Playing Sat Feb 18 at 10:00 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]
Film Comment Selects, “a handpicked lineup of the coming soon and the never-coming-back, the rare and the rediscovered, the unclassifiable and the underrated, the sacred and the profane, the cute and the creepy,” kicks off Friday, Feb 17. At a whopping 31 films, the 12th installment of the festival is the biggest and baddest one yet. All serious filmgoers are advised to take note.
And most intriguingly, FSLC taunts, “we’ve got a very special trick up our sleeve, courtesy of film critic J. Hoberman.”
Says Hoberman in the program notes:
Quid est veritas? Explore the movi-verse, relive the horror of the Bush years—Katrina, Iraq, 9/11, all allegorized and superimposed! Ken Jacobs’s A Good Night for the Movies changed the world and showed the way. Now, hysteria reigns, synchronicity rules, and consciousness gets crazy mixed-up! LAND PASSION WAR OF THE DEAD CHRIST WORLDS is based on 25 years of stunt projections and class presentations at NYU and Cooper Union. It’s Doomsday USA, starring Asia Argento, Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Dennis Hopper, and the mind of Mel “Mad Max” Gibson. With subtitles!
Andy McCarthy interviewed Hoberman about the event for Alt Screen. Read here.
And as the man himself exclusively divulges to Alt Screen:
I’d describe it as a pedagogical film performance, using multiple projectors and several preexisting movies—in this case from the height of the George W. Bush era. I’ve been doing this sort thing for years while teaching at Cooper Union and NYU (where the AV people called it “stunt projection”). The original inspiration came from an early ‘70s Ken Jacobs piece.
Time Out New York surmises:
A media-fried montage of clips… If it’s anything like his real-to-reel history book The Dream Life, you’re in for a synapse-snapping treat.
As esteemed creative historian Mike Davis reminds us, when commending The Dream Life:
“Movie critic” is a misnomer. J. Hoberman is simply the best historian of that hallucinatory decade when politics imitated celluloid and movies invaded reality. Cultural history doesn’t get any better—or scarier—than this.
Robert Keser has more on Hoberman’s books exploring the political and cultural undercurrents in mainstream American cinema, for Senses of Cinema.
The description of A Good Night for the Movies, the piece Hoberman claims as inspiration, in Optic antics: the cinema of Ken Jacobs:
Presented at Bleecker Street Cinema, July 4, 1972. A durational film projection assisted primarily by Steve Anker with other students from SUNY Binghampton. For approximately 24 hours, 16mm films from the 1930s and 1940s were arbitrarily projected in parts and in their entirety, two or three images onscreen at a time, mixed up, side by side, overlapping, upside down and at different speeds with soundtracks switched from one to another. The original (1972) was an unrealized concept for a film performance that therwise would have involved the simultaneous projection of 16mm Hollywood sound films into the sky across the five boroughs of New York from dusk until dawn.
“The Unfinished Film” series at Gladstone Gallery last year nodded to the film. Nick Pinkerton for the Village Voice:
In between showtimes, Ken Jacobs can be heard in a 1972 radio interview, calling for collaborators on a folly called A Good Night for the Movies, whose imagined scope is not atypical of the phantom films featured: “Twenty-four 16mm sound projectors will be set up atop buildings spread through the five boroughs … projector beams deflected against small front-surface mirrors to expand straight upwards into a cloudless sky …”
Ken Jacobs for Millennium Film Journal:
My student-projectionists understood exactly what I wanted when in 1972 we came into Manhattan to put on A GOOD NIGHT FOR THE MOVIES: The Fourth Of July by Charles Ives by Ken Jacobs at the old Bleecker Street Cinema on 8th Street. I spent a grant of $300 renting for $10 each, and then a bunch thrown in, bottom of the double-bill b/w movies mostly of men wearing white suits and pith helmets, pretty much the same movie made over and over with shifts in the placement of the rubberplant, untamed native beauties from different couches, fresh assortments of shoe-shine boys recruited for a day’s eye-rolling when ordered to penetrate too deep into the forbidden stock-footage jungle; in some instances, however, the same swarthy and venomous British-educated smooth-talker tribal-leader.
Ersatz tropics issued from four alternating 16mm. projectors, two or three images at a time shown edge to edge with combined soundtracks, a confusion that explained everything. The films proceeded from beginning to end in general but with the projectionists arbitrarily shifting from film to film, rethreading films while others were showing, eventually coming around to each of the many titles for further sections, so that approaching 24 hours of projection– when we had to wake sleepers strewn on the theater floor so as not to miss it– many movies contributed in turn to our tepid but extenuated climax. (Only now is it plain this was a sequel to ROSE HOBART.) There had been no viewers other than my students and some invited friends, and when someone thought to put a sign on the door inviting passersby I turned it inside-out lest the occasion be trivialized. In fact it was the work as gesture that was most important to me and originally I attempted to position projectors on various roofs beaming into the open sky, reaching into space partly as a vain and hopeless Hello-out-there, and to return faded movie stars to from whence they’d come.
Breaking! Film Comment talks to Hoberman and Jacobs:
Jim, when did you start doing double projections?
JH: I was inspired by something Ken had said: if you do this, the movies will start talking to each other. That’s what I really got from “A Good Night at the Movies”. I was sitting there watching it with my friend Bob Schneider and he said, “Oh my god, we’re watching new laws of physics!” We were just beside ourselves watching this go on. It was the incredible synchronicity, and the fact that you could just set this stuff in motion and there would be these fantastic correspondences.
KJ: They had their formulas. The formulas sold, and they weren’t going to screw around with them.
JH: Exactly. There was only a certain amount of screening time in a class, so I wanted to be economical. Also I didn’t want to show like six hours of these awful movies. If I could show them together, it would only be two hours.
KJ: Heuristics; self-learning. If you put someone in the position––you don’t vent at them. They have to see this evidence. They have to see it. You don’t have to lecture. It will make its own point. These movies will talk to each other and you’ll get it.
JH: Exactly. I don’t remember the first one I did. An early one…well, let me say, I was showing a lot of movies that I wasn’t showing for their aesthetic value, but for other reasons. And I remember I had to show Rocky, a movie that I really hated, to make a point for this course. So I got the department to give me three monitors and then I showed Rocky on the big screen, and then beneath it I had three monitors showing the three sequels to Rocky, so there was a lot for people to look at. And what happened was you realized it was amazingly the same film, four times: four fights in exactly the same place. So that was very exhilarating. And the students also appreciated that. It got some notoriety in the department. And then sometimes I would do things just to see how they worked. I’ve forgotten a lot of them. But a student recently reminded me that I showed E.T., which I was very interested in, because the students at that point would’ve been about five when they first saw it, and for them it would’ve been a life-changing, formative event. But I think I was also involved in the American scene, or suburbia or something. So I had slides made from “The Americans” by Robert Frank made, and somehow I was projecting those slides on E.T.
KJ: These are creations. You know, he was a filmmaker. And this is still filmmaking.
So when you projected Passion of the Christ with Fahrenheit 9/11, how did the two interact?
JH: With Fahrenheit 9/11, I realized that there was all this religious imagery that he just worked into the movie. The most amazing thing is the suffering mother. All of a sudden, you have Mary at the cross, and Michael Moore embracing this suffering mother, and these things were happening around the same time. That was really startling.
Aside from using a favorite for the screening [Passion of the Christ], were there any other aesthetic considerations you made for the screening at Walter Reade?
JH: I asked for a late slot in honor of Jack [Smith]. Of Jack’s method of narrowing down the audience to the appreciative few.
KJ: But the trick is to invite them early, and then––
JH: Well, it’s whenever you invite them, you spend an hour at least trying to get it to work. When I saw his stuff, it never occurred to me that he could be in the grip of some neurotic behavior pattern. I thought it was all done on purpose.
KJ: You’re always looking for faith. Now you realize that artists are fuckups.
JH: And now I realize it’s the thing itself, it’s not the person. Ken didn’t like Andy Warhol.
KJ: But I liked the movies.
JH: Yes. People used to say, “Oh, it’s a put on.” And you’d say, “What’s the difference? It’s interesting. Just look at it.”
Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott interviewed Hoberman shortly after the dismissal, for The New York Times.
And for those missing Hoberman’s weekly commentary on contemporary film, he guest authored a piece on Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire and superior conception of critical hit Moneyball, for the Los Angeles Times. Also: a contemplation of the “Obama Era” output in Hollywood, for The New York Review of Books.
Jessica Winter reminds us “of reasons why Jim’s work matters to discerning filmgoers and pop-culture citizens-at-large” for Time:
Because his first-ever Voice review assignment in 1977 could not have been more auspicious:
The lede: “It is the future, I think, which is the setting for Eraserhead…”
The set design: “Their apartment looks like it was furnished by brain-eaters from Night of the Living Dead.”
Possible pull-quote for the movie poster: “a murky piece of post-nuclear guignol”
The kicker: “Eraserhead’s not a movie I’d drop acid for, although I would consider it a revolutionary act if someone dropped a reel of it into the middle of Star Wars.”
Because his rave reviews are ecstatic events.
On Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love: “Governed by laws as strict as the old Hollywood production code, it’s rhapsodically sublimated and ultimately sublime.”
On Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood: “an Old Testament story of cosmic comeuppance and filicidal madness—American history glimpsed through the smoke and fire that the lightning left behind.”
On Hitchcock’s Vertigo: “A mystery that only improves with knowledge of its ‘solution,’ Vertigo is the ultimate movie—a movie that is, after all, concerned with being hopelessly, obsessively, fetishistically in love with an image.”
Because his media and political coverage is a perfect complement to his film writing.
An extract from an expert scrambling of media clichés about the Clintons, 1994: “Costar Hillary reconfigured her name and, spinning the wheel like a self-actualizing Vanna, in the heat of the ratings war, undertook her own succession of makeovers…Evita of the Ozarks? A feminazi from Hell? The Florence Nightingale of Socialized Medicine? Donna Reed or Designing Woman?…And just what did that make Bill? Dagwood to her Blondie? John Goodman to her Roseanne? And, the ultimate sitcomic question: Who’s the Boss?”
Because nobody writes better about Spielberg.
On Jaws: “Coalescing a whole nexus of submerged feelings and sadistic sexuality, the film opened with one of the most blatantly eroticized murders in the history of cinema—and one which openly encourages the audience to identify with the killer.”
On A.I.: “Unlike the puppet Pinocchio…David has no need to demonstrate emotional growth or, indeed, any sort of negativity. He’s been designed as a perfect reproach to humanity, hard-wired for innocence.”
And this, from his legendary pan of Schindler’s List: “The movie achieves its nadir when a group of Schindler Jews, as they are known, find themselves in Auschwitz, heading for the showers…Spielberg unbelievably plays the scene for thriller suspense and last-minute rescue. Will an Allied bomb fall on the gas chamber? Does the Red Army arrive? The U.S. cavalry? Is there a telegram from Mr. Zanuck? Perhaps you have dreamed yourself into an Auschwitz gas chamber; Steven Spielberg wants to own that nightmare too.”
Because he wrote this about Andrei Tarkovsky, the auteur behind forbidding masterpieces such as Solaris and Stalker: “Something tells me he’s an unwelcome guest, one more orphan of the storm toting a shopping bag full of junk across upper Broadway. Like, who invited this long-winded Russian prophet into the world? I mean, who needs this guy whose movies pretty much demand to be seen twice or not at all?”
Because these words from his book The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties are a flexible mission statement for any film lover: “My emphasis is on cinema as shared fantasy and social myth. In that sense, Spartacus, The Manchurian Candidate, Dr. Strangelove, Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and Dirty Harry may be understood as movies that, in effect, directed their directors. (Filmmakers may make movies, but they do not necessarily make them as they please.)”
Many years, when many works came and went with little notice. They’re gone, and that’s something one has to live with doing ephemeral things. (It’s not so bad, must everything be disembodied reproduction? A reason early talkies have so much flavor other than the churches had yet to succeed in emasculating them was that a new wave of performers had been swept in from life-experience, the ultimate improvisation. Hired by the Warner brothers they hit their marks running, pulling in their backgrounds after them. They were redolent with life. I swear I can smell Joan Blondell’s armpits. Their personalities preceded their personas. “Be Yourself”, Fanny Brice advised.) What I got to calling paracinema, things like shadowplay, would cross into the divine transiency of theater. Richard Levine disapproved, saying paracinema like paramedic and paralegal indicated a lesser cinema, not the real thing, not an equivalent cinema created by other than filmic means or by using film in other than standard ways; equivalent, or parallel to, is what I had meant to convey. I suspect few people buy that. And that for most people performance is wishy-washy compared to the finality of film. In the can, every frame accounted for, decisions decisions decisions, and no less alive for that. But both abstract-expressionism and jazz improvisation had impressed me deeply. Glenn Gould got flack for moving from concertizing to edited interpretations. I transgressed in the other direction; after the very earliest public screenings projectionists had been tamed and toying with direction and tempo gave way to uninterrupted absorption in subject matter. Film was relegated to straight-ahead fixed-speed carrier (“Tote that star! Deliver that story!”), mechanism was expected to remain humbly invisible and not interrupt the trance. Invisibility would be furthered by developments in synch-sound, wide-screen color and verisimilitudinous 3D as predicted in Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD, though falling short of The Feelies. Somewhere there is film, sitting alongside the sunset, both wondering why hardly anyone comes around anymore to see them do their stuff.
Jim Hoberman will be carrying the torch next Saturday. It would be unwise to miss this event.