J. Hoberman

  • “ERICKA BECKMAN: DOUBLE REVERSE”

    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

  • PERFECT CHAOS: VERA CHYTILOVÁ’S SEDMIKRÁSKY (DAISIES)

    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

  • LOVE ANOMIE

    “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

  • 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.

    LE

  • HOT TAKE

    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

  • BIG NEWS

    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

  • THE ZINE AGE

    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

  • Lucrecia Martel, Zama, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 115 minutes.

    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

  • Wallace Berman, untitled, 1958, gelatin silver print with transfer type mounted on board, sheet size 7 1/8 × 5 7/8”. © Estate of Wallace Berman and Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles.

    “WILLIAM BLAKE AND THE AGE OF AQUARIUS”

    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

  • Still from Paz Encina’s Ejercicios de memoria (Memory Exercises), 2016, digital video, color, sound, 70 minutes.

    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, Distinto amanecer (Another Dawn), 1943, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 106 minutes. Julieta (Andrea Palma).

    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, Neruda, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 108 minutes. Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) and Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco).

    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