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The Magic Hour: Film at Fin De Siecle (Culture & the Moving Image) [Paperback]

J. Hoberman

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Book Description

21 Jan 2003 Culture & the Moving Image
The 'magic hour' is the name film-makers give the pre-dusk late afternoon, when anything photographed can be bathed in a melancholy golden light. A similar mood characterized the movies of the 1990s, occasioned by cinema's 1995-96 centennial and the waning of the twentieth century, as well as the decline of cinephilia and the seemingly universal triumph of Hollywood. "The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Siecle" anthologizes J. Hoberman's movie reviews, cultural criticism, and political essays, published in "The Village Voice", "Artforum", and elsewhere during the period bracketed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the World Trade Towers. Demonstrating Hoberman's range as a critic, this collection reflects on the influence of Fritz Lang, as well as Quentin Tarantino, on the end of the Western and representation of the Gulf War, the Hong Kong neo-wave and the 'boomerography' manifest in the cycle of movies inspired by the reign of Bill Clinton. As in his previous anthology, "Vulgar Modernism: Writings on Movies and Other Media" (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award), Hoberman's overriding interest is the intersection of popular culture and political power at the point where the history of film merges with what Jean-Luc Godard called 'the film of history'. Author note: J. Hoberman is the senior film critic at the "Village Voice" and Adjunct Professor of Cinema at Cooper Union. His books include "Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds" (Temple, 1995), "The Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism" (Temple, 1998), and the anthology "Vulgar Modernism: Writing on Movies and Other Media" (Temple, 1991) which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award in criticism.

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"This book is the film-security x-ray device we really need: it sees through everything. Witty, caustic, passionate and wise, Hoberman treats movies as the bizarre cross-cultural phenomenon they have become in a book of critical essays that somehow manages to be a suspenseful page-turner. Film criticism at this level is deliciously close to philosophy." --David Cronenberg "J. Hoberman is one of the best film critics working regularly in America today. His reviews and essays have many striking qualities that help account for its cogency, insight, and authority. He is exceptionally knowledgeable about film history and very deft at bringing it to bear on the films under discussion. His writing is terse, aphoristic, and unpredictable--pure gold. Whether we agree with him or not, he is a pleasure to read." --Morris Dickstein, CUNY Graduate Center, and author of Gates of Eden, and Leopards in the Temple "Archivist, excavator and wicked wit, J. Hoberman holds a lead place at the forefront of contemporary American film criticism. In The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Siecle, he effortlessly transcends the banality of so much of our contemporary film culture and identifies essential truths about how we watch and why. Even when the movies are lousy Hoberman is inimitable." --Manohla Dargis, movie critic, Los Angeles Times "Hoberman's collection assesses the cinematic output of the 1990s, a period he characterizes as being bracketed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. That sociopolitical approach is telling, because Hoberman casts his critical gaze beyond the world of film; besides weekly movie reviews, he publishes on politics and culture in the Village Voice, where most of these essays first appeared. The mostly brief reviews of individual films gain substance from being thematically grouped, especially those in a section juxtaposing movies on politics, such as The American President and The Contender, and the presidencies of the first Bush and Clinton: here Hoberman's political and cinematic agendas coalesce perfectly. Elsewhere, there are straightforward write-ups of films ranging from Spielberg's '90s product to masterworks from Iran, Russia, and Hong Kong; ultimately, these pieces prove to be the most satisfying. For while Hoberman's political commentary is lively and provocative, as such it is not so rare a commodity as his rigorous and thoughtfully insightful film criticism." --Gordon Flagg, Booklist "Although it mostly covers films and personalities from the era between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of the Twin Towers, this collection of previously published essays and articles references numerous earlier motion pictures as well. The always readable Hoberman, film critic of the Village Voice, wittily discusses--and often skewers--a range of better- and lesser-known films, from Vertigo and Kiss Me Deadly to Schindler's List and Mulholland Drive. Of equal interest are his thoughts on the 1990s political scene, especially Bob Dole, George Bush Sr., and Bill Clinton, whom he dubs the "Show Biz President." He also writes insightfully on the cultural history of the final years of the 20th century, the future of the cinema, and the ongoing role of the film critic. Completing this interesting melange are Hoberman's often quirky choices for the ten best films of each year between 1991 and 2000. Recommended for larger libraries and cinema collections." --Library Journal

About the Author

J. HOBERMAN is Film Critic at The Village Voice.

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The fate of cinema 7 May 2003
By pnotley@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Over the past quarter-century J. Hoberman of The Village Voice has distinguished himself as one of America's finest film critics. In this collection of his film criticism of the nineties he quotes one of the first great writers on film, Siegfried Kracauer who states that the good film critic can only be a critic of society. And this is undoubtedly the case for Hoberman, who is fiercely opposed to chauvinism, complacency and militarism that infects so much of American public life. In this collection we read about the cult of Star Wars, the decline of the American Western in an age of increasing moral uncertainty, as well as the class and ethnic aspects of Quiz Show. Hoberman devotes a whole chapter to the Clinton presidency. While looking at such ultimately hollow films as Bob Roberts, Dave, The American President, Pleasantville and The Contender, Hoberman notes the image of Clinton, at one point the image of a new "progressive" generation and at another the two-minute hate of the Republican party. In the meantime, the reality of Clinton's fundamentally conventional, manipulative and conservative persona is ignored.
A person opening the book at random may find on a single page allusions to Howdy Doody, Leave it to Beaver, The Beverly Hillbillies, Arsenio Hall, Kenny G and Andrew Lloyd Webber. One may view Hoberman as simply a kibitzer of names. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although witty and amusing, Hoberman is also very serious and very sharp. He is a dedicated admirer of film and an insightful and appreciative critic of popular culture. (Who can forget his essays in his previous collection Vulgar Modernism in praise of Krazy Kat and The Honeymooners.) Yet almost no film critic has higher standards and is less likely to be duped by sentimentality and easy manipulation. He is a dedicated internationalist, in contrast to the lack of curiosity of not only Hollywood but most film critics. So in this book he praises such filmmakers as Kiarostami, Sokurov, Wong Kar-Wei, and Ron Havilio. Looking at his top ten lists from 1991 to 2000, one finds two best picture winners (Unforgiven and The Silence of the Lambs), three best picture nominees, and such unexpected Hollywood fare as Groundhog Day, Dead Man, Portrait of a Lady, The Cable Guy, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The House of Mirth. But no other critic has gone out of his way to search out for foreign films that are often criminally unreleased in the United States. The best pictures of 1993 and 1999 come from the Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien. The best picture of 1994 is from China, while 1995 comes from Germany, 1996 from Hungary, 1997 from the Czech Republic, 1998 from Russia and 2000 from Israel. At the same time few critics have his knowledge of film history, as we see in his pieces on Fritz Lang, Sergei Paradjanov, Oscar Michaeaux and Vertigo.
But let us consider his sharpness as a critic: Hoberman is witty enough to describe JFK as the most baroque snuff film in American history. He can point out how Three Kings seeks to become more conventional as it goes along and eventually succeeds. He notes how in the magical world of Pleasantville, everyone at the end is as white and middle-class as they were when the picture started, except now that they get to have sex as well. (A verdict, one feels, all too applicable to the United States since the sixties). Although we do not receive his full review of Titanic we do get a properly acidic paragraph as he notes the contrast between Cameron's profligacy and his sneers at the rich, and at the way he desecrates the tomb of the dead, while demanding a moment of silence for those interred, mostly played by digitalized extras. He reminds us that The Cable Guy is a far more frightening and provocative film than the fundamentally facile The Truman Show. One of the problems with Eyes Wide Shut, he notes, is that it has the least interesting musical score of all of Stanley Kubrick's works. He is always nuanced and complex, as he can criticize A.I., yet praise Joel Haley Osment's performance as the best of the year. And finally, one must recall Hoberman's review of Schindler's List, probably the most admired film of the nineties. He points out the essential sentimentality of a Holocaust movie with a happy ending, and contrasts it with Shoah "a film about death in which, over and over and over and over, no one ever escapes." There is a special power in his review's last line, a special power of indignation that is most powerful for being understated. Spielberg's movie won't upset one's dinner. "It's a tasteful movie."
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