With Firing of Film Critic J. Hoberman, Indie Film Biz Loses Out

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by Anthony Kaufman
January 4, 2012 9:29 PM
8 Comments
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When the news came out that longtime critic J. Hoberman had been fired from the Village Voice, the Twitter feeds and film blogs immediately went aflutter with praise for Hoberman and fury at the weekly paper. While it's a damn shame that readers won't be able to read Hoberman's critical and deeply informed historical perspective on movies on a weekly basis, the major story here is that the indie film industry has lost another one of its most important champions. Without critics like Hoberman, they've lost their best advocates. And as anyone in the specialized industry will tell you, taste-makers are key to the survival of their business.

The conventional wisdom may be that individual critics don't matter, or aggregation review sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Flickster, have replaced them. But distribution executives are constantly lamenting the loss of local critics--who have established a rapport with audiences, who, in turn, trust these reviewers and, in fact, go to see movies because of them. And in New York, the most important art-house market in the world, Hoberman was among the most respected.

The fact is indie film exhibitors and distributors need film critics just as much or more so than readers of film criticism. It's so hard to raise an indie film's profile, and it's established critics like Hoberman--or any number of former Voice critics, such as Amy Taubin, Dennis Lim and Jessica Winter--that can shed light on a film in new ways, forcing others to reconsider it, or champion something that audiences wouldn't otherwise seek out.

I'll never forgot an experience at the Cannes Film Festival where I ran into J. Hoberman and Amy Taubin after seeing "Southland Tales." I hated it. They loved it. And I couldn't for the life of me see what they saw in it. But I went back to the movie and gave it a serious second look. And that's what good critics can do. And without them, the indie film business is fucked.

In the meantime, do your part to support Hoberman's freelance career and buy any one of his most illuminating books on Amazon.

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8 Comments

  • David Ehrenstein | January 8, 2012 1:13 PMReply

    Hoberman's firing is as one with the corporate oligarchy's attack on analytical voices of any kind being heard. We are not citizens -- merely consumers. And we're supposed to buy what they sell us -- be it war or Chick-fil-a with no questions asked.

  • Joan Hawkins | January 8, 2012 8:45 AMReply

    Thank you for posting this. I've had similar experiences to yours-- going back to see a film that I thought I didn't like, after reading a Hoberman or Taubin review. And with Hoberman especially I've gone to see films or searched out films that weren't on my radar screen. His column will be sorely missed.

  • adam | January 6, 2012 2:00 AMReply

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  • Rohan | January 6, 2012 5:06 PM

    Adam,

    Your advertising of a dating site is irrelevant. And, I wonder why a richest man in the world would need a dating site to date. It's doesn't make any sense just like your advertising of the site on a blog, which is mainly about films.

  • Rohan | January 5, 2012 5:18 PMReply

    I concur, Anthony. You are article is right on point.

  • HalG | January 5, 2012 1:26 PMReply

    Sad as this firing is, it's one with the corporatization of indie film generally. You don't need Hoberman reviewing the latest Sundance sensation, it's wasted fire power and intellectual breadth. Any hack will do, and hacks are cheap. This is a business, after all, where mediocrity of the right kind offers extraordinary rewards and excellence is either invisible, non-existent or unproducible. Why would it be any different in film criticism? It's a wonder he lasted as long as he did.

  • Daryl Chin | January 5, 2012 9:16 AMReply

    I totally agree with Anthony Kaufman: for the industry at large, film critics may only be part of the aggregate (Rotten Tomatoes, etc.), but for indie and/or experimental films, critics are the life line to any sort of recognition and exposure. And a critic like J. Hoberman, who has spent an entire lifetime as a conduit of intelligent commentary on notably difficult and sometimes obscure work (in addition to his sociopolitical commentary on Hollywood films), remains an immeasurable resource, for which we are now at a loss. But like a cat, Hoberman has many lives, and here's hoping some incarnation will be available soon. But it will be hard not to miss the one reason to look at The Village Voice, to find out what Hoberman finds thrilling, edifying, or downright dismissive. Unique and irreplaceable, Hoberman always was one of the best; we should be grateful that his brilliant insights were available for so long at The Village Voice, which now sinks to even lower depths. At one time, with Hoberman, Jonas Mekas, Andrew Sarris, Tom Allen, Stuart Byron, and Amy Taubin, The Village Voice was the most vital site for film commentary; Hoberman was the Last Man Standing, and now he's been forcibly removed. A great pity, and a true loss for independent film. (Well, IndieWire has been picking up the slack, and I suppose that's a hint!)

  • Norm Schrager | January 4, 2012 10:42 PMReply

    As a critic who has great respect for all manner of well-versed opinion -- and even more respect for those that bring smaller, worthy, relevant films to light -- I'd say this sucks.

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