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J. Hoberman’s Underground Favorites

By Mike Everleth ⋅ March 6, 2008

J. Hoberman is the long-running film critic at the Village Voice. He’s also the co-author of the powerfully influential book Midnight Movies (written with Jonathan Rosenbaum, who’s actually just retiring as a film critic himself). In the month of March and spilling a little over into April, the BAMcinematek is honoring Hoberman by having him curate screenings of films that “have sparked some of his most stimulating reviews and articles, as well as a few personal favorites.” The BAMcinematek is at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Why this is of particular interest to the Underground Film Journal is not only the Midnight Movies connection (click the title for our thoughts on the book), but a couple of the films Hoberman is presenting are from the NYC No Wave film scene of the late ’70s, a movement that led into the Cinema of Transgression developed by Nick Zedd. I’ve written about Transgression a bit on the site, most recently in my review of Jack Sargeant‘s awesome history of the movement, Deathtripping, which was recently re-released by Soft Skull Press. Sargeant touches on the No Wave a little bit in the book as well and does mention the films that Hoberman will be screening. One of them, Black Box, was directed by Beth B. and Scott B., whom Zedd briefly considered were part of Transgression before he started calling them fascists and kicked them out. (NOTE: That last sentence is based on a complete misreading by me and isn’t true at all. See Zedd’s comment below.)

In addition to the No Wave, Hoberman is also screening Tribulation 99, the found-footage classic by Craig Baldwin, who also runs the Other Cinema screening series and DVD company that I also write about quite a bit. Finally, Hoberman’s “mainstream” American film choices are pretty great, too: Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and Arkush’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. And, lastly, the entire series will open with, of course, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, which adorns the cover of Midnight Movies and which was Hoberman’s very first review for the Voice.

I’m only listing below the films that are of interest to me and to the purposes of the Underground Film Journal. There’s a lot more screening and if you’re interested in going, I recommend visiting the full BAMcinematek lineup. Included in the lineup below, too, are excerpts from Hoberman’s original reviews of those films, which I stole from that BAMcinematek page.

Mon, Mar. 10 at 4:30, 6:50*, 9:30pm
Eraserhead, dir. David Lynch
*Introduced by J. Hoberman
“It is the future, I think, which is the setting for Eraserhead, a murky piece of post-nuclear guignol concerning a catatonic young couple who live together in a depressing miasma rendered unbearable by the cries of their hideous mutant offspring. Though its special effects are nauseating, it is far too arty for 42nd Street…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.”

Tue, Mar. 11 at 7pm
Naked Lunch, dir. David Cronenberg
Tribulation 99, dir. Craig Baldwin
“Avant-garde abstract sensationalism. This masterpiece is at once a sci-fi cheapster, a skewed history of U.S. intervention in Latin America, a satire on conspiratorial thinking, and an essential piece of current Americana.”

Mon, Mar 17 at 7pm*
Rome ’78, dir. James Nares
*Introduced by James Nares
“The scene’s Grand Hotel—a costume drama that looks like a toga party in Little Lulu’s clubhouse…spindly David McDermott III plays the meglomaniacal Caesar as a sniveling, screaming six-year-old…Lydia Lunch, a black slip hiked over her thighs and a spiky mop of hair cascading onto her face, she rises from her mattress-on-the-floor only once in the film, to chase McDermott around the camera with a whip.”

Mon, Mar 17 at 9:15pm
She Had Her Gun All Ready, dir. Vivienne Dick
Jaggedly contemplative and unexpectedly funny…a sort of summery no-wave Celine and Julie…Dick has a great feel for “scuzz lyricism and skillfully mismatched inserts, cutting away to a row of gutted tenements with a little silver jet flying overhead.” (Watch online)
Black Box, dirs. Beth B. & Scott B
“The tight script, clever angles, and well mixed soundtrack encapsulate all the B’s major themes—crime, mind control, sexual repression. Working in the tradition of Orwell, Hitchcock, and Burroughs, the B’s conjure up a parallel sense of seedy, malignant totalitarianism.”

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