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My son has been poisoned!

David Bromwich: Cold War movies

26 January 2012
An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War 
by J. Hoberman.
New Press, 383 pp., £21.99, March 2011, 978 1 59558 005 4
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... to plan the US invasion of Europe. The stereoscopic mix of world and Hollywood requires a fair number of ‘even as’ constructions. Yet the book has a generous plan and keeps up a lively pace. Hoberman interprets his chosen films as works of commercial art and as symptoms of a popular culture sealed off like a sickroom. This goes for political movies like I Married a Communist and The Red Danube ...

Stalin at the Movies

Peter Wollen: The Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism by J. Hoberman

25 November 1999
The Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism 
by J. Hoberman.
Temple, 315 pp., £27.95, November 1998, 1 56639 643 3
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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 film critic: a ...

Short Cuts

J. Hoberman: The CIA’s Animal Farm

5 July 2007
... 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 funded Animal ...

At the Grey Art Gallery

J. Hoberman: Inventing Downtown

29 March 2017
... 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), Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run ...

Building an Empire

J. Hoberman: Oscar Micheaux

19 July 2001
Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films and His Audiences 
by Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence.
Rutgers, 280 pp., £38.95, August 2000, 0 8135 2803 8
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Straight Lick: The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux 
by J.​ Ronald Green.
Indiana, 368 pp., £21.95, August 2000, 0 253 33753 4
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... unedited films follow a vigorously minimalist logic, Micheaux’s narrative structures are eccentric in the extreme, exceeding those of the posthumously celebrated ‘bad’ film-maker Ed Wood Jr. Twenty years ago, I concluded an essay entitled ‘Bad Movies’ with the thought that if Micheaux’s astonishing mistakes were deliberate aesthetic strategy, then he was surely the greatest genius ...

You’ve got three minutes

J. Hoberman: Sitting for Warhol

20 July 2006
Andy Warhol Screen Tests: The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Vol. I 
by Callie Angell.
Abrams, 319 pp., £35, April 2006, 0 8109 5539 3
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... 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 and, as Warhol ...

First Movie in the White House

J. Hoberman: ‘Birth of a Nation’

12 February 2009
D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’: A History of ‘The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time’ 
by Melvyn Stokes.
Oxford, 414 pp., £13.99, January 2008, 978 0 19 533679 5
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... 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 combination ...

Franklin D, listen to me

J. Hoberman: Popular (Front) Songs

17 September 1998
Songs for Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs and the American Left, 1926-53 
edited by Ronald Cohen and Dave Samuelson.
Bear Family Records, DM 390, June 1996
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... 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 ...

Steaming Torsos

J. Hoberman

6 February 1997
Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film 
by Lee Clark Mitchell.
Chicago, 352 pp., £23.95, November 1996, 0 226 53234 8
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... few paces from the point where it had expired in the early Seventies. The only innovation, Mitchell notes, were the female gunslingers who populated the 1994 releases, Bad Girls, The Ballad of Little Jo, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Outlaws and The Quick and the Dead. Unforgiven, which – as Mitchell points out – culminates in a masculine resurrection that makes sure we get what we’ve paid for ...

Moguls

J. Hoberman: Did the Jews invent Hollywood?

7 March 2002
Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History up to World War Two 
by Steven Alan Carr.
Cambridge, 342 pp., £42.50, July 2001, 9780521798549
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... 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 anti-semitism to express sentiments ...

Subject, Spectator, Phantom

J. Hoberman: The Strangest Personality Ever to Lead the Free World

17 February 2005
Nixon at the Movies: A Book about Belief 
by Mark Feeney.
Chicago, 422 pp., £19.50, November 2004, 0 226 23968 3
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... might have made had he been a movie director (‘the movie that aims to show what journalism is really like’), but a movie in which Nixon can be extracted from both the powerful gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker and the eager publicist Sidney Falco. More productive is the notion of Nixon as an avid, solitary consumer of movies. Feeney devotes a chapter to the most famous of Nixon’s celluloid ...

Thunder in the Mountains

J. Hoberman: Orson Welles

6 September 2007
Orson Welles: Hello Americans 
by Simon Callow.
Vintage, 507 pp., £8.99, May 2007, 978 0 09 946261 3
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What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of an Independent Career 
by Joseph McBride.
Kentucky, 344 pp., $29.95, October 2006, 0 8131 2410 7
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... 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 most hideous man alive ...

Donald Duck gets a cuffing

J. Hoberman: Disney, Benjamin, Adorno

24 July 2003
Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde 
by Esther Leslie.
Verso, 344 pp., £20, August 2002, 1 85984 612 2
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... 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, Benjamin made a ...

America comes to the USSR

J. Hoberman: The 1950s’ Soviet Dream

6 January 2011
Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the 1950s’ Soviet Dream 
by Francis Spufford.
Faber, 434 pp., £16.99, August 2010, 978 0 571 22523 1
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... 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 said of the Soviet period, an ideological ...

Business as Usual

J. Hoberman: Hitler in Hollywood

19 December 2013
Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-39 
by Thomas Doherty.
Columbia, 429 pp., £24, April 2013, 978 0 231 16392 7
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The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler 
by Ben Urwand.
Harvard, 327 pp., £19.95, August 2013, 978 0 674 72474 7
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... 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 West was full of enablers and ...

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