Film After Film: by J. Hoberman

Film After Film: by J. Hoberman

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Booted from his senior critic position at The Village Voice after 33 years, J. Hoberman has become one of the figureheads for the continuing collapse of paid film journalism, in a world that’s moving away from singular voices in favor of the crowd-sourced democracy of the internet. It’s a status that feels strangely appropriate, since Hoberman has earned his reputation for writing about the circumstances surrounding film as much as the medium itself, viewing it in the context of larger political and social events. This practice provides the focus for Film After Film, an omnibus collection of recent writings, all examining the question of what defines cinematic modernity.

Despite its title, the book isn’t directly about the rise of digital projection and the decline of the physical medium. It hints at these topics, but they’re mostly scaffolding in an ongoing discussion of the evolution of the form. The book is most interesting in its creation of a dialogue between the news headlines of the past 10 or so years and their reflection on screen, and vice versa. The interwoven connection between major events, the films inspired by them and the subsequent major events conversely inspired by those films is nicely established, with 9/11 branded as a “cinema event”. Hoberman makes his points by repurposing pieces mostly culled from writing done for the Voice, appending explanatory footnotes and endnotes rooted in present-day reflection.

The book is divided into three sections. The first, and shortest, is a series of brief essays documenting the transition from live-action movies to what Hoberman calls “post-photographic cinema”, an evolution engendered by the rise of digital effects, viewed through the lens of reality-skewing films like The Matrix. This serves as a lucid introduction and the book’s strongest section, benefiting from the persuasiveness of entirely new material sketched out specifically to back the book’s arguments. The second portion is a timeline buffered by reviews of tent pole feature films, providing a continuum of highlights and reminding readers of the high-absurdity of the Bush years (remember when the administration briefly tossed out the idea of delaying the 2004 election, out of fear of terrorist attack?). The third section is a series of case studies of smaller films that he feels captured the status quo, ending with this year’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Hoberman’s last piece for the newspaper.

Anatolia is a minimalist murder story stripped of most of its essential parts, a meta-textual narrative whose mystery is largely contained in its own telling. Hoberman seems to view film in the same way, with the conception that the tenor of a time period only becomes fully apparent in connection with the culture it created. It’s this mindset that makes Film After Film more than just a rehashed collection of recent work. It may not be bound by the sternest dictates, but the loose conglomeration of ideas governing Film After Film makes for a concise and entertaining read, as well as a reasonably effective summary of our young century.

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