FILM AFTER FILM: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema by J. Hoberman, Verso, 294 pages, $24.95. A better question, some might think, is “what became of movie critics in the 21st century?” A good argument could be made that of all the regular functioning film critics separated from their profession after running into the journalistic and technological buzzsaw of our era, none, after Andrew Sarris, was more important than Jim Hoberman, so unceremoniously dumped by the Village Voice after becoming the most important Voice movie critic after Sarris.
If you think there will be any mention in this book of the no-longer-recent unpleasantness, forget it. If that comes at all, it will have to be at a later date. This conveys, more than adequately, how very much the movie – indeed the cultural world –is missing by not having his voice (you should pardon the expression) in the weekly mix.
Hoberman’s perspective was unique. His superlatives came from other places entirely from most critics. He’s a film scholar and professor and theorist – a man, in no way whatosever in thrall to the National Entertainment State and its hype-congested highways and byways. Here, for instance, is the opening paragraph of Hoberman’s 2002 review of Alexander Sokurov’s “Russian Ark”: “the ultimate trip, a post– 2001 space odyssey, Alexander Sokurov’s ‘Russian Ark’ is the longest continuous take in the annals of motion pictures, a simple 96-minute tracking shot in which the invisible narrator (Sokurov) and a historical figure in the nineteenth century Marquis de Justine (Sergey Dresden) accompany a lively group of dead souls across several centuries and through thirty-three rooms of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.”
Hoberman’s specific subject is film after film in our digital age and the radical change thereof. Much of the book is about movies in the Bush years but his significance as a critic is his acute concentration on the world of cinema outside the crowded and congested world of conglomerate commerce. In our time no one has been better on that. He was a critic of true independence (not to mention a truly “alternative” one too).
You’ll see why here he was all of that – and how very much we’re missing weekly – Jeff Simon