Hoberman & Rosenbaum - "Midnight Movies"

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I've been on a quest for new reading material, and all signs have pointed me in this direction. However, there are two things stopping me from buying this book: the auteurists behind it.

Nothing in my experience with either of these guys convinces me that they are qualified to take on this subject. Hoberman's views on the depiction of violence in cinema aren't nearly as frustratingly old-fashioned as Rosenbaum's, but they both still epitomize that school of middlebrow alternative film criticism.

Has anyone read this? If so, could you comment on it?

Anthony (Anthony F), Thursday, 6 April 2006 21:42 (sixteen years ago) link

I love both these guys and perhaps share the "frustratingly old-fashioned" views of violence in cinema, so I might not be the guy to answer your question.

I think it's a great book, largely due to the fact that neither of the writers take a straight-up "auterist" stance (which I rarely see them do elsewhere, I'm not sure your comment means beyond some one-upping disapproval, but whatever). They focus most of their attention on the interplay of the fan-created 'midnight movie" scenes. The Hoberman chapters are especially interesting (I always like his history/zeitgeist-y stuff more than his straight up crit) and the connections they make between the 60s NY avant-garde scene and late-60s/70s 'cult movie' stuff is super-valuable, I think.

If by the violence comment you mean you're more interested in B horror shock stuff like Basket Case, this might not be what you're looking for; the Rocky Horror cult is the real focus of the book.

C0L1N B... (C0L1N B...), Thursday, 6 April 2006 22:08 (sixteen years ago) link

What is the non-'middlebrow' att on the depiction of violence?

Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Friday, 7 April 2006 14:16 (sixteen years ago) link

Read the chapter "The Power of the Visual Taboo" in "Film as a Subversive Art." Amos Vogel sums up my feelings better than I ever could. Basically, he explains how the idea of a *representation* of something being identical to reality is an absurd notion in the 20th century.

Hoberman isn't so bad. "The Killer" made his Top 10 of that year, after all. But just read Rosenbaum's review of "Jarhead" (or any war film, for that matter). He either refuses to or is unable to engage with fictional violence on the level of representation. He always comes back to real-life violence. It's a surprisingly conservative viewpoint coming from Rosenbaum.

Anthony (Anthony F), Friday, 7 April 2006 18:46 (sixteen years ago) link

see also: Rosenbaum on "Mystic River"

Big Willy and the Twins (miloaukerman), Friday, 7 April 2006 19:03 (sixteen years ago) link

later I will ... but neither has struck me as 'equating' artistic violence with reality, but reflecting it (honestly or not).

Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Friday, 7 April 2006 19:32 (sixteen years ago) link

If that Vogel chapter has anything to do w/ Rosenbaum, you glossed the wrong part. Vogel admits (and celebrates! that's part of the whole idea of that secion of the book) that the "taboo image" still holds some irrational power over us as spectators. Where he and Rosenbaum would differ is the idea that these images somehow liberate us or, when in the service of something like a war film (! it's not Blood of the Beasts or something), pose any threat to the dominant order that instills these fears in us. Which ever side you take, Vogel's position (in a book written over thirty years ago) is as equally facile and "middlebrow" as Rosenbaum's (I think Noel Burch, to whom it would be pretty tough to attach the "middlebrow" label, has been working on a book that explicates (probably with more nuance) a similar position).

I haven't read that Jarhead piece since it was published (and I don't remember it being great; a lot of Rosenbaum's weekly pieces have been auto-pilot-y recently), but I think his concern was that the inherently aesthetic depictions or wartime violence in cinema glorify war, not that these images are so close to reality that we cannot handle them.

C0L1N B... (C0L1N B...), Friday, 7 April 2006 20:00 (sixteen years ago) link

It's easy to look at any film that isn't "Night and Fog" and say it glorifies war. Which is why Rosenbaum almost always hates war films. I would argue that, by this point, we should be beyond that, and have the ability to examine the merits of fictionalized violence on the level of representation, and not resort to comparing it to real-life violence.

Anthony (Anthony F), Saturday, 8 April 2006 03:30 (sixteen years ago) link

But that's the point that Rosenbaum is struggling with (not very interestingly, in this case; he has been more rigorous elsewhere) in that Jarhead piece! He takes as his premise that the film will glorify war and grapples with how war is glorified in this film and what that means. He's also not so dogmatic that he hates all war films (he loves Sam Fuller's war films, for instance).

I don't think we can get "beyond" the fact that war films tend to glorify war by ignoring the fact that they do. Whether or not you find this approach particularly fruitful or interesting is another question, but I think it's silly to pretend that this point is totally irrelevant and that Rosenbaum tends (at least in his longer-form writing) to be pretty thoughtful this argument.

C0L1N B... (C0L1N B...), Saturday, 8 April 2006 18:06 (sixteen years ago) link

I disagree. Rosenbaum's take on war in cinema is just as banal as any of the other hand-me-down social analyses he puffs up his reviews with. He's barely a step above a disgruntled parent who gripes that violent video games are the cause of high school shootings.

And of course he loves Fuller's films. He was friends with the man for years and knew him well enough to discern the politics of the films - something that is very difficult to do judging the films on their own merits, something that any asessment of Fuller's work (positive or negative) will tell you.

My point is that Rosenbaum can't seem to get beyond the "war porn" as he sees it, or the glorification of war, and look at the merits of a film on fictional terms (which Hoberman does very well in his review of "Jarhead," despite the fact that the movie sucks). Like I said, unless it's "Night and Fog," or a complete lampoon like "Small Soldiers," Rosenbaum's got a problem with it.

Anthony (Anthony F), Monday, 10 April 2006 04:17 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm pretty sure Rosenbaum has written interestingly on other war films, actually grapping with the issue. I'll look tommorow. (the first thing that comes to mind is his Apocalypse Now piece).

I'm not sure how your assertion that we should get over this very real aspect of on-screen violence by simply pretending it doesn't exist or by pretending that photographed film doesn't have an indexical relationship with reality that complicates the issue is any more reactionary than Rosenbaum is in his worst pieces.

C0L1N B... (C0L1N B...), Monday, 10 April 2006 04:37 (sixteen years ago) link

the idea of a *representation* of something being identical to reality is an absurd notion in the 20th century

yah, of course, but also all realities are representations themselves. the consequences of this is not the fact that movie violence is made less real, but real violence is made more like movie violence (a representation)! the ethical stakes of this are very big, but it certainly doesn't act as a means for us to indulge in film violence without guilt OR consider it always beyond the pale and corrupting.


ryan (ryan), Monday, 10 April 2006 04:55 (sixteen years ago) link

Lotsa laffs in their blow-by-blow sober description of "Holy Mountain."

Washable School Paste (sexyDancer), Monday, 10 April 2006 15:45 (sixteen years ago) link

"the consequences of this is not the fact that movie violence is made less real, but real violence is made more like movie violence (a representation)! the ethical stakes of this are very big, but it certainly doesn't act as a means for us to indulge in film violence without guilt OR consider it always beyond the pale and corrupting"

You're correct, and I wouldn't dream of debating this. Perhaps Rosenbaum has been more interesting on this subject than I am remembering. But the problem I see is that Rosenbaum rarely discusses form in terms of movie violence. Instead, he arrogantly asserts what the director has been thinking during the creation of this fictional violence (like he or anyone else can ever really be certain of this), then goes on to explain how the shot of this gun, this fist, this drop of blood is going to come out of the screen and turn us all into Ted Nugent. This way of thinking has certainly (and unfortunately) turned Rosenbaum off to great Hong Kong films, great exploitation and horror films, and great avant-garde films.

I should clarify that when I say Rosenbaum and Hoberman are the middlebrow alternative film criticism, I'm saying that they represent everything any good little Hollywood-bashing film buff is supposed to think, without any real original or new ideas on how to look at films at all. Just take a look at their contributions to the Sight & Sound poll. Gotta have one film by a female director, one by a black director, one avant-garde film, one underrated silent film... This is lazy liberalism, the kind that's ripe for caricature. There are far superior critics who represent a true alternative: Fred Camper, Gary Morris, Nicole Brenez, Adrian Martin, Jack Sargeant - all of whom have written about "violent" movies in ways that are forward-thinking, challenging, and mindful of film form (Camper not so much, though I recommend his piece on "The Loyal 47 Ronin," where he describes how Mizoguchi's film actually convinces him that the death of one of its characters is necessary!).

Anthony (Anthony F), Monday, 10 April 2006 16:28 (sixteen years ago) link

Ok, fine. But I really don't think you've read that much Hoberman or Rosenbaum. (Or even their S+S polls; Hoberman's #1 is Flaming Creatures, he has also written extensively on Smith as well as Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr etc..., both of whom he studied under at Stony Brook. Rosenbaum's S+S poll isn't super exciting, but When it Rains and The House is Black are hardly canonical or token picks).

Rosenbaum's take on violence is very different than you pretend and usually has more to do with the ideological and rhetorical use of violence. This has little to do with assuming what a director is thinking and lot to do with what the film does, i.e. how violence is working within the context of narrative and the larger political context in which it exists.

I like all the other critics you mentioned a lot (with the exception of Gary Morris, who I just haven't read), but I don't think what they're doing is radically more progressive or "alternative" than Rosenbaum at least, and not so different than Hoberman. (he's essentially responsible for making Brenez and Martin available in the U.S. and he's the only person who regularly publishes Fred Camper).

Rosenbaum can occassionally be a little boring or didactic, but you're using him as a straw man here.

C0L1N B... (C0L1N B...), Monday, 10 April 2006 17:40 (sixteen years ago) link

Perhaps I'm being too hard on Hoberman, and should reserve my venom for the Voice itself. Hoberman I tend to like; his publication, on the other hand, is, at least nowadays, a lame survey of alternative cinema.

I should also mention that I do read Rosenbaum's reviews every week, and occassionally, he can be on the money. I have to give him sole credit for turning me on to Joe Dante, and I admire his frequent bravery (putting "A.I." at the top of his 2001 list was pretty gutsy). Still, he's redundant, arrogant, pessimistic (I'm no lover of J.R. Jones, but his response to Rosenbaum's 2004 list was surprising, and humbled ol' Jonathan a bit; this year, Rosenbaum only bitches about movie distribution, an argument which seems practically exhausted by 2005), and his politics are never as enlightening as his long-form writing suggest.

Which brings me back to my original post. Are Hoberman and Rosenbaum qualified to write on cult films? Hoberman, probably. Rosenbaum, doubtful. But I haven't read the book, so there you go.

(And, yes, I have read both their S&S polls, and I do not think that choices untypical of the popular canon are anything to be impressed by. My problem is that the choices seem driven more by a desire to BE alternative to the usual canon than anything else. Rosenbaum practically trumpets his own eccentricity with his comments at the end of his list.)

Anthony (Anthony F), Monday, 10 April 2006 19:02 (sixteen years ago) link

Read the book, dude, I think you'll be surprised.

C0L1N B... (C0L1N B...), Monday, 10 April 2006 19:09 (sixteen years ago) link

im with Anthony on rosenbaum. i can't get past the first paragraph of his reviews very much anymore. the guy has become a bore.

ryan (ryan), Monday, 10 April 2006 19:09 (sixteen years ago) link

His Chicago Reader stuff has been very dull lately. His DVD column in Cinema-Scope is usually pretty good as is the occasionally longer-form things he publishes in Rouge or wherever. There were some great pieces in Essential Cinema.

C0L1N B... (C0L1N B...), Monday, 10 April 2006 19:18 (sixteen years ago) link

yeah that's a cool book.

ryan (ryan), Monday, 10 April 2006 19:23 (sixteen years ago) link

Some of the stuff in "Essential Cinema" really surprised me. Maybe he's just getting lazy in his journalism.

Anthony (Anthony F), Monday, 10 April 2006 19:30 (sixteen years ago) link

Yeah, that's pretty much the problem. Note that Midnight Movies was publsihed in 1983.

C0L1N B... (C0L1N B...), Monday, 10 April 2006 19:45 (sixteen years ago) link

five years pass...

hoberman fired by voice

no offense to maura or other ilxors who pop up there on occasion but i can't imagine i'll ever have reason to look at the voice again

balls, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 23:32 (ten years ago) link


lumber up, limbaugh down (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 January 2012 23:47 (ten years ago) link

bummer. been reading army of phantoms and the dream life, and they're fantastic, super entertaining cultural histories.

tylerw, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 23:50 (ten years ago) link


WATERMELON MAYNE aka the seed driver (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 5 January 2012 00:43 (ten years ago) link

why did he get fired? b/c he is 'old guard'?

gnome rocognise gnome (remy bean), Thursday, 5 January 2012 00:46 (ten years ago) link

I was always surprised (happy, but surprised) that he somehow dodged the Christgau/Eddy/Hentoff/etc. layoffs.

clemenza, Thursday, 5 January 2012 00:49 (ten years ago) link


WATERMELON MAYNE aka the seed driver (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 5 January 2012 01:10 (ten years ago) link

why did he get fired? b/c he is 'old guard'?

― gnome rocognise gnome (remy bean), Wednesday, January 4, 2012 7:46 PM (24 minutes ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

prob cuz he was making too much money

J0rdan S., Thursday, 5 January 2012 01:12 (ten years ago) link


TracerHandVEVO (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 5 January 2012 15:16 (ten years ago) link


"Not exactly trekking to the one-room schoolhouse six miles across the tundra but a schlep nonetheless for the Teenage Me to find the one newsstand in Flushing (and later, Binghamton, New York) that carried the Village Voice."

TracerHandVEVO (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 5 January 2012 15:17 (ten years ago) link

bcz people like me (but not me) will write Voice reviews for $50 a pop, and bcz most young people only look at Metacritic/RT scores for films, if that.


Dr Morbois de Bologne (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 5 January 2012 15:19 (ten years ago) link

people like me (but not me) will write Voice reviews for $50 a pop


dor Dumbeddownball (Eric H.), Thursday, 5 January 2012 15:25 (ten years ago) link

Hoberman's dismissal comes as I'm in the midst of reading the Paul Nelson biography. To indulge in a little gratuitous nostalgia, it always resonates with me when the world I'd constructed for myself back in university--all the music and film critics who had such an influence on me--gets chipped at a little more.

clemenza, Thursday, 5 January 2012 15:31 (ten years ago) link

ummm wha?

Dr Morbois de Bologne (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 5 January 2012 15:32 (ten years ago) link

no offense to maura or other ilxors who pop up there on occasion but i can't imagine i'll ever have reason to look at the voice again

― balls, Wednesday, January 4, 2012 11:32 PM (Yesterday)

jhøshea nrq (nakhchivan), Thursday, 5 January 2012 15:48 (ten years ago) link

titty pics of juggalettes aren't free, something had to give

goole, Thursday, 5 January 2012 15:50 (ten years ago) link

as Kenny commenters mention, the final insult is the elevation of that dingaling Karina Longworth.


Dr Morbois de Bologne (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 5 January 2012 16:30 (ten years ago) link

Par for course

Lady Writer, Male Seether (C. Grisso/McCain), Wednesday, 11 January 2012 17:22 (ten years ago) link

Das Jackass

TEH PNINFOX aka the veen driver (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 11 January 2012 17:30 (ten years ago) link

one month passes...
seven years pass...

Currently enjoying Hoberman's new book, Make My Day, the third installment in the line of The Dream Life and Army of Phantoms. This one covers the years 1975-1988. The first chapter contrasts Nashville with Jaws, with the author delivering the line, "Nashville was supple while Jaws was rigid, but Nashville was superficial while Jaws ran deep."

Later Hoberman rips into Reagan-era Hollywood product, bringing back the horrors and dipshit fraudulence of that decade all too vividly. He regularly refers to the films Reagan personally screened in the White House, so it's a bit like "Reagan at the Movies."

Josefa, Tuesday, 20 August 2019 01:05 (two years ago) link

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