J. Hoberman

  • 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

  • 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


    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


    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,


    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

  • 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


    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”

  • 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


    Curated by Henriette Huldisch

    Characterized by ingenious artisanal special effects and communicating an infectious POW!, Ericka Beckman’s early movies infused object theater with playful psychodrama, advancing the notion that girls just want to have serious fun. These enigmatic games, in which contestants, often female, learn how to act in or on the world, suggest self-reflexive metaphors for the films’ own creation. While early pieces like You the Better, 1983, and Cinderella, 1986, sometimes shown as installations, were made in Beckman’s “black box” studio, her recent work is more architectural


    PUBLISHED TOWARD THE END of 1964 in the avant-pop journal Evergreen Review, Susan Sontag’s essay-manifesto “Against Interpretation” ended with the ringing declaration that “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” Her model for this aesthetic revolution was the movies. Two years later, in 1966, Czech director Věra Chytilová and screenwriter–production designer Ester Krumbachová debuted a sort of cinematic version of Sontag’s call to arms. Innocuously titled yet wildly confrontational, Sedmikrásky (Daisies) should be considered as among the quintessential performative artworks of


    “ARTY,” A COINAGE DATING to the heyday of Jugendstil, isn’t a term I like to use, but it seems unavoidable in discussing the work of the Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan. Two features into his career and just shy of thirty, Bi has established himself as the artiest internationally known director this side of the arch-pretensoids Terrence Malick and Darren Aronofsky. I don’t much care for either of those filmmakers, each a textbook practitioner of what Manny Farber, in the Winter 1962–63 issue of Film Culture, famously called “white elephant” filmmaking, but Bi is something else.

    Farber took issue with