J. Hoberman’s Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan will be published in July. (March 2019)


The Waiting Rooms of History

Paula Beer as Marie in Transit


a film written and directed by Christian Petzold, adapted from the novel by Anna Seghers

Christian Petzold: The State We Are In

a film series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, November 30–December 13, 2018
The protagonist of Anna Seghers’s novel Transit (1944)—the source for Christian Petzold’s new film of the same name—is a young German who, having escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and then a French work camp, makes his way to occupied Paris. There he is recruited by another former inmate to …

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 …


Once Upon a Time in Tarantino’s Hollywood

In the Hollywood world of wish-fulfillment, Tarantino’s 2007 Inglourious Basterds, a movie that began with the title “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France” and climaxed with a band of Jewish-American commandos, led by Brad Pitt’s wily hillbilly, contriving to kill Hitler, may be a tough act to follow. But by recreating “1969” Hollywood in his own image, Tarantino has done so. He has made Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with a title evoking his own career and its ending to end all endings, what used to be called a “movie-movie.” His most personal film, it is also the one he has hinted may be his last.

Ronald Reagan’s Reel Life

Ronald Reagan in a publicity still for the film, Law and Order, 1953

Reagan was made by the movies—not just his career but his mentalité was made in Hollywood. As much as he had been a movie actor, Reagan was a fan—a true believer in what he saw, or imagined, on the screen. My takeaway from several days of research in the Reagan Library—a Magic Kingdom shrine set on a Simi Valley hilltop—was the degree to which Ronald and Nancy Reagan regarded themselves as senior members of the Hollywood community. The presidency was fine but movie stardom was the supreme gig.

Barbara Rubin, Shameless Angel of Avant-Garde Cinema

Barbara Rubin, photographed by John “Hoppy” Hopkins, 1965, from Chuck Smith's Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground, 2019

Barbara Rubin (1945–1980) may have been something less than a great artist, but she was also something more. An agitator and a mystic whose friends and associates included Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and Allen Ginsberg, Rubin made scenes the way other people made movies—although she did make those as well. Rubin was zeitgeist-made material, a young woman who embodied her historical moment in the process of working out a unique destiny. Rubin was a wild child and a force of nature whose drug-fueled trajectory through the Sixties counterculture is the subject of Chuck Smith’s new documentary Barbara Rubin and the Exploding New York Underground, as well as of the latest—and most likely, the last—issue of Film Culture, the magazine Jonas Mekas (1922–2019) founded in 1955.

The Ominous Decadence of László Nemes’s ‘Sunset’

Juli Jakab as Irisz Leiter in László Nemes's Sunset, 2019

Sunset, the forty-two-year-old French-Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes’s follow-up to his astonishing 2015 debut Son of Saul, is a gothic melodrama and a modernist period piece, set on the eve of World War I and shadowed by impending doom. Less dire than Saul but nonetheless alarming, Sunset tracks the quest of its protagonist, the young milliner Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab), an orphan arrived in Budapest, to find employment at Leiter, the fashionable, luxury emporium founded by her parents. Perhaps Nemes—an artist far more comfortable discussing his filmmaking than his politics—is speaking through the character who says of Leiter’s elaborate creations: “the horror of the world hides beneath these infinitely pretty things.”