J. Hoberman

  • 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,

  • Batman, 1966–68, still from a TV show on ABC. Season 2, episode 11, “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes.” Robin (Burt Ward) and Batman (Adam West).


    The myths that actually touched you at that time—not Hercules, Orpheus,
    Ulysses, and Aeneas—but Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman . . .

    —Tom Wolfe imagining Ken Kesey’s boyhood in post–World War II
    America, in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)

    Camp was really being mass-marketed—everyone was in on the joke now.
    —Andy Warhol on the TV show Batman, in POPism: The Warhol ’60s (1980)

    BUT WHAT WAS THE JOKE? And who was the Joker?

    Loved and loathed beyond measure, the televised Batman (ABC, 1966–68) arrived sufficiently late in the day to recognize itself as a manufactured

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice, 2014, 35 mm, color, sound, 148 minutes. Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro).

    Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice

    IT IS OBVIOUS BY NOW that Paul Thomas Anderson isn’t making individual movies so much as building an oeuvre block by block—the sturdiest, most resilient body of work by a big-time American director since Stanley Kubrick died and Martin Scorsese ran out of steam.

    Big, ambitious, and American are the operative words. Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999) were sprawling ensemble pieces that challenged Scorsese and Robert Altman on their own turf; in their concern with self-invented American Übermenschen and up-front eccentricity, There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master (2012) engaged Orson

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice, 2014, 35 mm, color, sound, 148 minutes. Shasta Fay Hempworth (Katherine Waterston) and Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix).

    J. Hoberman

    1 GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (Jean-Luc Godard) J-LG’s first 3-D movie bids farewell to one language and invents another, which is pretty much what this transcendent film artist has been doing for more than half a century.

    2 INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas Anderson) If not as brilliantly unpredictable as The Master, Anderson’s mind-melding adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s ’70s noir parody is still a remarkable follow-up. What other American writer-director’s movies are simultaneous contributions to American film culture and literature?

    3 IDA (Paweł Pawlikowski) Or, “The Jewish Nun.” Returning to his native

  • Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday), 1930, 35 mm, black-and-white, silent, 73 minutes.


    Silent film was not ripe for replacement. It had not lost its fruitfulness, but only its profitability.
    —Rudolf Arnheim, “The Sad Future of Film” (1930)1

    THE DOORS OF EDEN BANGED SHUT. Even so, during the summer of 1929, facing the clamorous inevitability of the talking picture and only months before the crash that would announce the Great Depression, a handful of filmmakers sought refuge in the “natural world” of the soundless movie.

    And so silent cinema ended with two last visits to paradise, made at more or less the same time, their crews going on location to document their human subjects

  • the films of Sigmar Polke

    GREAT FILM INSTALLATIONS—Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, 1993, say, or Christian Marclay’s The Clock, 2010—use the fact of motion pictures to hypostatize time. Lesser ones raise questions about narrative and intention. The 16-mm films and extended segments of 16-mm footage incorporated into the Museum of Modern Art’s current retrospective of Sigmar Polke’s work do both.

    Not that they were ever intended to bear as much weight—or scrutiny—as the spectacular orchestrations of images cited above. Did an erudite, fecund trickster like Polke ever mean for any of his footage to

  • View of “Michael Snow: Photo-Centric,” 2014. Foreground: In Medias Res, 1998. Background, from left: Paris de jugement Le and/or State of the Arts, 2003; Multiplication Table, 1977; Waiting Room, 1978; Digest, 1970. Photo: Constance Mensh.

    Michael Snow

    A HUMBLE, RELENTLESS, more or less continuous zoom shot taking forty-five minutes to traverse a Canal Street loft into a photograph pasted on the far wall, Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967) provided twentieth-century cinema with a definitive metaphor for itself as temporal projection—and also burdened Snow with an unrepeatable masterpiece.

    That the artist has a reputation as a painter, a sculptor, a musician, a video maker, and, mainly, a filmmaker gives “Michael Snow: Photo-Centric” a polemical thrust. At the very least, this highly concentrated exhibition supports the Bazinian assertion

  • Jean-Luc Godard, À bout de souffle (Breathless) (detail), 1960. Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg).

    Jean-Luc Godard’s cinema of coming attractions

    “GUIDING . . . THE SPECTATOR into a desired direction (or a desired mood)” was, for the young Sergei Eisenstein, “the main task of every functional theater.” Or, as Variety declared in a 1994 article on the efficacy of the little movie ads known as coming attractions: “TRUTH ABOUT TRAILERS: THEY WORK.”

    Eisenstein’s montage of attractions, Tom Gunning’s cinema of attractions, Jean-Luc Godard’s coming attractions: The attraction, Eisenstein wrote in 1923, shortly before he would make his first feature film, Strike, is “every element that can be verified and mathematically calculated to produce

  • Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity, 2013, digital video, color, sound, 91 minutes.

    J. Hoberman

    1 GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuarón) Project it upside down or inside out. Cuarón’s 3-D thriller is blockbuster modernism in the tradition of Intolerance, Napoléon, Olympia, The Birds, and, of course, 2001. “Sort of the human condition,” an artist I know said. I imagine Gravity as a thought balloon in the minds of the people in James Nares’s monument to earthbound evanescence, Street (2011).

    2 “HANNAH ARENDT” Not the Margarethe von Trotta movie or the actual person but Brooklyn-based Barbara Sukowa, who plays the moral philosopher as a feisty, furious living doll.


  • Sophie Fiennes, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, 2012, digital video, color, sound, 136 minutes. Slavoj Žižek.

    Sophie Fiennes’s Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

    WHEN ANALYZING MOVIES, Slavoj Žižek generally employs the term ideology in the vulgar Marxist sense of a comforting falsehood and uses pervert to mean one who is a counterintuitive thinker. What, then, is the ideology underlying The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology—the second film essay that British filmmaker Sophie Fiennes has made in collaboration with the voluble and prolific Slovenian philosopher—and how is it twisted?

    The Guide begins by sampling John Carpenter’s 1988 They Live, a movie that posited the Reagan Revolution as a virus from outer space. (Žižek calls the film “one of the

  • Ralston Farina in front of the shopwindow display for his performance Look Puzzle Phase 3, 1973, 126 Prince Street, New York, March 23, 1973. Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images. Dennis Hermanson/ Ralston Farina Archives.


    He called his work “Zeitkunst” (Time Art), directing it not to the audience’s
    perception but to their memory of what was perceived.
    —David Polonoff, “The Nether World’s a Stage,” East Village Eye

    All I remember was he performed in the dark with a suitcase on his lap.
    Opened it, shut it, and the next thing I knew the lights were back on.
    —Michael Smith, e-mail to the author

    I REMEMBER RALSTON FARINA. Or rather, I remember being aware of the name Ralston Farina back in the mid-1970s, in the context of work that was not yet called performance but was something newer and funkier than

  • Still from Penny Lane’s Our Nixon, 2013, Super 8 mm, color, sound, 84 minutes.

    Penny Lane’s Our Nixon

    AMERICA’S ONGOING FASCINATION with the 1960s is in no small part due to the three Shakespearean characters who successively presided during that era: JFK, LBJ, and, strangest of all, Richard M. Nixon.

    For all the sentimental, bipartisan bushwa occasioned by Nixon’s death in 1994, the greatest vote getter in Republican history is a political orphan; the lone US president to resign his office, Nixon has long since been disowned by the party that three times nominated him. Indeed, contemporary Republican politicians have seldom missed an opportunity to socialize his disgrace, regularly equating