In what the New York Times’s A.O. Scott called a “suave, scholarly tour de force,” J. Hoberman delivers a brilliant and witty look at the decade when politics and pop culture became one.
This was the era of the Missile Gap and the Space Race, the Black and Sexual Revolutions, the Vietnam War and Watergate—as well as the tele-saturation of the American market and the advent of Pop art. In “elegant, epigrammatic prose,” as Scott put it, Hoberman moves from the political histories of movies to the theater of wars, national political campaigns, and pop culture events.
With entertaining reinterpretations of key Hollywood movies (such as Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, and Shampoo), and meditations on personages from Che Guevara, John Wayne, and Patty Hearst to Jane Fonda, Ronald Reagan, and Dirty Harry, Hoberman reconstructs the hidden political history of 1960s cinema and the formation of America’s mass-mediated politics.
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J. Hoberman is the author, co-author, or editor of a dozen books, including the trilogy The Dream Life, An Army of Phantoms, and the forthcoming Found Illusions (all from The New Press) and Film After Film. He has written for Artforum, Bookforum, the London Review of Books, The Nation, and the New York Review of Books; contributes the “On Video” column for the New York Times; has taught cinema history at Cooper Union since 1990; and was, for over thirty years, a film critic for the Village Voice. He lives in New York.
For a book that doesn't so much drive home an overarching thesis about its subject as unravel particular events that are dense with historical, political and cinematic import, this assessment of the 1960s and its aftermath by longtime Village Voice critic Hoberman packs a salient and unique wallop. Hoberman wants to remind readers that the '60s marked the first time in American history when "[m]ovies might be political events, and political events were experienced as movies." It is a lesson that by now seems fairly obvious, but the book's power lies in its assessment of how new and forceful the heady combination of politics and visual mass media was, as politicians began to stress their images in addition to their words, and the restrictive Hays Code, which had tightly governed mass media content, loosened. Although the book contains much political analysis, it's a rare history that also reveals the era's sensibilities. Hoberman does so by employing language of the time (when discussing Gordon Park Jr.'s Superfly, he describes the protagonist's "incredible pad" and his "mockery of the honky police") and by using a plethora of sources: Norman Mailer's contemporary writings, popular magazines like Life, the political news of the time, box office stats, etc. Hoberman's usual epigrammatic wit ("Easy Rider is, even in 1968, a costume movie") is on display here, making his long sections of political examinations more bearable.
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