A new anthology from one of America's foremost critics of movies and culture
The Magic Hour
Film at Fin de Siècle
Search the full text of this book
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 Siècle 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."
"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 unpredictablepure gold. Whether we agree with him or not, he is a pleasure to read."
"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 Siècle, 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."
"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."
"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 discussesand often skewersa 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 mélange 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."
Read "All One Great Movie," a review from New York Times Book Review, 16 March 2003, written by Ted Loos (pdf).
"If The Magic Hour sometimes reads like a collection of fragments, the sum, a cross-section of the Nineties zeitgeist, is greater than its parts. It's ultimately most striking in its vision of an overpowering National Entertainment State.... which Hoberman describes with the same rapt disdain he brings to Star Warsand a fragile resistance, represented both by The Cable Guy and Bela Tarr. Hoberman digs into both with a refreshing gusto and wit."
Read "Entertainment Jamboree," a review from Film and History, September 2003, written by David Lancaster (pdf).
Introduction: All as It Had Been
Part I: Pulp Fictions
Part II: Adventures in Dreamland
Part III: Once and Future Vanguards
Part IV: The History of Film, the Film of History
Part V: Our Rock 'n' Roll President
The Film Critic of Tomorrow, Today
Appendix: Ten "10 Best" Lists, 1991-2000
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.
In the series
Culture and the Moving Image, edited by Robert Sklar.
The Culture and the Moving Image series, edited by Robert Sklar, seeks to publish innovative scholarship and criticism on cinema, television, and the culture of the moving image. The series will emphasize works that view these media in their broad cultural and social frameworks. Its themes will include a global perspective on the world-wide production of images; the links between film, television, and video art; a concern with issues of race, class, and gender; and an engagement with the growing convergence of history and theory in moving image studies.