Interview with J. Hoberman on “Land Passion War of the Dead Christ Worlds,” 2/18 in “Film Comment Selects”

by on February 18, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

The “Film Comment Selects” series at Lincoln Center begins its second day today, offering ambitious New York film lovers an eclectic mix of “new work gleaned from the festival circuit along with revivals and rescues of movies that might otherwise have been consigned to oblivion,” in the words of A. O. Scott. Alt Screen’s official review-roundup will be running tomorrow — a sprawling and leisurely “weekender” feature to read over your Sunday breakfast. But we’d be remiss not to give you an advance preview of a very special sidebar interview with film critic turned guerrilla stunt-projector J. Hoberman.
Inspired by the avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs and equipped with multiple projectors, Hoberman will appear in person at Lincoln Center to oversee an analogue mash-up of recent commercial blockbusters like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds and Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. Per the official program notes:


Explore the movi-verse, relive the horror of the Bush years—Katrina, Iraq, 9/11, all allegorized and superimposed! 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!


Alt Screen’s Andy McCarthy emailed Jim to ask a few questions:

How do you approach the stunt projection format used in “Land Passion” as a way to convey ideas? Does it communicate in ways impossible in writing?
The format creates a juxtaposition where the films “talk” to each other and otherwise interface in not always expected ways. The coincidences are always powerful.
It seems to conjure up Jung: the talking cure, coincidences, “synchronicity rules, and consciousness gets crazy mixed-up.” Can you elaborate on this?
There’s definitely an aspect of applied synchronicity which is a Jungian concept. On the other hand, the idea that movies have latent content comes from Freud by way of the Surrealists’ notion of purposeful derangement.
The original formal inspiration for “Land Passion” came from an early ‘70s Ken Jacobs piece, A Good Night for the Movies (1972), which premiered in the Nixon era. Is there a further particular relevance in applying this style to the Bush years?
This particular piece arose from several courses in post 9/11 cinema—it’s relevant to that.

You have described “Land Passion” as a “pedagogical film performance,” (which sounds part academic, part shtick). What does the performance “teach?”
There’s a bit of irony to my use of the term ‘pedagogical.’ What I meant was that the piece came out of a class-room situation. In a general sense, I’m teaching that all commercial movies belong to a certain system, but in the Walter Reade context it’s more about creating an interesting cine object or experience.
As a performance piece, is there an intended audience participation? An element of underlying interaction rather than simply movie viewership?
No more participation than there would be at any other movie. Some people will walk out, others will be fascinated. It’s as much an installation as it is a presentation.
In your 2005 Film Comment essay on Arnold Schwarzenegger, “The Servant,” you note that “among the images from the vast 9/11 archive are those showing the Collateral Damage billboard on the West Side Highway, with the World Trade Center collapsing in the distance.” This sounds like real-world stunt projection. Does Land Passion provoke a certain life of its own beyond the intended meanings in the juxtapositions?
You’re right about that particular juxtaposition—it’s an amazing photograph. I did something with that at NYU in 2004: BLACKHAWK DOWN WITH COLLATERAL DAMAGE. That was a kind of aggressive program, as is this one.

The screening is at 10PM, which is close enough to midnight to cast the screening as a mondo forty-deuce mindbender. Any last comments?

Late night is good for this sort of thing—it winnows the audience and contributes a mood of melancholy excitement. Ideally, the house should be less than half full.

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