Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

J Hoberman and the vanishing film critic.

It is not for me to bemoan the decline of the movie critic. If some record store owner turned up to whine about the annihilation of that business then you might, quite reasonably, accuse that unfortunate fellow of special pleading. …

Sun, Jan 8, 2012, 18:57

   

It is not for me to bemoan the decline of the movie critic. If some record store owner turned up to whine about the annihilation of that business then you might, quite reasonably, accuse that unfortunate fellow of special pleading. But it is sad when one of the great critics gets edged off his perch. There are few better contemporary film reviewers that the inestimable J Hoberman. Born in 1948, this quirky, elegant writer has been senior film critic for the Village Voice since 1988. I was living in New York City during that year and, as a Voice addict, savoured his sinuous sentences and vast depth of knowledge. (I also enjoyed the Life in Hell cartoons by some unknown named Matt Groening). The Voice has declined somewhat in recent years. Now a free-sheet, it still contains good writing, but, depleted by all the online jabbering, it does not seem in any way essential. However Hoberman still granted the organ respectability. A few days ago, the Voice announced that it had sacked him. Say goodnight to the folks, Gracie. The game is up.

The author of superb books on cinema such as The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties and The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Si├Ęcle, Mr Hoberman was always particularly sharp on experimental film and Jewish aspects of the medium. If you wanted a word on early Yiddish cinema then Jim was your only man. He won’t go away. One trusts that there will still be outlets for writing of this quality. But the Voice’s move does indicate that the properly eccentric film writer — somebody who does more than offer a star-rated “buyers guide” — is beginning to look a little like a luxury item for such publications. Who would bother hiring a Pauline Kael, a Dilys Powell or a Jonathan Rosenbaum in the current climate? Film critics are just like graders of luncheon meat. Aren’t they? They are merely required to stamp the product with an appropriate health rating and send it out to the delicatessen.

For the record, a day or so before the axe fell, Hoberman delivered his 10 best list for 2011. It was agreeably odd and was accompanied by characteristically sharp assessments of the year’s releases. Yes, he picked some nicely obscure material. But he was also one of the few critics to position Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar in his final list. Don’t trust any reviewer who is immune to either the mainstream or the avant garde. Such a person is only half a critic. That sounds like a maxim. If you want more such advice check out Hoberman’s 10 tips for aspiring film critics. (There’ll be more in a day or so when we ponder Jim’s arch rival Armond White.)

Here’s Hoberman’s 2011 top 10:

1. A Dangerous Method

2. Melancholia

3. Mysteries of Lisbon

4. Aurora

5. Seeking the Monkey King

6. To Die Like a Man

7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

8. Hugo

9. J. Edgar

10. United Red Army

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