Monthly Archives: March 2009

Hoberman in French & in English

It’s very good to have a selection of J. Hoberman’s film criticism finally available in French translation, so Emmanuel Burdeau should be commended for bringing out a French edition of Hoberman’s most recent (2003) collection, moderately priced at 14 Euros and translated by Marie Mathilde Burdeau, in his film book series published by Capricci (which has also published the wonderful Les Aventures de Harry Dickson —one of the first things I wrote about on this website). The only thing that gives me pause is that only 16 of Hoberman’s articles have been included in the French edition, leaving roughly 50 other pieces in the same book untranslated and unacknowledged in any way. (More precisely, this French edition includes only 14 of the 66 separate items in the original, though it adds two others.) This must be a reflection of the ongoing recession on both sides of the Atlantic—even if Hoberman’s given name has been upgraded in French from J. to Jim. [3/31/09]… Read more »

Correction of Previous Post

Hi Jon,
The photo is mine, provided years ago to Alabama Public Television when they were shooting “Rosenbaum House in Alabama” and to Debbie Wilson, who runs the Florence tourism promotion office. PBS picked it up when they did their FLLW series in 1999. The photo (yes, it is chez Rosenbaum) has been on the web in reverse since October 13, 1999. As in this instance, you can sometimes check the provenance of a website through the Wayback Machine ( I never bothered to write to correct the error of the left to right reversal.


P.S. A much better item on the PBS website is FLW’s rendering of the house. Find it at

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Stanley Rosenbaum Residence: The Dream Version

Cruising on the Internet, I just accessed on the PBS website a photograph that purports to be an exterior view of the Usonian house that I grew up in, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in Florence, Alabama. I got there by following a link on the Wikipedia entry for “Stanley Rosenbaum Residence”—an entry that incidentally includes an accurate view of the exterior, reproduced directly below:

I know my memory isn’t playing tricks on me—not only because I know the house by heart, after living there for the first 16 years of my life, but also because I visited it quite recently, earlier this month. The first photograph is clearly the exterior of another, albeit quite similar, Wright house, and I’m sorry that I’m not enough of a Wright expert (as my brother Alvin is) to be able to identify it precisely. If you look closely at the row of glass doors on the left in the second photograph, you can barely see the thin line of a stone terrace just underneath them that is remarkably similar to the one seen much more clearly in the top photograph that juts to the right in a diagonal line and then ends, with three steps just below it.… Read more »

Fredric Brown, Madness, and CRACK-UP

One of my favorite writers since childhood has been the prolific Fredric Brown (1906-1972), both for his mysteries and his science fiction. The former is much more plentiful than the latter—so much so that it’s been possible in recent years to publish practically all his science fiction in two thick hardcover volumes, From These Ashes (the short stories, 690 pages) and Martians and Madness (the novels, 633 pages). (The “madness” in the latter title partially relates to What Mad Universe, Brown’s best SF novel, as well as one of his very best SF stories, “Come and Go Mad”, although it also qualifies as an ongoing Brown theme in some of the mystery plots as well.)

On the other hand, it might take an AIG bonus to pay for all of Brown’s out-of-print mystery, crime, and detective fiction; some of the 19 or so limited-run paperback collections devoted to the stories that were published in the 80s and 90s now sell on the Internet for close to a thousand bucks apiece, and a few of the novels are comparably pricey.

Probably the two best known Hollywood features derived from Brown mysteries are Screaming Mimi (Gerd Oswald, 1958) and Crack-Up (Irving Reis, 1946)—the latter derived from a 1943 Brown novella called “Madman’s Holiday” that’s now available only in one of those limited-run paperbacks that currently sells for $995 and $950 on Amazon, hideous jacket (see below) and all.… Read more »


FLANNERY: A LIFE OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR by Brad Gooch (New York/Boston/London: Little, Brown and Company), 2009, 449 pp.

So far, I’ve basically been reading in and around this book rather than reading it, so I can’t with a clear conscience make it “recommended reading”, at least not yet (something I can do for Wendy Lesser’s astute and very thoughtful review of it in a recent Bookforum). I can, however, pick a bone with what I consider a couple of significant omissions: neither the names “Nathanael West” nor “Stanley Edgar Hyman” appears in the Index. The latter, who wrote a superb monograph on O’Connor that was published in 1966 (no. 54 in the University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers), argues rather persuasively (on p. 43) that the “writer who most influenced [O’Connor], at least in her first books, is Nathanael West. Wise Blood is clearly modeled on Miss Lonelyhearts (as no reviewer noticed at the time),” and then goes on to cite four examples of her prose that amply bear this out: “Hazel Motes has a nose `like a shrike’s bill’; after he goes to bed with Leora Watts, Haze feels ‘like something washed ashore on her’; Sabbath Lily’s correspondence with a newspaper advice-columnist is purest West; and all the rocks in Wise Blood recall the rock Miss Lonelyhearts first contains in his gut and then becomes, the rock on which the new Peter will found the new Church.”… Read more »

Recommended Reading: THE INVISIBLE DRAGON, revised & expanded edition

THE INVISIBLE DRAGON: ESSAYS ON BEAUTY (revised and expanded edition) by Dave Hickey (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press), 2009, 123 pp.

Fellow fans of art critic Dave Hickey should be alerted to the fact that an extensively upgraded edition of his 1993 book The Invisible Dragon has recently appeared that seems to be almost twice as long as its predecessor, with a new introduction and an additional essay, “American Beauty,” that’s considerably longer (over 50 pages) than any of the four essays in the first edition. Even if you find the new introduction, written entirely in the third person, a mite off-putting, the new essay reaffirms Hickey as a major critical voice and terrific prose stylist. I’m not sufficiently well-versed in art history to be able to judge it confidently on those terms, but the erudition on display is pretty daunting, to say the least.

I discovered Hickey thanks to film scholar Dudley Andrew through Hickey’s extraordinary 1997 collection Air Guitar (see below) a radically populist and semiautobiographical look at pop culture that remains a particular favorite–although I subsequently bought Hickey’s two collections of short stories, the 1989 Prior Convictions and the 1999 Stardumb, that I’m still intending to read.… Read more »

Never Too Late [on a Carl Dreyer retrospective]

Posted on Artforum‘s web site (March 12, 2009). — J.R.

One reason why it never seems like an inappropriate time to have a Carl Theodor Dreyer retrospective is that most of his films haven’t dated, even though reactions to his works have fluctuated quite a bit over the years. Based on my own experiences in recently showing his 1943 Day of Wrath to students, I would venture that fewer spectators nowadays are likely to regard the film’s slow tempo as intolerable the way that the New York Times’s Bosley Crowther did over sixty years ago. (“Dreyer has kept his idea so obscure and the action so slow and monotonous that the general audience will find it a bore,” he claimed.)

One might go further and argue that unlike most other film masters who started out in the silent era, Dreyer’s major works were not only cinematically ahead of their own times; without ever becoming quite contemporary, they’ve even remained slightly ahead of ours. There are multiple reasons for this, including his penchant for making highly personal adaptations of preexisting works, most of them period films; his dialectical camera movements, in which he simultaneously pans and tracks in opposite directions; and, during the sound era (when he was generally able to make only one feature per decade), his unorthodox preference for using direct sound inside studio settings.… Read more »


Written for the Jeonju International Film Festival in March 2009. I can happily report that, according to Portabella, his DVD box set containing all or most of his films to date will finally be released later this year. — J.R.

My first problem in coming to terms with No Compteu Amb Els Dits (1967, 26 minutes), Pere Portabella’s first film, is my inability to distinguish between every one of what he himself identifies as its 28 separate fragments, each one reportedly lasting between 15 seconds and two minutes. Counting the segments myself — not with my fingers, but with a pen, a piece of paper, and a VCR — I come up with only 24, not 28 But then again, the only obvious ways of distinguishing one sequence from another are (a) changes in themes, characters, and/or settings, (b) changes in the music, (c) other changes in the soundtrack involving sound effects, dialogue, or narration, (d) switches between black and white and color (or vice versa), and (e) graphic transitions that are apparently similar to those used in Spanish commercials shown in cinemas during this period. And at one point or another, Portabella seems to defy most of these conventions by eliminating or obfuscating such markers.… Read more »