Monday, April 25, 2011

Not Coming to a Theater Near You: J. Hoberman -- An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War

An Interview with J. Hoberman
by Leo Goldsmith
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Since his debut review – of no less a film than David Lynch’s Eraserhead – in 1977, J. Hoberman’s has been one of the defining voices in contemporary American film criticism. As the senior film critic at The Village Voice since 1988, Hoberman has for fifty weeks a year offered his insights into cinema in an oft-imitated style that is not only rich and thoughtful, but also, always, damn entertaining. In his advocacy and analysis of a wide range of classic, contemporary, and experimental film – popcorn, arthouse, and avant-ephemera alike – his weekly writings on film mirror the devoutly eclectic film culture of his hometown, which he and Jonathan Rosenbaum so lovingly documented in their 1991 classic, Midnight Movies (Da Capo Press).

But journalism is only part of the picture. Wearing his historian hat, Hoberman is also the author of about a dozen books, including Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism (Temple University Press, 1999), On Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (and Other Secret-flix of Cinemaroc) (Granary Books/Hips Road, 2001), and The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Siècle (Temple University Press, 2003). His new book An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War, a prequel to his acclaimed 2003 book The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties, follows the similarly fractious social climate of the postwar era, with its paranoid visions of witch-hunts and wild ones, flying saucers and impending nuclear blitzes, mind-controlling propaganda and wars of the worlds, both earthbound and intergalactic. Hoberman’s particular interest here is the cinema that captured and often prodded the pathologies of the day: reactionary exposés of the lurking Red Menace, crypto-socialist satires and sympathetic docudramas, and those scads of B-grade Cold War allegories presented in the genre guise of science fiction, the biblical epic, the western. With a cast of characters including G-men, fact-finders, space invaders, coonskin kids, Christian soldiers, and “white negroes,” and with cameos from the likes of Ronald Reagan, Nick Ray, Orson Welles, and Joe McCarthy, it’s a densely detailed, near-hallucinatory history, irradiated with Hoberman’s inimitable, vibrant prose.

To Read the Interview

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