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 End of an Artist

Bogusław Linda as Władysław Strzemiński  in Andrzej Wajda's Afterimage, 2016

Few filmmakers meant as much to his country as Andrzej Wajda did to Poland. Both a world-famous director and a national conscience, Wajda—who died last October at age ninety—was a singular artist. It is appropriate then that his final film, hauntingly titled Afterimage, would be a drama concerning the last years of another Polish artist, the abstract painter Władysław Strzemiński.

A Real American Horror Story

Daniel Kaluuya as Chris and Allison Williams as Rose in Jordan Peele's Get Out, 2017

Jordan Peele’s semi-parodic horror film Get Out is the latest instance of the remarkable and remarkably varied African-American cinema of the past few years. The film articulates the fear that the Obama presidency was smoke and mirrors, a sham and an illusion. While Peele had likely not anticipated our current situation, it would seem that his film has materialized at the very moment that curtain rose and the real America was revealed.

Gerhard Richter’s Lost Cartoons

Shortly after the Berlin Wall went up and the painter defected, or as he would say “relocated,” from Dresden to the West, Richter drew a series of images featuring a single protagonist going through an abstract landscape. Recently discovered in a 1962 notebook, these have been published by his archives in a facsimile edition titled Comic Strip—a sparely beautiful book-object that, like Krazy Kat or Little Orphan Annie, has a central character or rather an expressive motif.

Mexico: The Cauldron of Modernism

José Clemente Orozco: The Epic of American Civilization (detail), 1932–34; click to enlarge

“Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950,” now showing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, presents a Mexican response to European art that, at least up until World War II, was equal to and in some regards stronger than that of North America. To a degree, the show is the story of the three star muralists, Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, who along with the posthumously canonized Frida Kahlo, defined the new Mexican art. But their work is situated among scores of lesser-known artists who were also responding to the decade-long Mexican revolution that broke out in 1910.

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.