The Village Voice has laid off its senior film critic, J. Hoberman, a staple of modern American film criticism and a contributor to the publication since 1977. Hoberman served as a staff writer for the publication since 1983 and was appointed its chief film critic in 1988.
New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog reported that the critic was let go earlier today. In a brief statement, Hoberman sounded unsurprised. “I’ve seen a lot of people lose their jobs there over the years,” he told reporter Joe Coscarelli, a former Voice employee. “It would be disingenuous to say I hadn’t considered the possibility that this would happen eventually.” Anne Thompson also posted about Hoberman’s departure.
The news brings a shocking climax to a series of layoffs and changes that have plagued the Voice over the last several years, beginning with the 2005 merging of Village Voice Media and the New Times syndicate. From the film section alone, layoffs have included editor Dennis Lim and critics Michael Atkinson and Nathan Lee.
But the departure of Hoberman, whose distinctly intellectual and politically tinged writings on international and experimental cinema became a must-read for cinephiles around the world, signals the end of an era. In 2006, S.T. VanAirsdale reported in The Reeler on the layoffs at the Voice with a reassuring lead: “For everyone fretting about the changes sweeping the vaunted film section of the Village Voice, you can relax: Jim Hoberman is staying,” he wrote. “There is that.”
No longer. In that piece, VanAirsdale quoted independent film distributors and advertisers who imply they would pull advertisements from the paper if Hoberman were ever let go. It’s easy to see why: An endorsement from Hoberman, particularly in the New York area, can speak to a wide variety of dedicated filmgoers who have learned to trust his opinion over a long period of time–in some cases, decades.
Hoberman began writing for former Voice editor Jonas Mekas in the ’70s under the pseudonym Clinton Delancey, named after the Lower East Side location of his apartment at that time. His first published review was an essay on Jack Smith’s “Flaming Creatures,” later the subject of a book Hoberman authored in 2001.
In 1977, Hoberman began writing for the paper on a regular basis, beginning with a review of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead,” which he found superior to a much bigger movie released around the same time. “‘Eraserhead’ is not a movie I’d drop acid for,” he wrote, “although I would consider it a revolutionary act if someone dropped a reel of it into the middle of ‘Star Wars.'”
In 2007, the Brooklyn Academy of Music celebrated Hoberman’s 30th anniversary as a Voice staffer with a retrospective of films curated by the critic. Over the course of those three decades, Hoberman also published numerous books, including the indispensable “Midnight Movies” with Jonathan Rosenbaum and the acclaimed “The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties.” He recently followed up that volume with the Cold War study “An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War,” which Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker recently listed as one of the best movie events of last year.
Indiewire has reached out to Hoberman for comment, but it’s clear that he won’t be going away. Following the publication of his last book, Hoberman has begun working on another historical tome about American movies, this one focused on the Reagan presidency. He is also planning a collection of previously published work.
Hoberman participated in a recent conversation with Indiewire about “Melancholia” and freelances for numerous publications. Additionally, he frequently teaches film history and criticism at NYU (where I worked for him as a research assistant) and Cooper Union.
In short, the Voice may have lost Hoberman, but the movies haven’t lost Hoberman’s voice.