J. Hoberman

  • 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

  • Bruce Conner, Three Screen Ray, 2006, three-channel digital video, black-and-white, sound, 5 minutes 14 seconds. Still from the 2016 HD digital remastering.

    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, The Town Hall Affair, 2016. Performance view, the Performing Garage, New York, June 9, 2016. From left: Germaine Greer (Maura Tierney), Norman Mailer (Scott Shepherd), Norman Mailer (Ari Fliakos), Jill Johnston (Kate Valk). Photo: Paula Court.

    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, End Credits, 2012/2016, sequence of digital scans, black-and-white, sound, 12 hours 54 minutes; sound element: 19 hours 23 minutes. Installation view. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

    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

  • Nicolas Provost, Gravity, 2007, HD video, color, sound, 6 minutes 17 seconds.

    “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

  • Still from Jean Rouch’s Les maîtres fous (The Mad Masters), 1955, 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, color, sound, 36 minutes.


    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, Hollywood, 1937–38, tempera and oil on canvas mounted on board, 56 × 84". © Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

    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, Juke: Passages from the Films of Spencer Williams, 2015, digital video, black-and-white, sound, 30 minutes. Frame from Spencer Williams’s Juke Joint, 1947.

    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

  • Still from Jack Smith’s Hamlet in the Rented World (A Fragment), 1970–73, 16 mm, color, sound, 27 minutes. Hamlet (Jack Smith). © Jack Smith Archive.

    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