J. Hoberman

J. Hoberman’s new book is Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan.

A Particular Way of Looking: NeoRealismo

J. Hoberman, 21 November 2019

Futurism,​ the first organised avant-garde art movement of the 20th century, appeared in Italy in the years before the First World War. Fascism, the original self-identified totalitarian political ideology, no less brashly expressive of modern times, emerged in Italy in the years immediately following the war. Neorealism, a spontaneous development without leaders and with few manifestos,...

‘Should​ the street be considered one of the fine arts?’ Fernand Léger asked in 1928. He was thinking of the objects displayed in Parisian shop windows. Others have been more impressed by junk, debris and things abandoned. The street as both source and inspiration is everywhere apparent in the exhibition at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery (until 1 April),

Business as Usual: Hitler in Hollywood

J. Hoberman, 19 December 2013

‘It’s easy not to be a Nazi when no Hitler is around,’ Hans-Jürgen Syberberg commented in his filmed interview with the aged, unashamed Führer-familiar Winifred Wagner in 1975. Eighty years after Hitler came to power in Germany, is it possible to imagine the world when the Third Reich was new? Before September 1939 and even after the Second World War began, the...

‘The Russians have everything in name, and nothing in reality,’ the Marquis de Custine observed in 1839, comparing the empire to a blank book with a magnificent table of contents. ‘How many distant regiments are there without men, and cities and roads which exist only in idea!’ The entire country was but a façade pasted on Europe – or, as might have been...

Bohemian in Vitebsk: Red Chagall

J. Hoberman, 9 April 2009

At the time of his death at the age of 97 in 1985, Marc Chagall was, if not the world’s best-known living artist (as much trademark as painter), certainly its best loved. The School of Paris’s last surviving master was dismissed by some as a purveyor of high-class kitsch and hailed by others as one of the 20th century’s truly popular artists, but no one denied...

The Birth of a Nation may not be the greatest movie ever made (whatever that might mean), but it is the one that has had the greatest impact on America and, indirectly, the world. Never was a movie more aptly named; and rarely have quotations marks been more superfluous than in the subtitle of Melvyn Stokes’s informative book.

What did Griffith bring into the world? Imagine an unholy...

Thunder in the Mountains: Orson Welles

J. Hoberman, 6 September 2007

Like Dead Elvis and Dead Marilyn, Dead Orson is very much with us. He lives on, not only in the restored ‘director’s cuts’ of his re-released movies, the posthumously completed projects and newly adapted screenplays of never-made films, but as a character in other people’s novels, plays and movies. He haunts the murderous teenagers of Heavenly Creatures as ‘the...

In the annals of American intelligence, the mid-1950s were the golden years: the CIA overthrew elected governments in Iran and Guatemala, conducted experiments with ESP and LSD (using its own operatives as unwitting guinea pigs), ran literary journals and produced the first general-release, feature-length animation ever made in the UK.

It was Howard Hunt who broke the story that the CIA...

For two years, beginning in January 1964 and ending in late 1966, hundreds of individuals trooped through Andy Warhol’s midtown Manhattan studio (the vast, silver-painted loft known as the Factory), there to sit before a 16mm Bolex camera and have their portraits made on film.

The portraits, each of which used a single 100-foot roll of film, required just under three minutes to make...

The summer of 1970 was the winter of America’s discontent. Most of the nation’s colleges had been forced to shut down early in the wake of the Kent State massacre; anti-war protesters battled construction workers in the streets of New York; self-proclaimed political prisoners attempted bloody escapes; middle-class students planted bombs and robbed banks.

In August that year,...

In 1931, a Nazi journal called the Dictatorship complained about the amazing popularity of Mickey Mouse: ‘Have we nothing better to do than decorate our garments with dirty animals because American commerce Jews want profit?’ That same year in Berlin, Esther Leslie reports, Walter Benjamin was also thinking about Mickey mania. After talking to some friends, including Kurt Weill,...

‘To be anti-Hollywood was, in a sense, to be anti-semitic.’ So said Budd Schulberg, the son of a pioneer film producer, a successful screenwriter and author of the quintessential Hollywood novel, What Makes Sammy Run? (a book that was itself accused of a self-directed anti-semitism). To be anti-Hollywood has also, at various times, been a way to enlist the rhetoric of...

Building an Empire: Oscar Micheaux

J. Hoberman, 19 July 2001

The 20th century is over but the aesthetic returns are far from counted. Take the case of the novelist and film-maker Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951). The most prolific director of so-called race movies and the forebear of American independent cinema, Micheaux is one of the most significant American film-makers – as well as one of the most obscure. Hardly known outside the world of film...

The Ephemera of 20th-century popular music have never been more monumental. CDs transform collectors into completists and completists into archivists. Why be content with the Beach Boys’ greatest hits when you can invest in a boxed set, complete with alternate takes, unreleased masters, demo tapes, and radio air checks? Long defunct record labels are catalogued and repackaged as the CD ‘revolution’ churns up all manner of forgotten material. Issued in time for Christmas a few years back, The Beatles: Live at the BBC proved to be their fastest-selling release ever; the Rolling Stones’ BBC tapes are set to follow. Nor is radio the only source. The six-disc Smithsonian Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music, which first appeared in 1952 as a repackaged collection of rare 78s in the new LP format, and is now reissued on CD, received twice the number of votes of its nearest rival as best release in the Village Voice annual poll of pop music critics.‘

Steaming Torsos

J. Hoberman, 6 February 1997

From 1910 to the end of the Fifties, Westerns accounted for a quarter of all Hollywood productions. As late as 1972, the high point of genre revisionism, they still represented 12 per cent of all American movies. But if the year that brought Richard Nixon’s triumphant re-election was the last in which the number of Western releases would reach double figures, the residual significance of the West as the bedrock of American identity was eloquently reiterated, just before the collapse of Soviet Communism, by the panic which attended a Japanese firm’s bid to administer the services at Yellowstone National Park.

Is there anything stranger than a pop star out of time? Before Elvis Presley, before Michael Jackson, there was Al Jolson – ‘the most popular entertainer of the first half of the 20th century,’ as Michael Rogin describes him. Eyes wide and mouth agape, arms outstretched and face painted black, Jolson concludes his performance in The Jazz Singer (1927) down on one knee, serenading the delighted actress who plays his mother in a voice as strong and piercing as a foghorn.’

My son has been poisoned! Cold War movies

David Bromwich, 26 January 2012

‘They’re not going to stop,’ Joe McCarthy said of the Communists. ‘It’s right here with us now. Unless we make sure there’s no infiltration of our government,...

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J. Hoberman’s book, appropriately enough, is a cinematic montage of reflections on the long-drawn-out demise of the former Soviet Union, seen through the eyes of a New York journalist and...

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