J. Hoberman’s books include Film After Film (Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?) and An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War.


Orphan of History

Victor Serge, Mexico, 1944

Unforgiving Years

by Victor Serge, translated from the French and with an introduction by Richard Greeman
Singular and solitary, the novelist Victor Serge (1890–1947) appears as an orphan of history, a chance survivor improbably clinging to the coffin of the Bolshevik Revolution. The main characters of Unforgiving Years, Serge’s final novel, written in Mexico, the place of his own final exile, are his fictional brothers—disillusioned Soviet …


The Creepy World of Bruce Conner

Still from Bruce Conner's Breakaway, 1966

Bruce Conner’s enormously influential follow-up to A Movie, Cosmic Ray (1962) was the original underground blockbuster—a frantic found-footage-plus-gyrating-naked-woman montage set to Ray Charles’s ecstatic What’d I Say. Establishing Conner as the poet of sexual frenzy, the film anticipated the MTV aesthetic and, since it was first shown as a multi-screen projection piece installation at San Francisco’s Batman Gallery, also anticipated the cinema installations that are now commonplace if not ubiquitous. Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho (1993) and Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010) are exemplary instances of Cosmic Ray’s descendants.

A New Language for Chinese Film

Kaili Blues is both the most elusive and the most memorable new film that I’ve seen in quite some time—“elusive” and “memorable” being central to Bi Gan’s ambitions. As much as it is about anything, Kaili Blues is about a place.

Raunchy, Raucous Coney Island

Steeplechase Funny Face, no date

Perhaps for Freud, Coney Island was America—a realm where fantasy was made material and the pleasure principle ruled. So it is with the bountiful exhibition “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008,” at the Brooklyn Museum through March 13.

Crackpot Gothic

Jim Shaw: The Jefferson Memorial, 2013

The Los Angeles artist Jim Shaw is an esoteric populist who doesn’t only make art but, since he began exhibiting found “thrift store paintings” in 1991, has created his own tradition, an American vernacular surrealism that might be termed “crackpot gothic.”

The Truth in Midair

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit in Robert Zemeckis's The Walk, 2015

Like many post-9/11 films, The Walk is, in part, experiential, partaking in the simulated “new real-ness” which with cinema, as an institution, has responded to the loss of authenticity brought about by relentless digitalization. Petit’s actual walk was approximately three times as long as the filmed sequence but the difference is that, through the magic of digital cinema, Zemeckis is able to place the audience with Petit, on “an island floating in mid-air on the edge of the void.”

The Boys in the Cage

One of the Angulo brothers in a home-made Batman costume, in Crystal Moselle's The Wolfpack, 2015

In their way, The Wolfpack and The Tribe represent the classic Lumière/Méliès dichotomy—do motion pictures reflect or construct reality? The opposition has existed since the medium was invented. But here there is a twist. The Wolfpack is a documentary that delights the viewer with proliferating fictions. The Tribe, more brutal, is an invented story founded on a discomfiting bedrock of documentary truth.