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J. Hoberman Opens His New York Times DVD Column With a Shot at The New York Times

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by Sam Adams
January 24, 2014 11:37 AM
7 Comments
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The days when the New York Times was the stodgy Gray Lady and the Village Voice the feisty upstart are well in the past; it's hard to imagine Vincent Canby or Janet Maslin warming to the pre-millennial equivalent of Spring Breakers, which ended up on both A.O. Scott's and Manohla Dargis' year-end lists. But in his first Home Video column for the Times, J. Hoberman shows some of the edge he honed in the years when alt-weeklies really were an alternative. 

The subject is Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia, out on a new Blu-ray from Kino Classics. But not far under the surface, it's also a study of how once-marginalized directors become accepted canon. (All seven of his features appear in the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? list of the Top 1,000 Films; Nostalghia, at 352, is the lowest-ranked.) With a slap at the late Times critic Vincent Canby, Hoberman writes:

Tarkovsky‚Äôs movies are not for the impatient. He advised viewers to watch Nostalghia "as if it were the window in a train traveling through your life." In The New York Times, the critic Vincent Canby allowed that while Tarkovsky might be a "film poet," he was one with a limited vocabulary. "The same, eventually boring images keep recurring in film after film -- shots of damp landscapes, marshes, hills in fog and abandoned buildings with roofs that leak," Canby wrote when Nostalghia was screened at the 1983 New York Film Festival. "The meaning of water in his films isn't as interesting to me as the question of how his actors keep their feet reasonably dry."

Of course, Canby was to an extent engaging in what nowadays we'd call trolling, perhaps especially at young, self-serious writers like the then-Voice critic J. Hoberman, who placed Nostalghia eighth on his Top Ten list the following year. But rather than long-delayed revenge, Hoberman's invocation of Canby, who died in 2000, serves as a pointed reminder that times change, and the guardians of culture change with them. Who knows what once-young critic will invoke Hoberman as a stand-in for the fuddy-duddy old guard 30 years hence?

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7 Comments

  • marc | January 24, 2014 3:14 PMReply

    Cheap shot at Canby, who is long gone and cannot defend himself. That was Canby's opinion and he was expressing it. There is no right and wrong here. He found Tarkovsky repetative and self indulgent. Tastes and valuations change. The early talkie Soviet film directors were reviled in the 80's yet I noticed they were praised again in the recent TCM doc Story of Film.
    Check again in 30 years and we will see how Tarkovsky is doing.

  • hasselbeck | January 24, 2014 2:53 PMReply

    "of course, Canby was to an extent engaging in what nowadays we'd call trolling"....

    Of course, Adams is to an extent engaging in what we nowadays call demonizing unpopular opinion as trolling.

    I don't know what it means to other people, but to me trolling means saying things solely to get a rise out of people, NOT saying things that you mean and getting a rise. What a frightening, homogenous, robotic society we've become. One in which contrary opinion is considered dangerous to keeping the status quo intact.

  • Sam Adams | January 24, 2014 4:20 PM

    Proclaiming your lack of interest in a movie and using the word "boring" is hardly "cutting wit." Find me one passage that full of empty posturing in Kael or Wilde and we'll talk. Kind of love how you're determined to turn this into proof that the culture's headed down the tubes, tho.

  • hasselbeck | January 24, 2014 3:38 PM

    So a cutting wit is trolling? Trolling is 24 yr old video gamers making homophobic and racial slurs on the internet. It's a shame that there is no distinction made between the two. Good thing Oscar Wilde and Pauline Kael are long dead and gone, because now is not their time.

  • Sam Adams | January 24, 2014 3:11 PM

    Nothing to do with Canby's opinion. It's the way he expressed it. If you want to argue that "The meaning of water in his films isn't as interesting to me as the question of how his actors keep their feet reasonably dry" is meant as a serious critical observation rather than a nose-thumb at people silly enough to take Tarkovsky seriously, go right ahead.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

  • Vlad the Inhaler | January 24, 2014 11:52 AMReply

    Canby was not being a troll of a fuddy-duddy. I admire Tarkovsky more than I enjoy him Canby's take is right on.

  • Joseph | January 24, 2014 11:49 AMReply

    It also makes me wonder which neglected filmmakers today will be revered in the future...and which revered filmmakers today will be neglected in the future.

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