J. Hoberman

  • J. Hoberman

    WORMWOOD (Errol Morris) I saw this six-episode, four-hour-long mix of documentary interviews and dramatic reconstructions in mid-December 2017 and have been haunted by it ever since. Wormwood delves into the notorious case of army biologist Frank Olson, who became the unwitting guinea pig of the CIA’s LSD experiments and in 1953 dove to his death from a hotel window. An examination of obsession as well as a chilling Cold War mystery, Wormwood entwines Olson’s story with that of his brilliant son Eric, who has devoted his life to (or thrown it away on) an attempt to know the unknowable.



    From the Third Eye: The Evergreen Review Film Reader, edited by Ed Halter and Barney Rosset. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018. 336 pages.

    “ANYTHING PUBLISHED by Grove Press was a must,” John Waters recalled of his high-school reading (and perhaps shoplifting) habits in his 1981 memoir, Shock Value. In that belief, Waters was not alone. Back in the early 1960s, Barney Rosset’s publishing house was an avant-pop name brand, like Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics.

    As the signifier of hip modernism, Grove Press published Beckett, Burroughs, and Genet, as well as Henry Miller and the Marquis de Sade. Grove


    Artist as Reporter: Weegee, Ad Reinhardt, and the “PM” News Picture, by Jason E. Hill. Oakland: University of California Press, 2018. 375 pages.

    “WHO WANTS YESTERDAY’S PAPERS? Who wants yesterday’s girl? Who wants yesterday’s papers? Nobody in the world!” So sneered Mick Jagger back in 1967.

    While it’s true that old newsprint may serve to wrap fish (or, as one of my former colleagues at the Village Voice colorfully put it, “wipe a bum’s ass”), anyone who has ever been hypnotized by an unspooling roll of microfilm, sneezed in a musty newspaper morgue, or suffered the pain of brittle paper crumbling


    Yeah, edited by Tuli Kupferberg. New York: Primary Information, 2017. 342 pages.

    NOW LET US PRAISE the less famous Beats. Naphtali “Tuli” Kupferberg was born in 1923 into a Yiddish-speaking, secular Jewish family on Cannon Street in New York, five blocks from the East River on the madly congested eastern edge of the lower Lower East Side. He died eighty-six years later, only a mile and a half west, having spent most of his life in the city.

    A Beatnik bard and a hippie sage, a Young Communist turned anarcho-pacifist, noted in Allen Ginsberg’s 1955 poem “Howl” for having jumped off the Brooklyn

  • J. Hoberman

    1 DRUNK (AKA DRINK) (1965) (Andy Warhol) An astounding behavioral performance: Emile de Antonio slugs an entire bottle of scotch and gets hopelessly hammered in real time. This 1965 Factory masterpiece was shown once late last year at the Museum of Modern Art. Rather than being returned to the vault, it deserves to be in heavy rotation.

    2 ZAMA (Lucrecia Martel) Latin America’s preeminent director (and one of the world’s most inventive narrative filmmakers) finds an even more violent and absurd—and disconcertingly beautiful—degree of stagnation in an eighteenth-century backwater than


    This erudite Summer of Love golden-anniversary exhibition places the Beat-generation muse, proto-hippie, politically radical poet-engraver, and generally unclassifiable William Blake in the context of twentieth-century American art and popular culture. Exuberance is beauty! Identifying Allen Ginsberg, Agnes Martin, Maurice Sendak, counterculture communards, and the Fugs (to name a few) as Blake’s successors, the show features more than fifty of Blake’s engravings, etchings, watercolors, and illustrations, as well as some 150 paintings, drawings, photographs, film

  • Paz Encina

    PAZ ENCINA makes film objects and situational documentaries, or sit-docs, movies in which a dramatic narrative is transparently constructed from a handful of organized audiovisual facts. Sound in Encina’s minimalist films generally takes precedence over image. The artist is a formalist whose subject is the history of her native Paraguay—poor, landlocked, governed for decades by the ruthless right-wing dictator General Alfredo Stroessner.

    Encina, who studied classical guitar as a child, learned to read music before she knew the alphabet. She builds her films, she has said, on the foundation

  • Julio Bracho

    THE FUTURE OF CINEMA STUDIES demands an expansion of the past. Take the case of Julio Bracho (1909–1978), who was reintroduced to the world with a seven-film tribute at last October’s Morelia Film Festival in Mexico. Once that country’s most esteemed director, Bracho is nearly unknown outside his native land. (None of his films seem to have been represented in the scores of clips on view in the recent “Mexique 1900–1950” show at Paris’s Grand Palais.)

    Bracho’s reputation has been eclipsed in Mexico as well—not least because the many movies he directed during the last two decades of his career

  • Pablo Larraín’s Neruda

    WITH HIS NEW FILM, Neruda, Chile’s master of the political gothic, Pablo Larraín, exhumes a sacred monster: namely, his nation’s 1971 Nobel Laureate, the poet Pablo Neruda. Hardly a biopic, Neruda focuses on a brief, if dramatic, period in its subject’s life—a fifteen-month period from January 1948 through March 1949 during which the poet, an elected senator and an outspoken member of the banned Chilean Communist Party, went underground, finally escaping over the Andes to Argentina.

    Neruda devotes only a dozen pages to the topic in his memoirs, half of them concerning the exciting last stage

  • J. Hoberman

    1 THREE SCREEN RAY (Bruce Conner) This superkinetic triptych, created by the artist in 2006 using material from his 1961 film Cosmic Ray, was the moving-image high point of, as well as a synecdoche for, MoMA’s recent Conner retrospective, “It’s All True”—itself a triumph of installed film pieces.

    2 O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (Ezra Edelman) Nearly eight hours in length, Edelman’s documentary meditates on O. J. Simpson as a person and as a construct even while using his life as a text illuminating the force of race and the nature of justice in late-twentieth-century America—and beyond.


  • the Wooster Group’s Town Hall Affair

    WHAT EXACTLY IS The Town Hall Affair, an hour-long performance piece the Wooster Group staged this past May as a work-in-progress at the Performing Garage in SoHo? Is it a reconstruction of Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker’s 1979 feature Town Bloody Hall, which documented the “Dialogue on Women’s Liberation” presented April 30, 1971, at New York’s Town Hall by the Theatre for Ideas? Is it a deconstruction? A hall of mirrors? A stroll down memory lane?

    Multiple iterations of a narrative (often jumping from medium to medium) tend toward myth. Such has been made of that archetype-populated April

  • Steve McQueen

    FIRST EXHIBITED as a six-hour, single-channel projection in 2012, Steve McQueen’s End Credits was recently installed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (with an expanded running time of nearly thirteen hours) on two large screens facing each other across a space nearly three-quarters the length of a football field.

    The work’s title suggests the stately, somewhat enigmatic list of names and job titles projected at the end of a movie while audiences customarily exit the theater, but here the continuously scrolling text’s subject is the scholar, athlete, actor, singer, political

  • “Walkers: Hollywood Afterlives in Art and Artifact”

    “ICONS OF HOLLYWOOD have richly circulating afterlives which belie the alleged obsolescence of the medium,” writes curator Robert M. Rubin in his introduction to the catalogue for the Museum of the Moving Image’s dense and eccentric show “Walkers: Hollywood Afterlives in Art and Artifact.” It is, he declares, “A goddam zombie apocalypse.”

    Or maybe the Dream Dump described in Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939)—the “Sargasso of the imagination” that his protagonist encounters slogging across a studio backlot. The notion that we’re all out there lost among the stars is not unfamiliar.

  • J. Hoberman

    THE FIRST FILM by Chantal Akerman I ever saw was News from Home (1977). In some ways, it remains my favorite: Her vision of Manhattan as a succession of shabby, geometrically framed streetscapes just knocked me out.

    Jackie Raynal (then programming the Bleecker Street Cinema in Greenwich Village, where I would finally catch the already-legendary Jeanne Dielman a year later) projected News from Home for me in her apartment in the autumn of 1977, and, because it was the French version, she provided a rough translation of the voice-over—the pleading, wheedling, repetitive letters written to


    NEW IDEAS in motion pictures typically arrive from the so-called margins. Thus, modern (or postmodern) cinema comes to Europe by way of Africa. Working out his own particular destiny as an ethnographic filmmaker in France’s West African colonies, Jean Rouch (1917–2004) invented the French New Wave.

    A professional anthropologist with a long-standing interest in Surrealism and, by his own account, an early regular at the Cinémathèque Française, Rouch credited the introduction of the 16-mm format with the “revival of ethnographic films.” He himself became a filmmaker when he started packing a

  • Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood

    WALT WHITMAN heard America singing; Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) heard the nation shouting, snapping its suspenders, slapping itself on the back, and dancing a buck-and-wing.

    That’s entertainment! And so it’s the not-illogical and even downright innerestin’ premise of “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood”—the first major exhibition of the artist’s work since his centennial Whitney retrospective in 1989—that our corn-fed, self-appointed Tintoretto should be seen in the context of those celluloid mythmakers who, like him, brought Renaissance production values into the

  • Thom Andersen’s Juke

    SOMETIME IN THE MID-1930S, Joseph Cornell acquired a 16-mm print of the 1931 Universal adventure film East of Borneo, which he distilled and reshuffled, transmuting back-lot make-believe into a nineteen-minute documentary portrait of its star and namesake, Rose Hobart (1936). Thom Andersen’s Juke: Passages from the Films of Spencer Williams is a related enterprise.

    A thirty-minute montage of material from the oeuvre of the African American filmmaker and actor Spencer Williams (1893–1969)—commissioned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art as part of the film sidebar to “One Way Ticket,” an

  • Edward Owens

    THE LIST OF TEENAGE FILMMAKERS associated with the New American Cinema during its late-1960s glory days includes Barbara Rubin, Warren Sonbert, George Landow, and Robert Beavers.To these we can add Edward Owens (1949–2009), whose precocious 16-mm movies gathered dust on the shelves of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative for decades until Ronald Gregg programmed them at the University of Chicago in 2006 as part of the series “Beyond Warhol, Smith, and Anger: Recovering the Significance of Postwar Queer Underground Cinema, 1950–1968.”

    It was in that context that the critic Fred Camper saw Tomorrow’s

  • Jack Smith’s Hamlet in the Rented World

    GIVEN THAT JACK SMITH never actually completed another movie after Flaming Creatures (1963), that most of his theater pieces concern the impossibility of their coming into existence, and that many all-but-identical drafts of the same scripts were found among his papers, it’s hardly surprising that he should have been fascinated by the most famously indecisive character in world literature.

    Hamlet in the Rented World (A Fragment) is a twenty-seven-minute assemblage put together by Jerry Tartaglia on behalf of the Gladstone Gallery in New York from materials discovered in the Jack Smith Archives,

  • “Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television”

    Kennedy-era FCC chairman Newton Minow wasn’t referencing T. S. Eliot when he called commercial television a “vast wasteland”—or was he? The mixed-media exhibition (and accompanying catalogue) “Revolution of the Eye” argues that, particularly in its formative years, network TV was a modernist form. The show draws on some 260 art objects, artifacts, and clips from the late 1940s through the mid-’70s; artists range from ex-Dadaists (Duchamp, Man Ray) and Pop stars (Lichtenstein, Warhol) to the great vulgar modernist Ernie Kovacs, with guest appearances by Dalí and de