The Passion of the Critic: On Hoberman, Kracauer, and the Future of Film


Phillip Maciak on Film After Film: or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema? and Siegfried Kracauer’s American Writing:

“Films mirror our reality. Let us look in the mirror.”

– Siegfried Kracauer


There are two film critics. Each is in exile. Each makes his living review to review, lecture to lecture, amongst the journalistic hurlyburly of New York City. Each, in the prime of his intellectual life, writes a long, messy, virtuosic polemic about film and politics. The first traces how the political landscape of fear, paranoia, and violent nationalism in the critic’s homeland arose out of the aesthetic of popular cinema. The second, conversely, traces how the aesthetic of popular cinema arose out of the political landscape of fear, paranoia, and violent nationalism in the critic’s homeland. The first is Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film(1947), and the second is J. Hoberman’s new Film After Film, or What Became of 21stCentury Cinema?

Admittedly, there’s a certain fuzziness to this comparison. For one thing, Kracauer, an elegant and path-breaking critic of film and mass culture, was in exile from Nazi Germany when he wrote his epic tome. He is rightly heralded, along with Andre Bazin, as one of the prime movers of modern film theory; his writings on German Expressionism still influence the way we think about Weimar film and culture, and he is one of the oldest standards for passionate cultural criticism of the cinema.

Hoberman, for his part, is merely in exile from The Village Voice. After almost 30 years as the paper’s senior film editor and columnist, he was laid off in January of this year, eliciting a collective cry from thousands of film buffs who had been introduced to a broad swath of international art cinema by Hoberman’s writing. (It is notable, however, that this cry was not reprised when Alan Scherstuhl replaced him as film editor earlier this fall.) While Hoberman has settled comfortably at venues like Tablet, Artinfo, and theNew York Review of Books (not to mention his day job as a professor at NYU) and is not, as far as we know, fleeing violent persecution, his displacement has, for a certain kind of cinephile, taken on the flavor of an existential crisis. If Hoberman is not at The Village Voice, then where are we?