click to buy "The Dream Life" at Amazon.comOn the dust jacket of The Dream Life, Clint Eastwood squints and squats in his Dirty Harry stance, wielding his Magnum .44 in wide angle, the long metallic barrel absurdly hypertrophied and directly aimed at the reader’s right ventricle. This is an entirely appropriate front cover, as the book amasses political and cultural detail to build a dark vision of “the Dirty Harry-ization of America”. As this new hero of the urban frontier dispenses do-it-yourself justice, battling the forces of disorder and disinhibition, this “Last Cowboy” has become an icon of the conservatism that either threatens or comforts, depending on individual ideology.

In light of the present surge of political documentaries, Hoberman’s pageant of historical events stimulates a kind of experiential understanding of the psychodrama that raged throughout the United States beginning in the 1960s, providing a compelling context to understand how opposing forces have penetrated into popular cinema. Pressing forward through the era in two-year increments, with special attention to political campaigns as cultural moments that exploited TV’s ability to shape images in pursuit of political gain, Hoberman identifies a fistful of metaphors and pocketful of archetypes to explore the myths of both camps, hard left and rigid right, as they surfaced in American films of the time.

Published almost simultaneously with The Dream Life, Hoberman’s The Magic Hour continues the study of what he dubs “the Fritz Lang Century” of genius criminals and paranoid conspiracies, culling from his Village Voice reviews of that decade a shrewd selection of over 60 films (plus another hundred in provocative capsule commentaries in his collected annual “Ten Best Lists”).

Indeed, if we use The Dream Life and The Magic Hour to bookend Hoberman’s earlier distillation of 80s cinema – called Vulgar Modernism – the three volumes together make a near-complete record of how film expressed the political and cultural currents of American society from 1960 to the present, but from Hoberman’s perspective of “cinema as shared fantasy and social myth”.

Of course, the United States has been a house divided from the beginning, fissured into the blue and gray armies of the Civil War, increasingly fragmented into bundles of ethnic interests, and now polarised into electoral units of red and blue states. The influence of such social and political divisions on cinema is not in dispute, but Hoberman takes it a step further with his conceit of “the dream life”,

While it’s commonplace to poke and prod films to reveal hidden forces of history, Hoberman reverses this conceptualisation. The Dream Life builds on Siegfried Kracauer’s concept that the zeitgeist is crammed with powerful ideas that want to assume form in reality, drives that roil about in a collective national unconscious that exteriorises in the shape of films. Hoberman appropriates Norman Mailer’s words, describing such forces as a “subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely, and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence that is the dream life of the nation”.

Furthermore, it’s a two-way system: each film artifact continues to attract additional meaning and then becomes reabsorbed into the “dream life” of the nation. In actual fact, Hoberman doesn’t shirk the determinist implications of his idea, and suggests that, at least for the purposes of this study, cultural landmark films such as, Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964), The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969), and Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971) “may be understood as movies that, in effect, directed their directors”. By definition, this approach precludes the auteurist interpretation of these films (although, both Hawks and Hitchcock produced significant works during this period, and neither director is mentioned. “The more old Hollywood movies are sentimentalised as art”, notes Hoberman in The Magic Hour, “the more crass our appreciation of the current crop”, which seems like an arrow aimed at auteurists).

In a sense, The Dream Life begins and ends in conspiracy narratives, starting with the “Zapruder” document that united the nation, at least as an audience:

The JFK death event is watched in 96 percent of America’s TV homes for an average of 31 hours and 38 minutes. Not since the great comets brushed planet Earth to destroy the dinosaurs has there been such simultaneity (1).

Thus, an act of violence from an unseen hand transformed the national reality in an instant: “the nation would require a new foundation myth to explain the rupture in the American narrative”.

Here Hoberman finds his first archetype, the “Secret Agent of History”, the lone gunman “who made manifest American destiny”, and traces his reappearance in The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962), whose conspiracy plot was equally criticised by the American Legion and the Communist People’s World. As Hoberman puts it, in his characteristically compacted prose, “One brain washed the other”. Soon the Watergate revelations would feed fresh blood into the archetype, reviving the shadowy assassins who lurked behind The Parallax View (Alan Pakula, 1974), Executive Action (David Miller, 1973), and Blow-Out (Brian De Palma, 1981) (2).

Alert to contemporary critical reception (occasionally employing what Bill Krohn calls “forensic criticism”), and mindful of Daniel Boorstin’s concept of pseudo-events, Hoberman also enlists intellectual commentary from the writing of Marshall McLuhan, Susan Sontag, Hunter S. Thompson, Pauline Kael, and even Ayn Rand (who proclaimed, “The moon landing was the triumph of intellect; Woodstock, the nadir of primitive instinct”).

Viewing American history through the metaphor of “the national movie lot”, Hoberman employs several vivid (though lightly manipulated and never schematic) conceits, the central one positing the United States as “Freedomland”. This was a big, vulgar repository of dumbed-down history, based on the disastrous multimillion dollar theme park in the Bronx that opened in 1960, where visitors could “play at being American”. For citizens who wouldn’t be caught dead in the mainstream, the other America is represented by the Red Dog Saloon, an actual club in Nevada, “an avant-garde Freedomland” of peyote, LSD, and hippies, in a space copied from the set of television’s Gunsmoke.

The Green Berets

Hoberman advances another Jungian archetype, the “Hollywood Freedom Fighter”, who could manifest from either the Left, as in Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960) (President Kennedy called his archrival Fidel Castro “a tropical Spartacus”) or from the Right (John Wayne’s fake grit in his own productions of The Alamo [1960] and especially The Green Berets [1968]). For that matter, mirroring the coming trauma of the Vietnam War, The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960) anticipate American military advisers. Eventually, the zeitgeist would produce such variants as “the Third World shaman-gunslinger El Topo, the messianic half-Indian Billy Jack, and the revolutionary black hustler Sweet Sweetback” (p. 296), anti-Hollywood Freedom Fighters one and all.

From the political Left, Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) and Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) established “The Righteous Outlaw”, who exemplified the link between sexual and political liberation on the silver screen, while the television screen countered with the Manson Clan, the Weather Underground, and Patty Hearst’s seduction by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The most extreme development came in Wild in the Streets (Barry Shear, 1968), “a new sort of AIP horror film: I Was a Teenage Spartacus. Rock stars and hippies take control of the state”, while matronly Shelley Winters finds herself condemned to a gulag for useless seniors.

As the counterculture felt empowered to confront authority and fight back, filmmakers did so too. Thus, when Twentieth-Century Fox impounded the negative of Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin, 1971) to enforce its own cut, writer-director-star Tom Laughlin successfully challenged the studio by impounding the soundtrack, threatening to erase one reel a week until their $650,000 investment was gone. Similarly, when the Motion Picture Association of America gave Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971) the dreaded “X” rating, director Mario Van Peebles challenged it as “imposing a white judgment on black subject matter, demanded that the X rating apply to white patrons only, and threatened to sue”. The director said, “For the white man, my picture is a new kind of foreign film”.

In many respects, a civic nightmare that kept spreading, the volatile 60s outstayed their welcome and seemingly refused to end (and felt “as momentous as a century”). It was a supremely messy era, so it’s not surprising that its history refuses to fall into neat bullet points. As a work of history, The Dream Life spills over the decade dividers to cover a period of roughly 15 years, from 1960 to 1975, concluding just as the cloven hoof of Ronald Reagan stamped in the nation’s dust. Recalling Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler, Hoberman’s book could easily be subtitled From Sputnik to Shampoo.

Throughout the 1950s, the man in the gray flannel suit, that personification of the Eisenhower era, worried about too much conformity, too many juvenile delinquents, and mushroom clouds on the horizon (while adjusting to witch hunts and blacklisting). The 1960s stepped on the accelerator of change, with insurrections, confrontational outrages and revelations, and paradigms spinning like pinwheels. With the nation agog from multiple assassinations (Andy Warhol was shot one day and Robert F. Kennedy the very next day); no one was allowed to remain passive. (“You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution” was Eldridge Cleaver’s famous formula). Well into the 1970s, the nation’s head was swiveling round in societal crisis, like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973).

In the process, the residual World War Two myth of good guy G.I.s liberating the world was “desecrated” by films like Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (1967), its protagonists being murderous war criminals who “attacked authority – of any kind”. Along with films like Alice’s Restaurant (Arthur Penn, 1969), Easy Rider, and Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (Abraham Polonsky, 1969), audiences watched protagonists made up of “a doomed assortment of criminals, crazies, draft dodgers, dope dealers, and Indians. Bringing home the Green Berets might not be sufficient” (p. 245).

Myra Breckinridge

Taking Jean Baudrillard’s metaphor of the “Orgy” to characterise the cultural and sexual upheavals of the Nixon years, Hoberman argues a compelling case for the resuscitation (or at least consideration) of Myra Breckinridge (Michael Sarne, 1970) as one of the era’s central films. Whilst Myra Breckinridge represented its era by “conflat[ing] and hyperbolis[ing] the most outrageous aspects of women’s liberation, gay rights, and the porn pandemic…”, it was also “a movie founded on the dialectic of yearning and exploitation, the class relations between idols and their fans, the pitting of glamour haves against glamour have-nots”. Hoberman observes that Sarne’s film is so determined to transgress that “the soundtrack coyly bleeps ‘mother’ and keeps ‘fucker’” (p. 278).

Naturally, it was tempting to blame those decadent Europeans for the slackening of heartland morals. For example, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) offered

the full dream-life flowering of zombie hedonism, amoral affluence, guerilla theater, body paint, micro-minis, raga rock, and group-grope… It valorized impulse behavior, promoting the druggy sense that reality was individual and subjective rather than social and objective. Everyone was his or her own star… Antonioni invented a juvenilopolis as stylized and vacant as the set for a Samuel Beckett play (p. 339)

(Although the greater affront would come in 1970 when Antonioni made Zabriskie Point‘s ranch house explode from consumption.)

Enter the Legal Vigilante, weapons in hand, to halt the “Orgy”, bringing with him a rewritten national narrative of “individualist thwarted by bureaucrats”. Whether Patton or Joe or Dirty Harry himself, he “can break the rules, suspend constitutional guarantees, engage in illegal searches, torture, stalk, and even execute a suspect – all in the name of the greater good” (p. 325).

If Patton (Franklin Schaffner, 1970) personified the Silent Majority’s trust in the Great Man to lead America to victory, the general was soon followed by Joe (John G. Avildsen, 1970), “the poor man’s Patton” and precursor to Archie Bunker, bigot for all seasons in American television’s phenomenally popular All in the Family series (acceptable because he was defanged of Joe‘s violence). With Dirty Harry, the Legal Vigilante had evolved into “the Dirty Dozen reduced to a single combatant, Patton and the soldier whom Patton slaps, the synthesis of the Patton/Mash double bill”. Not only a cult film that spawned lucrative sequels, Dirty Harry was also screened repeatedly in the Kremlin.

Throughout The Dream Life, Hoberman follows the continuum of the Dying Western, because the genre embodies the nation’s evolving sense of its identity, starting from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962). Hoberman claims the movie centres on “the astounding statement that American history was founded on a necessary lie”, and he sees the Western as the nation’s way to unite brutality and innocence in

a genre that exists to rationalize the use of deadly force. Each and every Western necessarily divides the world into good guys and bad, defining the bad guy in such a way that, by the movie’s end, the good guy is morally justified and absolved by history in wreaking vengeance as judge, jury, and executioner (p. 127).

The path leads from self-conscious post-Westerns (such as Lonely Are the Brave, David Miller, 1962), past the “relentlessly patriarchal” McClintock! (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1963), giving way to the self-loathing of Major Dundee (Sam Peckinpah, 1965) which “offers no positive evidence of American civilization”, pointing downward to the so-called My Lai Westerns that reflect the infamous massacre in Vietnam (Little Big Man [Arthur Penn, 1970]). Disco Westerns (Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys, 1968) follow Hippie Westerns (notably McCabe and Mrs. Miller, [Robert Altman, 1971]) until the Nixon era brings Dirty Harry directing himself as “another sort of Silent Majority avenger” in High Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood, 1973), raping a woman who asserts her independence. Hoberman drily notes: “Times had changed. Whatever else he might have been, Wayne was not a rapist”.

Indeed, John Wayne personified “the Cowboy Father of His Country”, making The Green Berets explicable as “a crypto Western” (the American army base is called Dodge City), and a handsomely profitable one at that. “This success proved Wayne’s point: Give the public Vietnam the way it should be – the way it could be, the way it would be if only the media let it – and the war was a hit” (p. 213).

Unable to resist bracketing Blowup with Blow-Out (“the last Sixties movie”), Hoberman concludes The Dream Life with a leap to 1981, observing the ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency as the return of the “Hollywood Freedom Fighter”. Famous for collapsing cinematic fiction into his own autobiography, Reagan was a “master of the hyperreal, remaker of history… Kennedy without tears, John Wayne without Vietnam, a plain-talking Norman Mailer, an affable Dirty Harry, the greatest of all Sixties Survivors” (p. 409).

Much like Raymond Durgnat before him, the bracingly unsentimental and vernacular Hoberman is too practical and direct to embrace theory constructs. The result is a book devoid of obscurantist jargon with not one pedantic note, and reading it is an exciting experience in itself.

Though he draws no explicit political lessons, Hoberman casts an unblinking eye and guillotine wit on political dirty tricks. (During the 1972 presidential campaign, Jane Fonda, freshly returned from visiting the enemy in Hanoi, “was hung around McGovern’s neck like a poison-ivy lei”).

No idealist or partisan advocate, he nevertheless falls clearly on the side of progressive forces, spinning analogies that are at once elegantly simple and impossible to forget, as in this description of Ronald Reagan’s impact in TV campaign spots:

Projecting an aura of friendly concern, glowing like the tube itself, fulfilling Daniel Boorstin’s warning that ‘the making of the illusions which flood our experience has become the business of America,’ hyperreal in every emotion, Reagan proved a televisual Medusa whose amiable gaze had the power to transform rival politicians into crumbling fossils (p. 151).

In a brilliant if sometimes exhausting show, Hoberman achieves a panoramic urgency, as 60s culture streams past in shrewdly chosen and colourful detail, a whirlpool that throws out half-forgotten images from the era: Vietnam veterans occupying the Statue of Liberty for two days; the Yippies attempting to levitate the Pentagon; the Attica Prison uprising that ended in a notorious bloodbath; Abbie Hoffman flinging dollar bills down on the New York Stock Exchange; American Indian revolutionaries facing off federal troops at Wounded Knee; Harvard’s LSD guru Timothy Leary escaping from jail and surfacing in Algeria; the Black Panthers planning their own blaxploitation production; Elvis Presley offering to serve as an FBI informer.

The Dream Life fairly seethes with context and timelines, synchronous convergences and unforeseen correspondences, one event jostling another in overlapping narratives. Every time I thought I had a handle on something, I would check back in the book and find myself sucked back into the vortex, finding my original idea complicated and deepened. Still, while it’s provocative to lace together synchronous events, the underlying pattern can remain elusive, leaving the reader somewhat at a loss of what to do with all the loose ends.

Although dense with resonance, Hoberman’s comparisons do not always relate in a strictly meaningful way. Whatever its value as drama, is it truly significant that

The making of Major Dundee coincided with the Republican primary season, the prolonged Senate debate on the second Civil Rights Bill, the emergence of George Wallace as the national personification of White Backlash, and LBJ’s introduction of the Great Society (p. 126)?

Best appreciated as a cage of metaphor to contain socio-filmic connections and interacting archetypes, The Dream Life remains a somewhat shadowy and distanced concept, resisting literalist scrutiny. Questions certainly arise, for example: Do dreams have borders? Can Canadian dreams spill over the 49th parallel to contribute to this collective unconscious? Is there a fundamental difference or fraternity between American Pie (Paul Weitz, 1999) and Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)?

Even though they turned it into the granddaddy of cult films, are Americans really responsible for dreaming up El Topo (1971)? (Hoberman helpfully reminds us that during the shooting, director-star Alejandro Jodorowsky had worn “special under shorts with holes for his testicles and a green circle stitched around his anus ‘to make sure I wouldn’t act like John Wayne’”, thus proving once more south-of-the-border resistance to American archetypes.)

The Last Movie

As for Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971), it clearly embodies the dead-end terminus of the counterculture, but it’s questionable how this misfire – barely released and profoundly ignored by the public, both then and now – figured in the dreams of anyone other than the director. (Similarly, Hoberman discusses the downright artisanal Maidstone (Norman Mailer, 1970), yet no one but Mailer was dreaming that one, and not many outside his circle ever saw it in waking life either.)

What’s missing from The Dream Life? With so much political and cultural context, aesthetics take a back seat, with little concern with surface style or formal aspects, let alone narrative strategies or production methods. Ironically, this history-intensive work shortchanges Hollywood history, barely glancing at the Gotterdämmerung of the production system, where the studios’ resources were segmented and dismantled by corporate auctioneers.

If Hoberman revives serious consideration of films not often discussed now (Joe or Arthur Penn’s The Chase, 1966), we find little or no mention of widely seen and widely discussed films like The Russians Are Coming (Norman Jewison, 1966), The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967), Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969), Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), Klute (Alan Pakula, 1971), The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1971) and Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1973). These were dominant hits of their era, as were Love Story (Arthur Hiller, 1970) and The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965). As risible as it might sound, convent problem girl Maria von Trapp could be positioned as a Righteous Outlaw for her iconoclasm, breaking rules and challenging paternalistic authority as she reorders the personal economy of the family. As all America embraced the errant postulant, with the film clogging the nation’s screens for months, was it because the production achieved the cardinal American fantasy that individualism always triumphs over authoritarian order?

Less attentive to low culture forms such as soap opera, porn (despite a passing nod to Deep Throat [Gerard Damiano, 1972]), and slasher films, Hoberman nevertheless wrings maximum meaning from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) as an illustration of societal breakdown:

…a cannibal nightmare – the most literal possible image of America devouring itself…the marauding zombies provided a grimly hilarious cross-section of ordinary Americans…no happy ending, nor any reassurance whatsoever. What’s more…casting a black actor as the smartest, most capable, and most sympathetic character (p. 261).

Hoberman’s juggling of metaphors inevitably sets the mind spinning in search of other figures that express the zeitgeist. Consider the Family of Grifters (Paper Moon [Peter Bogdanovich, 1973]). Or the Daredevil (Red Line 7000 [Howard Hawks, 1965]), possibly a subcategory of the Righteous Outlaw. The Pod People date back to the zombie genre but seem increasingly relevant, while the Undercover Mole started in I Was a Communist for the FBI (Gordon Douglas, 1951), but has produced his antithesis, the Whistleblower. Until the International Terrorist came back on the scene, Americans had to be content with the Serial Killer as the exemplar of the Threatening Other.

But isn’t the Classless Suburban Achiever – whether Doris Day in numerous movies or Donna Reed on television, clad in the pearls and apron of the sitcom housewife –one avatar of the sanitised ideology of family values? By contrast, Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) turned Jack Nicholson’s character into her dialectical opposite, a Janus of class identity with a silver-spoon face and a hardhat face. While this cultured intellectual who chooses blue-collar labour in the oil fields embodies typical American class mobility, his concealment of this privileged background confirmed the persistence of social differences and interclass prejudices. But which one would arise from The Dream Life, the Class Eraser or the Class Traitor?

In his formidable research, Hoberman not only unearths a 1965 pamphlet called “Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles” but also disinters forgotten moments such as an Indochina visit by John Wayne when “the Green Berets presented the Duke with a lighter engraved FUCK COMMUNISM” (3). And where else can you find the lyrics for “White Christmas” revised by the Weather Underground?

I’m dreaming of a white riot
Just like the one October 8
When the pigs take a beating
And things start leading
To armed war against the state…
(p. 262)

The new paradigm that has disconnected Hollywood from the New Deal social consciousness that informed much of cinema in the 40s and 50s, and instead moved to the audience-flattering fantasies of what Guy Debord calls “the Society of Spectacle”, begins as only a footnote in The Dream Life:

In 1977, the counterculture was successfully neutered and massified by a couple of ex-hippies. As George Lucas’s Star Wars rationalized Dionysian mysticism with Apollonian technology, so Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind used love-zaps from the sky to transform members of the Middle American Silent Majority into hippie dropouts (p. 251).

click to buy "The Magic Hour" at Amazon.comIn The Magic Hour, however, Hoberman lavishes an entire chapter on the Star Wars (1977) phenomenon, with particular attention to the trilogy’s place as a life-event among younger filmgoers, as well as the mass marketing of The Phantom Menace prequel (George Lucas, 1999). Movies for the masses that he addresses include Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) (the “evil twin” of E.T [Steven Spielberg, 1982]), Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992) (“almost delirious in celebrating the absence of ethics”), and Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) (“with its unprecedented, albeit digital, representation of mass death”).

Both books are vital social documents, and complement each other neatly as Hoberman continues The Dream Life‘s overview of the Western’s decline, moves to the Presidential Campaigns of that decade (Forrest Gump [Robert Zemeckis, 1994] and Pleasantville [Gary Ross, 1998] as expressions of the “sitcom universe” of Clinton, even more than Wag the Dog [Barry Levinson, 1997]). He considers Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1957) as surrealism, speculates on whether Die Hard positioned the World Trade Centre as an international target, and gives retrospective takes on Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) (condemned by the Legion of Decency and, even worse, un-reviewed by the New York Times), and Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968) (“Framed so tightly that each drop of sweat becomes a visual event”).

Hoberman’s view of the avant-garde encompasses Karl Marx (“a sort of nineteenth-century Warhol”) as well as Guy Maddin, Mark Rappaport, Todd Haynes, Michael Snow, Jim Jarmusch, and John Waters, yet even stretches to include Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“the inverse of the idiotic positive ‘reviews’ [of] blurb whores”).

The Magic Hour also widens the scope to consider international films, from the 1950 Mexican Aventurera (Alberto Gout, 1949) to Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), as well as works of Paradjanov, Herzog, Kusturica, Sokurov, and Takeshi Kitano. And who else would relate Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love (2000) to Paul Fejos’s 1928 silent Lonesome?

Reflections on the September 11 event lead Hoberman through a range of topics, including race movies (King Vidor’s Hallelujah [1929] vs Oscar Micheaux), the economic underpinnings of the popularity of quiz shows in the 1950s, Bob Dole’s bodily attributes, and best of all, an inquiry into the dilemma of the critic who must “strike a Faustian bargain with the industry…Is movie criticism inevitably a form of publicity?”

In the present reign of “infotainment” with its vulgarisation of vérité into “reality TV”, a new model of information has arisen, described by the ever prescient Gore Vidal: “As real politics are entirely excluded from public life, private lives are all that we are allowed to talk about”. Hence, the unholy union of celebrities and fundamentalists, focused on the customising titillations and distractions that serve predatory consumerism. Against this tyranny of the marketplace, and the compression of media into six monopoly constellations that keep people twitchy with fear of the Unknown Other, the consumerist young are left as defenseless as a Borneo cargo cult.

In this climate, treating a film as an expression of consciousness rather than a commodity is an increasingly unusual approach, all the more as motivational research and focus-groups are shaping film as marketplace products,. Insisting that films arise from competing value systems within the cultural ethos also serves to reconnect ethics and aesthetics, bucking the growing trend to separate them when assessing controversial films, whether from one camp or the other, whether it’s Irréversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002), Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, 2004), or The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004). What the movie says cannot be amputated from how it says it.

Meanwhile, the technological march toward Virtual Reality is already underway, bringing the “impending obsolescence of the motion picture”. If André Bazin’s Myth of Total Cinema predicted new interactive forms to supplant film, Hoberman sees an existing topsy-turvy somersault of value relations. (“Sooner of later – or rather, sooner and sooner – the most elaborate $100 million blockbuster will fall into your hands as a $19.95 videocassette” (4). Except that now it’s a DVD.)

The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties, by J. Hoberman, The New Press, New York, 2003.

The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Siècle, by J. Hoberman, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2003.

Click here to order The Dream Life directly from Amazon.com

Click here to order The Magic Hour directly from Amazon.com


  1. J. Hoberman, The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties, The New Press, New York, 2003, p. 87. Further citations in text.
  2. The appeal of the conspiracy theory is its order: it “offers an antidote to chaos. Instead of unpredictable terrorists, true aliens in our midst, we have ‘people like us’ only more extreme: logical tacticians with scientific plans to take over the world” (Molly Haskell, “Reel Conspiracies; Whatever the Public Fears Most, It’s Right Up There on the Big Screen”, New York Times, August 8, 2004.)
  3. From all the data assembled in both books, the only error that jumps out is ascribing John Wayne’s appearance as a Roman Centurion to “the 1964 King of Kings” (p. 57). That was actually 1965’s Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens).
  4. J. Hoberman, The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Siècle, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2003, p. 238.

About The Author

Robert Keser teaches film at National-Louis University in Chicago, and is Associate Editor of Bright Lights Film Journal. His previous CTEQ Annotations include Edvard Munch, The Exile, Forbidden, Police, and Westfront 1918.

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