J. Hoberman

  • Neelon Crawford, Paths of Fire II, 1976, 16 mm, color, silent, 8 minutes.


    NEELON CRAWFORD’S FILMS are at once deeply unfashionable and exactly on time. In making his old-school 16-mm productions in the days of cinepoetry, mostly with a Bolex, his principal concerns were light, movement, and texture, often in the natural world. Crawford’s first film, Freakquently, 1968, is pretty much the sort of movie you’d expect a twenty-two-year-old guy impressed by Bruce Conner and living on the outskirts of Haight-Ashbury to make—a try-anything Kodachrome sound-image collage replete with trippy effects, snatches of Jimi Hendrix, and a nude dancer gyrating in a mirrored cube of

  • David Dufresne, Un pays qui se tient sage (The Monopoly of Violence), 2020, 2K video, color, sound, 86 minutes.
    film June 17, 2021

    Blood Stream

    ESSENTIALLY A VEHICLE for solo performance, TikTok can make individual careers, but the humble Facebook-Twitter-YouTube ecosystem—identified by the British filmmaker Peter Snowdon as the vehicle for “vernacular video”—can make history. The most obvious example: Darnella Frazier’s recording of George Floyd’s murder, arguably the most influential single cinematic event in recent memory.

    The Uprising, 2014, Snowdon’s scandalously underappreciated Arab Spring compilation, is a landmark deployment of vernacular video. So is The Monopoly of Violence, 2020, known in France as Un pays qui se tient sage

  • Ulrike Ottinger, Paris Calligrammes, 2020, HD video, color and black-and-white, sound, 131 minutes.


    PART MEMOIR, part madly collaged Francophile valentine, Ulrike Ottinger’s Paris Calligrammes recounts the seven formative years (1962–69) the artist spent in the City of Lights while cannily laying claim to her place in history.

    The Ottinger oeuvre is a combination of epic documentaries, fantastic voyages, and ethnographic inquiries. Paris Calligrammes, which premiered in March 2020 at the Berlin International Film Festival and opened at New York’s Film Forum this past April 23, encompasses them all. Invoking the French poet-explorer Victor Segalen, Ottinger presents her pilgrimage from the

  • Jayden X, Shooting and Storming of the US Capitol in Washington DC, 2021, video, color, sound, 39 minutes 36 seconds.
    film January 15, 2021

    Capitol Records

    Tape recorders, ordinary cameras, and movie cameras are already extensively owned by wage-earners. The question is why these means of production do not turn up at factories, in schools, in the offices of the bureaucracy, in short, everywhere there is social conflict.

    —Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “Constituents of a Theory of the Media” New Left Review (1970)

    HOW QUAINT that question seems today.

    The assault on the Capitol on the afternoon of January 6—the first hostile occupation of the building since Washington was sacked and set ablaze by British soldiers in 1814—is one of the most shocking attacks

  • Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver, Cinematic Illumination, 1968–69, eighteen slide projections (1,350 black-and-white slides, sound, 114 minutes 45 seconds), 108 color gels, disco ball. Installation view, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2020. Photo: Robert Gerhardt.

    Hippie Medium

    IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO THINK OF Andy Warhol when pondering Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver’s Cinematic Illumination, 1968–69, currently tucked away in the Museum of Modern Art’s new Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio, albeit originally installed in the Ginza discotheque Killer Joe, where the ceilings, walls, and pistonlike pillars were covered with silver vinyl. During the brief period I served on the board of advisers to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh before its 1994 opening, a colleague who had been close to the artist suggested that the institution really should be configured as a discotheque (“Andy

  • Sergei Loznitsa, State Funeral, 2019, 2K video, color and black-and-white, sound, 135 minutes.


    A MESMERIZING, two-hour assemblage fashioned from archival material intended for The Great Farewell, a never-released feature documenting the March 1953 funeral of Soviet maximum leader Joseph Stalin, Sergei Loznitsa’s State Funeral is both awesome and stupefying, conjuring the spectacle of a dead pharaoh laid to rest in a celluloid pyramid of his own design.

    In making The Great Farewell, the filmmakers had access to film stock captured in Germany during World War II. Thus, the first thing that strikes the viewer of Loznitsa’s artful, dispassionately titled re-hallucination may be the glorious

  • Jean Cocteau, Le sang d’un poète (The Blood of a Poet), 1930, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 50 minutes. Poet (Enrique Rivero).


    GIVEN THE HELLENISTIC BOMBAST of fascist kitsch—ersatz Parthenons and nude Übermenschen; Giorgio de Chirico’s Gladiators at Rest, 1928–29; Leni Riefenstahl’s partly staged documentary Olympia (1938), Julius Evola’s political manifesto Pagan Imperialism (1928)—it’s no wonder that modernism’s own flirtation with classical antiquity would be regarded as suspect. Mussolini had barely marched on Rome when, in 1926, Jean Cocteau hailed this classicizing tendency as “le rappel à l’ordre” (the call to order); a quarter of a century later, he produced the movement’s belated epitome with his 1950 masterpiece,

  • Corneliu Porumboiu, The Whistlers, 2019, 3.2K video, color, sound, 97 minutes. Center: Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) and Carlito (Cristóbal Pinto). Production still. Photo: Vlad Cioplea.


    THE ROMANIAN DIRECTOR Corneliu Porumboiu may be the most epistemologically preoccupied filmmaker this side of Errol Morris, but having spent his first fourteen years living under the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Père Ubu–ist regime, his sense of the absurd is second nature.

    12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), Porumboiu’s first feature, is predicated on a ridiculous controversy as to whether an actual revolution occurred in the director’s hometown. (The Romanian title translates as a question that might be the prelude to an Eastern European folktale: “Was There or Not?”) Police, Adjective (2009), the

  • Pietro Marcello, Martin Eden, 2019, 16 mm transferred to 2K video, color, sound, 126 minutes. Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli) and Elena Orsini (Jessica Cressy).

    J. Hoberman

    J. Hoberman is a recovering film critic. 


    STATE FUNERAL (Sergei Loznitsa) 

    The official footage documenting the pageantry around Joseph Stalin’s death—reorchestrated here by Loznitsa—is a totalitarian spectacle that, in its interplay of leader and mass, is a sort of found Triumph of the Will starring a “dead god” (Loznitsa’s phrase) in a carnation-red coffin. The Trial (2018), another Loznitsa film, might serve as a prologue—long-lost footage from an early show trial that was evidently shot for an audience of one still-living god.


    MARTIN EDEN (Pietro Marcello)

    Bursting with ideas, Marcello’s

  • Marianne Brandt, Untitled (Airplane, Soldiers and Military Cemetery), ca. 1930, collage on cardboard, 25 5⁄8 × 19 3⁄4". © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.


    Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics, by Elizabeth Otto. MIT Press, 2019. 296 pages.

    THE TANTALIZING TITLE of Elizabeth Otto’s new book brings to mind the maverick scholar Mel Gordon’s Voluptuous Panic (2000) and Horizontal Collaboration (2015), pictorial studies of the sexual countercultures of Weimar Germany and occupied Paris, respectively. Published on the one hundredth anniversary of the school’s founding, Otto’s book isn’t as wiggy as those precursors, but it does humanize what she calls the “paradigmatic movement of rational modernism”

  • Robert Frank, Trolley—New Orleans, 1955. © Robert Frank, from The Americans. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Sammlung Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur.
    passages October 02, 2019

    Robert Frank (1924–2019)

    THE WEEK ROBERT FRANK DIED, the West Berlin building formerly known as Amerika Haus, now the gallery C/O Berlin, opened the exhibition “Robert Frank: Unseen.” As it happened, I was in town, staying no more than a few blocks away. The press preview was packed, the mood far from funereal—Frank was already an immortal. Indeed, his first German show had been at Amerika Haus back in 1985, when the place was programmed by the USIA, the now-defunct cultural diplomacy branch of the US government. Perhaps his work should have been permanently installed there.

    The title was a teaser. The show was half


    Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons, by Hannah Frank. Oakland: University of California Press, 2019. 256 pages.

    IT’S NOT EVERY DAY that a posthumously published Ph.D. thesis nudges the world of cinema studies off its axis. All hail Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons (2019), by Hannah Frank, who completed the book shortly before her tragic death in 2017, at age thirty-two, from an illness believed to have been pneumococcal meningitis.

    Frank is not the first theory-minded cine-historian to suggest that with the advent of CGI the history of motion