“I was interested in seeing if there was a way of producing a film which was constructed more like writing – because when you are writing something you don’t necessarily know where it is going to end up… The Falconer [Petit, 1997] for example never really aspired to be a film, more to a state of mutation or hybrid. It was an essay or graphic novel as much as it was a film, an exercise in vertical layering rather than linear unfolding.”
Truth and invention, real lives and fiction become indistinct and equal elements, merging with other people’s work in the found-footage style, to create a single fabric of random spontaneous expressiveness, not unlike the life that slides by in front of a shop video camera. Each piece of film presents a clue to an inextricable tangle to which everything in the world is connected in its spider web of time, space and chance.
— Excerpt from Serafino Murri, `Chris Petit, Anatomies of the Image’, in Afterall – A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, Issue 5, February 2002
Chris [Petit] was much taken with [critic Manny Farber‘s] writings on American cinema of the 1940s, and with the way in which Farber could notice a detail in a movie, a moment, a glance, and celebrate the beauty and complexity of just that. The narrative was largely unimportant, but the way an actor like Robert Mitchum moved, or the way Bogart looked up just before crossing a street, these were the things that Farber believed were significant.So Chris made a film essay about these ideas that is a road trip across Arizona and Nevada and California, and through the psyche of American cinema. It’s a documentary in which the road becomes a movie, just as it did for Wenders and so many others. It’s about film and about memory, as well as about the way we mis-remember movies — and life — all the time. It’s a television programme that’s also about photography (the Polaroid frame is a key device) and about painting. It’s about Rossellini and Godard, and about Europe and the USA. And it’s a sort of a love story too, between the filmmaker and his travelling companion.There are so many things to like about negative space: the ways in which it interrogates sequences and the surfaces of the cinema image; its complex, half-heard and half-recalled soundtrack; the sense of nostalgia for cinema, and for a particular studio-based cinema from a specific historical moment; the unexpected beauty of small-town America in both the 1940s and the 1990s; its analysis of physical and psychological and cinematic space; the bold, deliberate provocation of a film made for television that breaks most of the rules; and then at its centre, the rueful, wise and fragile Manny Farber, filmed so informally by the director on a camcoder that sometimes you wonder if he ever looked through the viewfinder.
If you are specifically interested in Manny Farber, subject of Petit’s brilliant 1999 film for television negative space (someone, anyone, please release this film on DVD!), then you should also check out yesterday’s FSFF post.
an ambient 21st century road movie that is essay rather than fiction, drift rather than destination. It is a film about life in the rearview mirror, memories of other journeys (Poland to Texas), the You Tube generation and email seduction. It is also about driving into the flatlands of late middle age, about fathers and sons and growing up in the cold war, about genocide and political assassination, and the postwar landscapes of Europe and the USA.
- Chris Petit, ‘The Last Modernist [on J.G Ballard]’, Granta, April 22, 2009
- Clips from The Falconer, a 1997 film by Chris Petit about filmmaker Peter Whitehead
- Chris Petit, ‘ROAD MOVIES: Germany and England / England and Germany: Proposal for a Film, June 2008’, Vertigo, Vol.4 No.1 – Autumn / Winter 2008
- BFI Screenonline Chris Petit webpage
- BFI Chris Petit Filmography
- Danny Birchall, ‘Radio On’, Screenonline, October 2003
- Doug Cummings, ‘Negative Space (1999), filmjourney.org, August 19, 2008
- Chris Darke , ‘Chris Petit and Iain Sinclair Asylum’, Film Comment, 2000
- Chris Darke, ‘Lettr from London’, Film Philosophy, Vol. 7 No. 8, April 2003
- Benjamin Halligan, ‘Notes on Negative Space‘, Senses of Cinema, Issue 12, 2001
- Andrew Hedgecock, ‘Interview with Chris Petit’, The Edge, [date unknown]
- Erwin Houtenbrink, ‘Interview with Chris Petit [about new film Content]’, February 2010
- Nicholas Lezard , ‘Good bad dream: on the author as camera in Chris Petit’s Robinson’, Guardian Online, September 1, 2001
- Laura Mulvey, ‘Detail, Digression, Death: The Movies in Chris Petit’s Film Negative Space’, Afterall – A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, Issue 5, Spring/Summer 2002
- Serafino Murri, `Chris Petit, Anatomies of the Image’, in Afterall – A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, Issue 5, February 2002
- Serafino Murri, ‘Visual Irony as Virus in Panoptic Structures: Logic of Fact and Anti-Truth in Chris Petit’s “Surveillance”’, ctrl[space, October 2, 2001
- Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘American Beauty [on Chris Petit’s NEGATIVE SPACE]’, JonathanRosenbaum.com, May 12, 2000 var articleheadline = “Film Studies: Chris Petit: intellectual, cineaste, and a national treasure “;
- Andrew Stevens, ‘De-Googled: Chris Petit’, 3:AM Magazine, March 22, 2007
- Adam Sweeting, ‘A Screen Full of Nothing’, Guardian Online, June 18, 1999
- David Thomson, ‘Film Studies: Chris Petit: intellectual, cineaste, and a national treasure’, The Independent, June 13, 1999
- John Wyver, ‘The late Manny Farber: critic, painter, good guy’, Illuminations, September 14, 2008