Geoffrey O’Brien


Geoffrey O’Brien is Editor in Chief of the Library of America. His most recent book is Stolen Glimpses, Captive ­Shadows: Writing on Film, 2002–2012.


See NYRB titles related to this contributor.

  • Tamburlaine's Seductive Terror

    November 24, 2014

    The career of Christopher Marlowe’s world-conquering Tamburlaine, performed by John Douglas Thompson at Theatre for a New Audience, progresses like a river in flood, rising steadily and irresistibly and spilling over into actions of spectacular destruction, sparing nothing that stands in opposition.

  • The Opera Stalin Hated

    November 17, 2014

    The Met’s notes describe it as “towering tragedy,” but Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is equally a grotesque vaudeville.

  • Tree! Fire! Water! Godard!

    November 3, 2014

    In his new 3-D film Goodbye to Language Godard forces a reconsideration not only of his own films but of all films.

  • Ways of Being Alien

    May 9, 2014

    Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is a film with the courage of its silences and ellipses. Most easily categorized as a species of science fiction, it deftly evades verbal explanation and explicit continuity.

  • The Music of the Swindle

    February 13, 2014

    David O. Russell's American Hustle slides with such grace through its intrigues, slipping in so many diverting props and devices and walk-ons that you may start to feel you’re being hustled by the film itself.

  • Alone in a Room Full of Ghosts

    October 29, 2013

    In Nico Muhly's haunting opera Two Boys, the sixteen-year-old protagonist engages with a succession of ghostly interlocutors in chat rooms.

  • A Music of Overpowering Affection

    April 20, 2013

    Within a few moments of the beginning of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s opera David et Jonathas now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music the music had taken over with overpowering thoroughness.

  • In My Lady's Crowded Chamber

    February 19, 2013

    In The New York City Opera production of Thomas Adès's Powder Her Face, the Duchess of Argyll’s horribleness has more to do with her insatiable vanity and assumption of aristocratic privilege, her mental imprisonment in a bubble world in which “the only people who were ever good to me were paid for it”: a tragic fate that unfolds within a brutally farcical sex comedy.

  • 'Lincoln': A More Authentic Wonderment

    November 21, 2012

    Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a work of sufficient richness to instantly invite repeat viewings. It is a history film that dares to pile on verbal and visual details thickly and rapidly enough that a second viewing may be necessary simply to register all that is going on.

  • ‘An Intimate Epic of Irrational Need’

    September 22, 2012

    Lancaster Dodd—the character played with such mesmerizing assurance by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master—is not to be confused with L. Ron Hubbard. That much should be said at the outset, given that the Scientology connection has served as a convenient tag for what Anderson’s new film is about. The notion was certainly intriguing, but anyone familiar with Anderson’s work might have guessed that some kind of straightforward docudrama was not in the offing. Perhaps one day there will indeed be a biopic that grapples with the convoluted and much-contested details of Hubbard’s scarcely credible career as spiritual entrepreneur—one might imagine a mode anywhere from satiric grotesque to Machiavellian analysis to impassioned polemic—but The Master is not that film, full though it is of hints in such directions.

  • Floodplain Fantasy

    August 1, 2012

    To say that Beasts of the Southern Wild was filmed in southern Louisiana understates the case—it seems like an enormous construction made from pieces of southern Louisiana, and inhabited by the people that the film’s young director Benh Zeitlin, a New Yorker who has been living in New Orleans since 2008, found there. Yet this is no documentary but a work of purest fantasy, set in a world just adjacent to the real and operating with all the liberties of folklore.

  • The Sublime Horrors of Ridley Scott

    June 13, 2012

    Ever since H.P. Lovecraft, archaeology has been an indispensable point of entry to the remotest reaches of the universe. In Ridley's Scott's new film Prometheus, space voyagers will travel to those reaches only to find echoes of earthly mythology, whether horrendous serpents recalling the fate of Laocoön or titanic forebears proportioned on the order of Gilgamesh. At his best (as he is in much of Prometheus) Scott can really do the romantic sublime. He continually suggests more than the movie’s plot and dialogue can quite live up to, and when he wants he can deliver a boreal blast of the “magnificent desolation” that Buzz Aldrin caught sight of when landing on the Moon.

  • Late, Great Ellington

    March 11, 2011

    A conversation about Duke Ellington’s mid-career crisis and stunning comeback, revisiting his often-overlooked albums of the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Metropolis, Enlarged

    June 22, 2010

    Drastically cut not long after its premiere engagement in Germany, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), one of the most influential films ever made—the font of cinematic dystopias, a source of imagery reflected in films from The Bride of Frankenstein to Blade Runner—is only now being recovered in nearly its intended form.

  • In Strindberg's Exquisite Hell

    May 4, 2010

    In Creditors Strindberg sets up a sort of minimalist hell. It is a play, he told an associate, for three characters and two chairs.

  • Industrial Lyricism in the Met's Hamlet

    April 7, 2010

    The new production of Ambroise Thomas’s 1868 Hamlet—the first time the Met has staged the work since 1897—brings to New York a revival first performed fourteen years ago in Geneva.

  • The Persistent Pleasures of Eric Rohmer

    January 19, 2010

    My immediate response to the news of Eric Rohmer’s death was the keen regret that there would be no more Rohmer films, and thus no more of those surprises he was still, at nearly 90, thoroughly capable of eliciting. Indeed, his last three films (The Lady and the Duke, Triple Agent, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon) were among his most surprising, period films that ventured into political tragedy and pastoral comedy in ways that opened up new dimensions in his earlier work. Few filmmakers have been able to develop a body of utterly personal work so deliberately and methodically, and he managed it only with the most extreme budgetary discipline.

  • Edgar Who? Chronicling the Life of a Near-Forgotten Filmmaker

    February 7, 2014, 6:30 pm

    Noah Isenberg discusses his new book, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, with critic Geoffrey O'Brien. Despite the success of films like Detour (1945), Ulmer spent most of his career as an itinerant, overlooked filmmaker.

  • Two Boys

    November 2, 2013 — November 14, 2013, 7 pm

    Geoffrey O'Brien calls this opera "an exercise in compartmentalized perception" while the orchestra "executes patterns of mercurial loveliness."