J. Hoberman’s books include Film After Film (Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?) and The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties.
 (March 2018)

IN THE REVIEW

The House of Anderson

Phantom Thread

a film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
“I find it comforting to think that the dead are watching over the living,” Daniel Day-Lewis happily confides to a new acquaintance several scenes into the writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. It’s an odd thing to say to a young woman whom he seemingly plans to seduce, particularly since …

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 …

NYR DAILY

Bauhaus in Mexico

Josef Albers: To Mitla, 1940

Josef Albers’s photographs of carved stone façades and symmetrical courtyards pay homage less to the square than to the genius of Mayan or Zapotec engineering—as well as the power of strong diagonals. Mexico provided Albers with an alternate classical tradition. The show includes several rigorous line studies clearly inspired by the ziggurats of Monte Albán and Chichén Itzá. Compared to his best-known work, Albers’s early geometric abstractions and many of the Mexican paintings are distinctly free-form (some, from the 1930s, might be described as jazzy), and are frequently concerned with the representation of three-dimensional space. By 1950, Albers is concentrating almost entirely on flatness, rectangles, and the interaction of color.

Art in a Time of Terror

For the most part, “Age of Terror: Art since 9/11” is sobering, serious stuff. Still, the British press does not seem have been especially impressed. More than one review has criticized the show and even its premise as trite or banal. Some have argued that art is simply unequal to the magnitude of the event. But isn’t that a given? Who can forget Karlheinz Stockhausen’s shocking observation, six days after the Twin Towers fell, that the attack was “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos”?

Acting Natural

From Miguel Gomes's Our Beloved Month of August, 2008

The camera, just by its presence, altered human behavior. The motion picture camera changed the nature of acting. Among other things, it created that apparent oxymoron, the non-actor, the subject of an unusually rich and stimulating series now at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Programmed by Dennis Lim and Thomas Beard, “The Non-Actor” is predicated on the idea that all camera-based movies are documents and that filmed acting is perhaps synonymous with behavior. In this sense, the first movie actors—the workers filmed leaving the Lumière factory or the family that the Lumière brothers documented in Feeding the Baby in the mid-1890s—were the also the first non-actors.

If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Disney

Bria Vinaite as Halley and Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in Sean Baker's The Florida Project, 2017

The Florida Project is a snapshot of chaos, focused on a heedlessly dissolute young mother and her rambunctious six-year-old daughter. Each wonderfully inventive in her way, the two are living week to week during summer vacation in a shabby $38-a-night motel on a strip just beyond the perimeter of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The film is not hallucinatory but, for almost its entirety, Disney World can only be sensed as something that has irradiated the local landscape.

A Carnival of Desecration

Peter Saul: Quack-Quack, Trump, 2017

Donald Trump has the most recognizable profile of any American president since Richard Nixon. Yet, as a cartoonist of my acquaintance has complained, artists are having a hard time caricaturing Trump, mostly likely because he already is a caricature—one reflected in mass culture’s fun-house mirror for close to forty years. We’re sick of Trump and we’re sick of being sick of him. Well-populated by images of the president, Peter Saul’s new show “Fake News” is hardly a palliative, but it does illustrate the crass absurdity of the current moment.

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