J. Hoberman

J. Hoberman is a senior film critic for The Village Voice and the author, most recently, of The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties.

Recent Articles

The Spirit of '56

America turns 50 this year -- the America, that is, that we recognize as ours. It was half a century ago that our new founding fathers made their debut on the national stage: Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley. The latter, per Life 's August 27, 1956, issue, was “Elvis -- A Different Kind of Idol”: a different idol for a different America. The chronicler -- or maybe even the Tom Paine -- of this new New World was the 31-year-old Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank. “I am photographing how Americans live, have fun, eat, drive cars, work, etc.,” Frank wrote to his parents. From December 1955 through the summer of 1956, Frank crossed and re-crossed the continent, driving south from New York, out to California, and back east through the Midwest, stopping in Chicago for the Democratic National Convention. It was there that a handsome young senator who was not yet well known to the wider public, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, was put forth as a candidate for vice...

See It Again

The irresistible force of America's post–World War II Red Scare first slammed into the immovable object of network television in September 1953, when the House Un-American Activities Committee revealed that TV's biggest star had registered to vote in the 1936 election as a Communist. The redhead was a Red. For the next week, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz -- or, rather, Lucy and Desi, as neither broke character throughout the crisis -- spun like dervishes, giving interviews and working their fans. Careers had been smashed for far less, but ultimately Lucy's flaming past only made sense as one more domestic mishap -- she had, she explained, just been trying to please another character, her wacky “socialist” grandpa. The sponsor held fast, and so did CBS. Thus did TV assert itself as the narrative engine of American public life. Next, the emboldened medium would expose and topple the most fearsome Communist-hunter of all, America's grand inquisitor and witch-finder general, Senator Joseph...

Lightning, Camera, Action

By J. Hoberman Can photographs, motion pictures, and television create social change? Or would it be more accurate to say that these camera-based forms construct a social reality? Michael Moore notwithstanding, the ultimate test case appeared 90 years ago: D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation , released throughout America in the spring of 1915, remains the single most important movie ever made in this country, as well as the most inflammatory one. A culmination of the hundreds of short, two-reel narratives, more or less codifying the language of narrative cinema, that Griffith ground out at the Biograph studio between 1908 and 1913, The Birth of a Nation was the longest, costliest, and most ambitious American movie of its day. Imagine an unholy cross between The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9 / 11 , combined and rendered mega- Titanic (most movies in 1915 were still only 20 minutes long), drenched in the patriotic pathos of Saving Private Ryan , and tricked out with the...

Film: Ernesto Goes to the Movies

He was, per Jean-Paul Sartre, “the most complete human being of our age.” Not to be outdone, Susan Sontag eulogized him as “the clearest, most unequivocal image of the humanity of the world-wide revolutionary struggle unfolding today.” He, of course, is Ernesto “Che” Guevara, although the key word in Sontag's formulation is neither “humanity” nor “revolutionary” but “image.” You could find that image at the heart of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art's recent show Global Village: The 1960s , on the wall of a room provocatively called “Disorder.” The image graced the posters used to advertise the show, and it was reproduced ad infinitum in the museum gift shop, amply (and ironically?) stocked with all manner of Che Guevara tchotchkes. Is it Che who gives the lost world and failed aspirations of the 1960s a human face? Che Guevara's posthumous role as an icon and fashion statement has now lasted twice as long as his political career. Born to a left-wing, upper-middle-class family in...

Revolution Now (and Then)!

The Battle of Algiers is back -- along with The Battle of Algiers scenario. At a time when Gillo Pontecorvo's documentary-style account of a bloody, anti-colonialist urban uprising has been used by commentators from Tariq Ali to Zbigniew Brzezinski to describe the situation in occupied Iraq, and only months after a well-publicized screening at the Pentagon, the movie itself is poised for re-release in January. "Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it 'the way it was,'" Walter Benjamin wrote in his final essay. "It means appropriating a memory as it flashes by in a moment of danger." Arguably the key political movie of its period, replete with a reception comparable in tumult to that accorded Battleship Potemkin , The Battle of Algiers was produced in the mid-1960s, set a decade earlier and made in the style of a 1940s newsreel. Which memory has been appropriated in 2004? Authenticity has always been crucial to the movie's authority. If The Battle of Algiers is...