J. Hoberman

  • The Ernie Kovacs Show, 1955–56, still from a TV show on NBC. Ernie Kovacs.

    Avant la Letterman

    THE FIRST DOZEN YEARS of American network television hardly lacked for lowbrow brilliance—Lucille Ball, Burns and Allen, Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, the cast of Car 54, Where Are You?, to name only those performers whose product has enjoyed the hardiest shelf life. Their comedy had its roots in radio, vaudeville and burlesque, Hollywood and the Catskills—and then there was Ernie Kovacs (1919–1962), a comic for whom TV created its own reality.

    Kovacs was purely televisual. Though he served his apprenticeship in radio and stock theater, his work was essentially connected to

  • Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window, 1954, color film in 35 mm, 112 minutes. Production still. L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart).


    The communication system of the twentieth century is, in a special sense, Pop Art’s subject.
    —Lawrence Alloway,
    “Popular Culture and Pop Art” (1969)


    There was always in twentieth-century cinema an implicit promise of inclusion: the sense that the same movies might hold both the mass audience and the avant-garde cognoscenti spellbound, if not always at the same time.¹

    For some, mainly European, early filmmakers, the motion picture was a medium; for others, mostly American, the motion picture was a mass medium—the mass medium. The latter filmmakers, including

  • Norman Rockwell, —And Daniel Boone Comes to Life on the Underwood Portable, 1923, oil on canvas, 36 x 28".

    Norman Rockwell

    THE ILLUSTRATOR Norman Rockwell’s rehabilitation as a painter can be dated to the fin de siècle retrospective that originated at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in November 1999 and toured the US (Chicago; Washington, DC; San Diego; Phoenix; and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts) for two years before triumphantly occupying the grand ramp of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York only weeks after the trauma of September 11, 2001.

    Never had cultural comfort food been more welcome. The market responded accordingly (as did the New York Times, which tied its own coverage of

  • Manoel de Oliveira, O estranho caso de Angélica (The Strange Case of Angelica), 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 97 minutes. Clockwise from left: Nun (Sara Carinhas), Isaac (Ricardo Trêpa), Mother (Leonor Silveira), Maid (Isabel Ruth), Angelica (Pilar López de Ayala).

    Manoel de Oliveira’s The Strange Case of Angelica

    THE MOST EXISTENTIAL OF FILMMAKERS, Manoel de Oliveira has, for decades now, been making every movie as though it were his last. The Strange Case of Angelica, which the 101-year-old Portuguese director premiered last May in Cannes, is one more unique sign-off—drily comic, intentionally stilted, deliberate yet digressive, at once avant-garde and retro.

    An amateur who made a silent documentary, Working on the River Douro, in 1931, then spent decades running his father’s lighting-fixture factory—as well as racing cars—and who managed to make only two features before 1970, Oliveira is


    “I predict that all movies will be animated or computer-generated within 15 years.”
    —Bruce Goldstein, “Flashback: The Year in Movies,” Village Voice, Dec. 28, 1999

    “It is in the nature of analogical worlds to provoke a yearning for the past. . . . The digital will wants to change the world.”
    —D. N. Rodowick, The Virtual Life of Film (2007)


    Can we speak of a twenty-first-century cinema? If so, on what basis?

    Writing in the aftermath of World War II, French film theorist André Bazin characterized cinema making as an essentially irrational enterprise—namely,

  • Left: Robert Frank, Me and My Brother, 1968, still from a black-and-white and color film in 35 mm, 91 minutes. Julius (Joseph Chaikin). Right: Robert Frank, C’est vrai! (One Hour), 1990, still from a color video, 60 minutes.
    film November 07, 2008

    On the Road Again

    “NEVER HAVE I experienced so much in one week as here. I feel as if I’m in a film.” So wrote the young Robert Frank to his parents soon after his arrival in the United States in 1947. The Swiss-born Frank is far better known (and vastly more influential) as a photographer than as a filmmaker, but it is arguable that film is more central to his aesthetic project.

    One might even think of Frank’s first photography collection, The Americans (1958), as the prototypical road movie—a journey through America’s vernacular landscape. Frank’s mid-’50s trip to the Strip realm of billboards, drive-ins, and

  • Robert Frank

    “NEVER HAVE I experienced so much in one week as here. I feel as if I’m in a film.” So wrote the young Robert Frank to his parents soon after his arrival in the United States in 1947. The Swiss-born Frank is far better known (and vastly more influential) as a photographer than as a filmmaker, but it is arguable that film is more central to his aesthetic project.

    Steidl’s ambitious three-year plan to publish the complete Frank oeuvre—books, projects, movies—includes the release of nine multi-DVD volumes of his film and video work, as well as a half-dozen tomes in which the artist recycled material

  • David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2001, still from a color film in 35 mm, 145 minutes. Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts).


    Anticipated by the German Expressionists, discovered by French aesthetes, beloved by American film scholars, the atmospheric crime stories, paranoid policiers, and hard-boiled detective yarns known as film noir constitute the most stylized, self-consciously artistic tendency in Hollywood history. Compositions in convoluted flashback, tough-guy slang, and precisely adjusted venetian blinds—only bebop, which also developed during World War II, could claim to be a richer form of American avant-pop.

    Noir is its own place, but it belongs to Los Angeles; it is a dark shadow cast by the radiant

  • Watkins’s Edvard Munch

    PETER WATKINS AND Edvard Munch: two singular, intractable, often misunderstood artistic personalities, each enjoying a revival and both bound together by Watkins’s personality-melding biopic. Newly released on DVD to coincide with Munch’s current retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Edvard Munch (1973) is an essay with actors that has the form and tropes of a documentary film: direct address, contrapuntal voice-over, casual framing, vérité zooms. Nearly three hours in length, the movie is densely edited and largely achronological. The dramatic scenes are fragmentary—often a

  • Carlos Reygadas

    MADE FORTY YEARS ago, Andy Warhol talkies like Vinyl and Beauty #2 remain the reductio ad absurdum of behavioral direction, a technique that requires nonactors to cope, with negligible instruction, while the camera grinds relentlessly on until it runs out of film.

    Orchestrating a Warhol is never easy, but ambitious directors have intermittently experimented with this form of situational performance. Lars von Trier’s The Idiots (1998) and Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002), for example, are each predicated on a setup designed to cue on-camera improvisation. And the thirty-four-year-old Mexican filmmaker


    In Chinese society today there are a lot of moments where what’s going on could be called a show.
    —Jia Zhangke, interview with Valerie Jaffee, in Senses of Cinema, July–Sept. 2004

    Milieu is everything in the assured, almost ethnographic work of Jia Zhangke, and with The World, China’s leading independent filmmaker—make that China’s leading filmmaker—emerges from the underground only to enter an officially sanctioned virtual reality. Coproduced by the state-run Shanghai Film Studio, Jia’s latest movie (which made its US debut last October at the New York Film Festival and arrives in theaters this

  • Charles Chaplin on the set of Modern Times, Los Angeles, ca. 1935.

    “Chaplin in Pictures”

    Charlie Chaplin was once the most popular man on earth, the personification of modern times, icon of the twentieth century, and Christ’s rival as the best-known person who ever lived. Taking its cue from “Charlot,” the French appellation for Chaplin’s Little Tramp, this show proposes to analyze two myths—Chaplin the man and Charlot the image. Spanning over seventy years, some three hundred photographs, press clippings, production notes, posters, and artifacts from the Chaplin archives are complemented by screenings of home movies, newsreels, and