PRINT December 2018


J. Hoberman

  Errol Morris, Wormwood, 2017, still from a TV show on Netflix. Episode 3. “The Forbidden Threshold.” Frank Olson (Peter Sarsgaard).

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.

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman, 2018, 35 mm and 16 mm transferred to 4K video, color, sound, 174 minutes. David Duke (Topher Grace).

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE (Jean-Luc Godard) In what might (or might not) be his last film, Godard muses on technology, history, revolution, cinema, the West’s relationship to the Arab world, and human extinction. An often-frenzied assemblage of manipulated found footage largely shot in North Africa, The Image Book is closer to the recent work of Ken Jacobs than either artist might care to admit.

TRANSIT (Christian Petzold) Transposed to contemporary Europe, novelist Anna Seghers’s existential World War II thriller—a tale of torpor and intrigue among trapped would-be refugees—takes on a powerful topicality. As with Petzold’s previous film, Phoenix (2014), it offers the eerie frisson of a historical ghost story.

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman, 2018, 35 mm and 16 mm transferred to 4K video, color, sound, 174 minutes. David Duke (Topher Grace).

BLACKKKLANSMAN (Spike Lee) Bursting with ideas, this fictionalized account of former undercover cop Ron Stallworth’s exploits is Lee’s strongest movie in years. Boots Riley’s critique contested the film’s historical accuracy,
but there is no denying its relevance to the present moment.

THE KAVANAUGH HEARING (US Senate Judiciary Committee) I blew off a day’s worth of New York Film Festival press screenings to watch every minute—the heartbreaking testimony of Christine Blasey Ford followed by the most infuriating entitlement tantrum I have ever seen thrown on a public stage.

THE AMERICANS, SEASON 6 (FX) The series finale was great, and the last shot of Soviet spies Elizabeth and Philip Jennings’s teenage daughter, although not an instance of abuse, was in Dr. Ford’s terminology, “indelible in the hippocampus.”

Armando Iannucci, The Death of Stalin, 2017, 2K video, color, sound, 107 minutes.

THE DEATH OF STALIN (Armando Iannucci) Iannucci’s latest clown show is a perversely enjoyable travesty of one of history’s most brutal regimes. Steve Buscemi’s canny Khrushchev is sympathetic throughout, and in the face of death, Simon Russell Beale’s monstrous Beria manages to be affecting, too—if only for a moment.

THE WALDHEIM WALTZ (Ruth Beckermann) Reexamining a largely forgotten episode from the mid-1980s, this first-person documentary draws on contemporary TV news reports, as well as on filmed political demonstrations in which Beckermann participated. The Waltz swirls around the outing of former UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim as a participant in Nazi war crimes, tracking his successful campaign for Austrian president.

Fernando Birri, ORG, 1979, 35 mm transferred to digital video, color, sound, 177 minutes. Shuick (Lidija Juraçik) and Zohommm (Terence Hill).

ORG (Fernando Birri) Shown earlier this year at an Indiana University conference on 1968 (only its second screening in the US), Birri’s restored 1979 three-hour “Cosmunist” manifesto is a barrage of flickering images culled from comic strips, street demonstrations, and be-ins, overlaid with kaleidoscopic special effects—a cacophonous assault on the senses so relentless as to be nearly ungraspable.

10 DIALOGUE WITH CHE (José Rodríguez-Soltero) Another restoration, Rodríguez-Soltero’s crude, consciously Warholian double-screen portrait from 1968 stars Venezuelan artist Rolando Peña as the revolutionary martyr responding testily to the filmmaker’s off-screen direction. In the final ten minutes, Taylor Mead ambles on as a CIA agent and gives a master class in pure presence.

J. Hoberman was a Village Voice film critic for thirty-years and has been contributing to Artforum for even longer.