Racist, and More L.A. Times' Mary McNamara Wins Pulitzer for Criticism L.A. Times' Mary McNamara Wins Pulitzer for Criticism The Death-by-Skype Horror Movie 'Unfriended' Is an Unlikely Critical Hit The Death-by-Skype Horror Movie 'Unfriended' Is an Unlikely Critical Hit Criticwire Survey: 'Star Wars' Memories Criticwire Survey: 'Star Wars' Memories The Children's Book from 'The Babadook' Will Terrify You in the Real World The Children's Book from 'The Babadook' Will Terrify You in the Real World A Writer From The Onion Totally Destroys Patton Oswalt in This Epic Twitter Rant A Writer From The Onion Totally Destroys Patton Oswalt in This Epic Twitter Rant Daily Reads: 'Wonder Woman' and the State of Female Directors in Hollywood, A Grimdark 'Daredevil,' and More Daily Reads: 'Wonder Woman' and the State of Female Directors in Hollywood, A Grimdark 'Daredevil,' and More Why Andrew Jarecki's 'The Jinx' Could Be Very, Very Bad for Documentaries Why Andrew Jarecki's 'The Jinx' Could Be Very, Very Bad for Documentaries Daily Reads: How The Hype Machine Is Ruining Movies, Why Kevin James Movies Have a Kevin James Problem, and More Daily Reads: How The Hype Machine Is Ruining Movies, Why Kevin James Movies Have a Kevin James Problem, and More Daily Reads: 'Full House' and the Dead End of Nostalgia, How the Children of the '70s Killed the Movies, and More Daily Reads: 'Full House' and the Dead End of Nostalgia, How the Children of the '70s Killed the Movies, and More Daily Reads: Why No One Remembers "Avatar," the Best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2014, and more Daily Reads: Why No One Remembers "Avatar," the Best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2014, and more The A.V. Club Picks the 100 Best Movies of the Decade; 'The Master' Tops the List The A.V. Club Picks the 100 Best Movies of the Decade; 'The Master' Tops the List The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' The Unraceable 'Kimmy Schmidt': Does Tina Fey's New Show Have a Race Problem? The Unraceable 'Kimmy Schmidt': Does Tina Fey's New Show Have a Race Problem?

From the Wire: Stanley Kubrick, the Elephantine Termite

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire November 9, 2012 at 3:03PM

A clever turn of phrase used to pinpoint the precise pleasures of Stanley Kubrick's unusual aesthetic.
0
"The Shining"
"The Shining"

Manny Farber's "White Elephant Art Versus Termite Art" remains one of the most influential pieces of film criticism ever written (it certainly influenced me -- even inspiring the name of my first film blog with my colleague R. Emmet Sweeney). If you've never read it, Farber essentially argues in favor of small scale boundary breakers (termite art) over big, bloated works of "importance" (white elephant art). Also, if you've never read it, buy this book for crying out loud.

In a lovely essay for Film Comment on "The Shining" and the new "Shining" documentary "Room 237," critic B. Kite uses an inventive twist on Farber's white elephant/termite art terminology to describe the particular and peculiar aesthetic of the film's director, Stanley Kubrick:

"In the years since Stanley Kubrick’s death, his films have come to seem ever more anomalous. Some of this has to do with his movies’ characteristic registers, which, in their mixture of grandiosity, the monumental, with intimations of a weirdly teasing, hermetic design, suggest nothing so much as an unholy Farberian crossbreed: the elephantine termite."

Many critics have built their own rubrics out of the raw materials of Farber's theory, but I've never read one quite so simple and yet so clever. And it fits: Kubrick is perhaps the ultimate "elephantine termite" -- crafting spectacular movies in disreputable genres like science-fiction, horror, and war, often heralded by critics and movie buffs but largely ignored by the Hollywood awards establishment (Kubrick himself never won a Best Director Oscar). The phrase goes a long way towards explaining Kubrick's appeal as well: the filmmaker who makes genre films unlike anyone else, neither high nor lowbrow.

Kite's entire essay is superb and worth a read. "The Elephantine Termite" is worth stealing, with respectful acknowledgement of its source.

Read more of "Escaping the Overlook."

This article is related to: From the Wire, Room 237


E-Mail Updates



Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome