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Gloats / movies / January 5, 2012
By Eileen Jones

Film critic J. Hoberman got axed from the Village Voice today, and old-school cineastes are rending their garments in grief and crying “Oh the humanity!”

Personally, I hate J. Hoberman and the film criticism he rode in on, and I only wish he’d tripped and broken his neck on the way out the door.

Oh, all right, if that’s too harsh, let’s say I wish he’d broken his arm. His writing arm.

J. Hoberman is one of several dreary senior citizen critics who’ve been around for thirty or forty years, hogging the few paid gigs that still exist, like David Denby at The New Yorker and Richard Corliss at Time. They all came of age in the 1970s and are pompous old coots whose superior attitudes and infuriating writing styles were already firmly in place when they were pompous young coots. Just look at this much-quoted line from Hoberman’s first review for Village Voice, of Eraserhead, in 1977:

Eraserhead‘s not a movie I’d drop acid for, although I would consider it a revolutionary act if someone dropped a reel of it into the middle of Star Wars.

You know you really hate a writer when you agree with his basic position—Hoberman is praising Eraserhead here—but you despise everything he says anyway. That tony attempt to seem hip with the drug reference—that lumbering wordplay of “drop acid” and “dropped a reel”—that heavily humorous tone of the privileged lefty taking his Marxist tenets out for a spin. Hoberman started out as an experimental avant-garde filmmaker, and I can’t think of anything worse to say about him than that you can really tell. He’s got all the typically stupid high-culture attitudes in spades. The more punishingly dull and politically pious a film is, the better he likes it. When he condescends to approve of a popular genre film, he does it in the smirking, snuffling voice of a black-tie aristocrat at the local county fair. So earthy, these popular amusements!

Here’s a quote from his review of Inglourious Basterds:

Inglourious Basterds is something sui generis—a two-fisted Hollywood occupation romance, in which a Jewish special unit wreaks vengeance on the Nazis….Violence is not immediately forthcoming—Inglourious Basterds is as much talk-talk as bang-bang. Or rather, as Andrew Sarris described the characteristic Budd Boetticher Western, it’s a “floating poker game,” in which characters, many of whom have assumed false identities, take turns bluffing for their lives.

To elucidate further, as I once told Pauline Kael, apropos of nothing, that whereas the characteristic Vincente Minnelli musical is more kiss-kiss than bang-bang, Inglourious Basterds favors bang-bang and talk-talk, while also containing a soupcon of kiss-kiss. Unfortunately, Pauline failed to appreciate my remark, because she was dead at the time.

Yeah, I admit the second paragraph is mine.

You remember how great Joe Bob Briggs was? He was clearly invented to counter the effects of creepy critics like Hoberman.

I’d have hated Hoberman anyway, but he proved himself to be a truly rotten figure when he scorned the films of the Coen brothers. Stridently anti-Coen from the word Go, Hoberman has only recently come around to the point of offering Coen films his patented backhanded praise that’s worse than any insult.  Here’s a quote from his supposedly positive review of True Grit (2010):

The Coens are still themselves. As one colleague remarked—unprompted—upon leaving the screening where True Grit was previewed for New York critics, “They always do something to make you hate them.” (In my case, the moment happened early on with a gag based on the hanging of a—dare one say—Native American.) But True Grit’s most serious lapse is more aesthetic than ethical—and less Hollywood than film-school. The brothers repeatedly invoke a superior movie—not the 1969 True Grit, which is, Wayne’s built-in mythic valence aside, in every way inferior to the Coen version, but the 1955 classic Night of the Hunter, whose recurring hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” is repeated throughout the new True Grit.

Note this knotty style of Hoberman’s which is often referred to as “erudite,” perhaps because every sentence makes you go, “Huh?” You get the overall impression of snottiness, but you have to dig a bit to grasp the exact insults being slung. Here’s a translation:

The Coens are still themselves. [The Coens are such reprehensible beings they should be trying as hard as possible to be somebody else. Hoberman would be happy to recommend a couple of avant-garde European filmmakers they could be like.] As one colleague remarked—unprompted—[Hoberman is assuring us that he didn’t try to get this colleague to suck up to him by saying something disparaging about the Coens that would accord with Hoberman’s own well-known anti-Coen stance.] upon leaving the screening where True Grit was previewed for New York critics, “They always do something to make you hate them.” [Everybody who’s anybody in New York City hates the Coens.] (In my case, the moment happened early on with a gag based on the hanging of a—dare one say—Native American.) [Can’t translate this one—don’t understand what he means here by the phrase “dare one say.” Though it sounds ejjicated, don’t it?] But True Grit’s most serious lapse is more aesthetic than ethical—and less Hollywood than film-school. [The Coens have grievously erred in such a tricky way you need an algebraic formula to figure it out, and only Hoberman knows the formula. That’s why he’s a paid film critic. Or WAS. Ha!] The brothers repeatedly invoke a superior movie—not the 1969 True Grit, which is, Wayne’s built-in mythic valence aside, in every way inferior to the Coen version, but the 1955 classic Night of the Hunter, whose recurring hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” is repeated throughout the new True Grit. [ Hell, I don’t know. Something about how it’s a terrible thing to allude in any way to a great movie in your own movie. You should only refer to or draw upon inferior movies. Is it really possible that Hoberman is making such a nutty claim? Your guess is as good as mine.]

Well, I could go on and on quoting and disparaging J. Hoberman, reveling in the way 2012 is starting off on such a high note. But we must stop and face the sober fact that people like Hoberman never really go away. Plus there are a lot of Hoberman acolytes out there. One of them, Jessica Winter of Time magazine, has compiled a series of appalling quotations from Hoberman reviews in her tribute piece, and she ends on a chilling note: “Think of [this tribute] not only as a look back at a tremendous career but a preview reel of Hobermasterpieces to come.”



Add your own

  • 1. Strelnikov  |  January 5th, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    You want to talk about politcal cunts in film reviewing – the AV Club* would make a great column. They hate Left-wing documentaries, despise Michael Moore’s film tracts, and yet at the same time loathe the sort of lumbering turd fictional films the studios have been cranking out for the last 20 years. A lot of milage could be made ripping Nathan Rabin, who took a column on flop movies and turned it into a book. They’re some sort of arthouse Libertarians who are too dickless to say that they are arthouse Libertarians.


    * The media review subsite of “The Onion” satire paper.

    Rabin’s reprinting of articles would not be so bad except that the website still has those articles, so trees died for nothing to become “The Year of Flops Book.”

  • 2. Mason C  |  January 5th, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    This brought a crocodile tear to my Boomer-hating eye. Thanks, Eileen.

    It also reminded me of a late find, a howling review from early last year:

  • 3. Runninge A. Fowle  |  January 6th, 2012 at 6:47 am

    from back when the paper Voice still sorta mattered outside of the five boroughs, and people still had to actually pay for it: I recall there was a music reviewer named, was it “Eddy”?, who maintained a quiveringly taut blue-collar headbanger pose and used a lot of colorful cuss words. His shtick was fun for a little while.

    As for Voice film reviewers, I liked some other guy much more, but they fired him of course. How did Hoberman survive so many of the Voice pogroms for so long?

  • 4. Trevor  |  January 6th, 2012 at 6:47 am

    I remember Briggs! He used to host MonsterVision on TNT, introducing gloriously awful B movies –

    “Twelve dead bodies. Exploding house. One four-barreled sawed-off shotgun. Dwarf tossing. Ten breasts. Embalming needles plunged through various parts of various bodies. One motor-vehicle chase, with crash-and-burn. Ear-lopping. Forehead-drilling. Wrist-hacking. Bimbo-flinging. Grandma-bashing. Devil sex. Crematorium Fu. Flamethrower Fu … Four stars. Check it out.”

    I miss that show…

  • 5. Dr. Mr. Motherfucker PhD  |  January 6th, 2012 at 7:47 am

    i’m an experimental avant-garde filmmaker

    come at me bro

  • 6. Matt  |  January 6th, 2012 at 8:59 am


    Michael Moore docs are pretty shit though. You can make a good left-wing doc without performing some dumbass stunt to try to shamble all your points together.

  • 7. allen  |  January 6th, 2012 at 9:15 am

    i couldnt agree more. i quit reading hoberman the minute i started. the av club is at least largely negative on the whole. hobermans cooler-than-thou-as-a-word-puzzle is like finishing a 40 minute sodoku that ends up telling you to fuck yourself. i think harry knowles is probably right up there with the worst, with his shameless promotion of big hollywood feel goods that they openly pay him to promote. plus i had to look at him/smell him in person once. he’s like pizza the hut from space balls mixed with a decidedly uncinematic smell of rancid meat (probably the pockets of fat caving in on themselves under his t rex arms).

  • 8. Geoduck  |  January 6th, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Joe Bob’s still kicking around. At least his website still gets updated with new material:

  • 9. Lev  |  January 6th, 2012 at 10:21 am

    1) I didn’t understand the snotty world play. Drop acid -> Drop a reel. Okay, that means a film reel, but that doesn’t make any sense.
    Where is the word play, huh? Is he also referring to fishing, like drop & reel or something? What the fuck does fishing have to do with Marx? Please explain, lest I won’t be able to enter the mansions of slumber come sundown.

    2) I think he sounds a lot like many commentators here with all them fancy words and convoluted sentences, myself included (See the slumber-thing above and also the fancy word CONVOLUTED after that. Pretty fucking impressive, eh?)

  • 10. Doctor Memory  |  January 6th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    @3: the Voice doesn’t matter inside NYC either. Time Out has better event listings, Gawker/Gothamist has better puff pieces on local celebutards, a billion blogs do more and better local political coverage, and Craigslist has better listings of Adult Escort Services.

  • 11. jonnym  |  January 6th, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    @3: The guy you’re thinking about is Chuck Eddy. He was considered one of the best rock and roll journalists in the country for a while. I don’t know anything about him, since I stopped reading the Voice around the time he was their music editor. I just know he was a big deal at one point because I’ve seen all his writing awards and stuff in his house (I’m friendly with his daughter).

    The Voice really started sliding into irrelevancy around 03-’04. That’s when they were bought out by some big publisher, I think. I guess no magazine or paper gets to be on top of the counterculture forever.

  • 12. Max  |  January 6th, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    That you find Hoberman’s style “knotty” and difficult to understand just means that you’re not a fangirl troll, whereas this comment would have been trollish had not the AEC improved it.

  • 13. Fissile  |  January 6th, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    I don’t pay attention to any of these people. America hasn’t had a decent movie critic since the day Mordaunt Hall retire.

  • 14. gatorade  |  January 6th, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    @1 I can’t believe that the onion av club people get paid for the shit they do. it’s odd, it confuses me

    And yea, J Hoberman was a fucking clod. I’m glad he died and I hope he burns in hell!

  • 15. Con O'Rourke  |  January 6th, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    I couldn’t give a flying fuck.

  • 16. Strelnikov  |  January 6th, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I didn’t call Michael Moore’s films “documentaries”, I called them “tracts”, because they are more like political broadsides than straight documentaries. That said, I don’t consider them shit either. There are very few people who can pull a Chris Marker and make a political film that doesn’t really feel like a political film.

    And the AV Club is much more than just movies, you can mock the way they review albums and books, or you can pull the ultimate cheap shot and mention Leonard Pierce, who reviewed books before they came out….but then, they fired his ass and it was two (?) years ago, which is a zillion years in internet time. At any rate, I think the AV Club needs to be kicked because they seem to be too chummy with some of the people the review, especially indie musicians.

  • 17. Marcus McSpartacus  |  January 7th, 2012 at 3:46 am

    @ “Streinikov”: let it go, Pierce, you’re not getting your dream job back.

  • 18. mars spirit rover  |  January 7th, 2012 at 5:13 am

    The Voice is down to about 20 pages and is a pathetic shell of its former self; they are doing Hoberman a favor here by ending his living death.

    Eileen you are great and Joe Bob rules but let’s note that Hoberman was right about the Coen’s bad Indian gag and getting a free ride on the Night of the Hunter soundtrack.

  • 19. abaa  |  January 7th, 2012 at 5:28 am

    Yeah, you’re so tough saying you want him break his neck. Grow up and show some respect! Myeah! Nyeah! I’m Mrs. Crabtree myeah nyeah myahahahah!!!! Hah-hah-hah. I’m sorry folks, this is Somewhat Mighty Exiled Censor here, the AEC is currently out kayaking for the weekend, I’m babysitting the comments today. I do hope you enjoy what I am doing. True, I am not nearly as mighty as my older brother, the AEC, but I am Somewhat Mighty, and that is why I say to “abaa”: Pull your nose out of J Hoberman’s–ahha-hahaha-haha. Oh, I’m sorry here everyone, I’m still getting used to this. I can’t stop myself from laughing in the middle of spraying this trollicide. Do go on. Please, continue commenting, trolls.

  • 20. Ellerbe  |  January 7th, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Fissile: America hasn’t had a decent movie critic since the day Mordaunt Hall retire.

    I don’t agree. Jonathan Rosenbaum is a great american film-critic.

  • 21. Petkov  |  January 7th, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Damn, this is some serious troll felcher attitude right here, just because some guy gets paid to write shitty reviews for decades, means an eXiled goddess should not be making fun of this guy 4 losing his cushy job. Does writing for the exiled even begin to pays your bills? Sour troll grapes indeed.

  • 22. Margo Adler  |  January 7th, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I hated Hoberman’s pretentious, unreadable film reviews. They were such a fucking slog to get through. I totally support challenging, complex writing in journalism, but I don’t want to feel like I need a Secret Decoder Ring in order to understand a damn movie review. I’d read the guy’s reviews and come away knowing practically nothing about the plot or even whether the review was generally positive or negative. And did the man ever like to talk about HIMSELF at every opportunity!

    Good riddance.

  • 23. Derek  |  January 8th, 2012 at 12:03 am

    @14 .. He got fired, he didn’t die. But I lol’d anyway because by the end it did have the feel of a good eXiled eulogy for a real pig-fucker.

  • 24. DeeboCools  |  January 8th, 2012 at 11:16 am

    here’s a classic eXile article in which J hoberman played a small, disgusting role:

  • 25. Census Louie  |  January 9th, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Everyone involved in film tends to get worse with age, but my god there is nothing worse than an aged art (music/movies) critic. It’s a horrid mix of being so appallingly out of touch and being so desperate to appear relevant.

    Recent examples: the academy’s best picture decisions for Hurt Locker and Crash, ANY best movies list by the American Film Institute.

  • 26. Punjabi From Karachi  |  January 9th, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Fuck you all. I still have a life ahead of me. The bitterness on display is beyond contempt. Tell the people, when they invent a time machine to go back and stop Eileen from going into film studies. Or force her into something like investment banking. Then she can take the edge of her hatred by going to buy a toy boy or three.

    In the meantime, I’ld rather watch the shiny, happy people of

    If you’re tired of Eileen’s constant harping on her lack of loads of money and fame go to Spill.

    And here’s My review for Ghost Protocol: It was dumb, loud and funny; with Tom Cruise looking like a relic from the superhuman action films of the eighties, in a world now undeniably populated with dweebs. Even Jeremy Renner, despite playing a badass, comes off as a dweeb.

  • 27. bulfinch  |  January 10th, 2012 at 5:10 am

    Eileen — Reading your stuff is like opening a gift. Don’t ever change!

  • 28. ovaut  |  January 14th, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    so eileen jones is dolan?

  • 29. AO Scott  |  January 15th, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Now if only Manhola Dargis would get some crippling disease and bleed from her eyes and ears.

  • 30. Joel Wicklund  |  February 16th, 2012 at 11:06 am

    I’m such an elitist that I leave comments on other people’s articles, like a real elitist. Oh, and I’m not bothered by this one bit, no sirree!

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