J. Hoberman

  • Ernie Gehr

    BEST KNOWN FOR his single-minded, dynamic minimalism, Ernie Gehr has also been the American avant-garde filmmaker most devoted to exploring the “intensification of nervous stimulation” that pioneer sociologist Georg Simmel identified with urban life. Gehr’s oeuvre is a tale of three cities: San Francisco (his home for the last fifteen years), Berlin (which his parents fled before his birth in 1943), and New York (where he emerged as a leading structural filmmaker in the late ’60s). It is the latter that Gehr chose to revisit on the occasion of the Museum of Modern Art’s reopening last November,

  • Jean-Luc Godard, Notre Musique (Our Music), 2004, still from a color film in 35 mm, 80 minutes.

    J. Hoberman on Godard’s Notre Musique and war films

    LIKE MUCH IN contemporary Hollywood movies, the current model combat film was developed by Steven Spielberg. Saving Private Ryan (1998) provided a total immersion in state-of-the-art virtual carnage—the opening D-day landing is the most impressive demonstration of cinematic virtuosity of Spielberg’s career—while conspicuously failing to provide any historical context. Representing World War II but thinking Vietnam, Saving Private Ryan proposed the army’s band of brothers (rather than, say, the Nation or some abstract ideal or even the nature of the enemy) as war’s ultimate source of moral

  • Shooting Kennedy

    IN LATE 1960, a young artist named James Rosenquist juxtaposed a head shot lifted from a campaign poster with shards from glossy magazine ads for a packaged cake mix and a 1949 Chevy. Equating voters with consumers, Rosenquist called his painting President Elect. Thus, John F. Kennedy entered the White House already an object of marketable fantasy, America’s new First Trademark and icon-in-chief.

    Art historian David M. Lubin’s Shooting Kennedy vastly elaborates the Rosenquist technique, allowing JFK—and consort Jacqueline—to hobnob with a promiscuous assortment of fellow images. Lubin locates

  • The art that inspired them in 2000

    Those of us who live and breathe contemporary art will hold to the idea that art does change, if not the world, then the way we live in it. But our “world” can be more insular than we care to admit. So to open our look back at 2000, we asked twenty-one “outsiders” we admire—from novelist J.G. Ballard to musician John Zorn—to tell us about the art that inspired them this year.

    Dave Eggers (novelist)
    About a year ago, I saw Marcel Dzama’s stuff in zingmagazine and fell madly in love. Then his show at David Zwirner just killed me. A hundred or so drawings (bears with handguns, whale-men

  • J. Hoberman

    1. Conspirators of Pleasure (Jan Svankmajer, 1996) The last Surrealist presents his obscure object of desire—a radical mix of Sade, Freud, and Rube Goldberg.

    2. Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996) Uncompromising in its melancholia.

    3. D’Est (Chantal Akerman, 1993) On the road and into the void.

    4. Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wai, 1995) Another long goodbye, the epitome of neo–New Wave cinephilia.

    5. Lessons of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1992) The Gulf War was a movie in itself. This stunning documentary—already in danger of being lost—finds Revelations in the war’s aftermath.

    6. The Long Day Closes (Terence

  • the presidential follies

    STEEPED IN CELEBRITY AND SEMIOTICS, book packages and product placement, has been a thoroughly postmodern coup d’etat. The investigation preceded the crime. The one who pulled the trigger was not a crazed loner but a star-struck groupie. The conspiracy was hidden in plain sight. The dog was wagged out.

    The Contract with America had become a contract on Bill Clinton. A cabal of right-wing plutocrats, well-connected literary hustlers, and political opportunists funded, sold, and promoted a scenario that—whatever objections newsreaders might have had—was far too entertaining for any of

  • the culture trust

    NOW THAT AMERICAN soldiers have learned to make love and not war, and the FBI has been humanized as its own public enemy, and a draft-dodging, pot-smoking, free-loving, TV-weaned ex-longhair approaches the second half of his second term, we understand that the personal truly is the political.

    Jim Bakker’s Christian theme park and Pat Robertson’s TV network notwithstanding, family values are a relative nonstarter in the super-marketplace of multiple lifestyles and consumption identities. At least compared to those of the old counterculture. You can find “free-love” pornotopia at just about any

  • Berlin Film Festival

    IT’S FASCINATING, TN A WAY, to witness the ambivalent triumphalism with which the metropolis of Berlin is merging its disparate halves into a millennial new German capital. As sleepy East Berlin neighborhoods are re-created as international art centers, and the muddy emptiness of Potsdamer Platz churned up into the world’s largest construction site, so too the white spaces of German history are filled in—not least by German films.

    Thus, at the last Berlin Film Festival, Wim Wenders’ Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky (The brothers Skladanowsky) established a Berlin pedigree for the invention of the motion

  • Box-Office Campaigns

    IT WAS A STIRRING vision of interplanetary danger in which America’s youthful president, a slick neo-lib waffler married to an intimidating warrior-woman, reversed his fallen approval ratings by taking a firm stand against the aliens: “Let’s nuke the bastards!”

    Can it be only six months ago that this cold latka—in which a bunch of hopped-up flyboys of varied ethnic persuasions made believe to join forces and decimate a horde of computer-and-latex extraterrestrial locusts—had all Terra in its thrall? The overlong, vaguely camp appreciation of blood and guts, God and country, ultimate sacrifice

  • Bob Dole’s War Story

    HADN’T WE SAID GOOD-BYE to the World War II generation with George Bush? Hadn’t D-Day turned 50? It’s been years since Time ran the commemorative cover “So long soldier” . . . and thanks for the memories. But suddenly, like the thing that will not die, it’s 72-year-old vet Bob Dole seeking one last mission as your president.

    As sumo wrestlers try to shove each other out of the ring, so Washington insiders Dole and Bill Clinton will bump and jostle for the presumed electoral center. Less a matter of party affiliation or ideology, their contest for possession of the national phallus can only be

  • the Remaking of the President

    THE POLITICAL QUESTION, as 1996 grew nigh, was this: Would the American electorate remember Bill Clinton as the last liberal—as a funny fat boy, a dysfunctional ditherer? Scarcely a month before the primary season began, the Louisville Courier had caricatured our president as Saturday Night Live’s Stuart Smalley, reassuring his mirrored reflection: “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and darn it, people like me.”

    Step one in the Clinton recovery had been The American President—a muy simpatico portrait of an affable, narrowly elected, pragmatically waffling baby-boom Democrat characterized by a

  • Lost Los Vegas

    IS IT JUST A COINCIDENCE that Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas, and Martin Scorsese’s Casino, three would-be down-and-dirty 1995 Hollywood tributes to lost Vegas, all went into production at more or less the moment when, led by the refurbished MGM Grand Hotel, America’s fastest-growing metropolis began promoting itself as the new Orlando? Lost Vegas became Vegasland, a wholesome middle-American theme-park resort or, as Nick Tosches calls it in his intro to the recently published, elegiac anthology Literary Las Vegas, “a corporate-run nightmare draped in the cotton candy