This volume is different for Hoberman, who will discuss the book Thursday at Politics and Prose. Hoberman, 70, started his career as a professional film critic in the 1980s, reviewing many of the films covered in the new book as they were released in theaters. Now he’s looking back at that period with fresh eyes.
“I was a young person then,” Hoberman says. “These were my movies. It was a lot of fun to revisit them.”
Here’s what Hoberman learned in the process of excavating cinema’s past — and his own.
Political beliefs grow more complex with age
Hoberman was an avowed skeptic of Reagan the movie star as well as Reagan the politician. His ideological opposition hasn’t softened, but research for this book gave him new insight into what Reagan accomplished rhetorically with his “incredibly reassuring and folksy tone.”
“In a certain sense, he’s Hollywood’s greatest triumph. He’s a guy who had completely internalized the overwhelming ideology of American entertainment,” Hoberman says. “He was the movies, in a way.”
Covering politics and entertainment together wasn’t always fashionable
Hoberman recalls his Village Voice colleagues chastising him for a series of essays he wrote drawing connections between Reagan’s comfort in front of cameras with his political achievements. “They really thought what I was doing was self-indulgent,” he says. “I really didn’t care.”
Hoberman had the last laugh, he says. By the late ’80s and early ’90s, entertainment journalists like Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich had begun contributing to political coverage, and the divide between the two worlds narrowed. “What I was doing became a more accepted and mainstream approach,” he says.
Movie stars don’t develop in a vacuum
To Hoberman, it’s no coincidence that the leading movie stars during Reagan’s presidency were Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger. “They were all men’s men, with a tiny bit of irony — no counterculture nonsense such as you might find in [Robert] Redford, [Paul] Newman or especially [Warren] Beatty.”
They had more tangible connections as well: Eastwood has said Reagan inspired him to run for mayor of Carmel, Calif., and Stallone once tried unsuccessfully to present Reagan with a Rambo poster during one of the president’s galas.
“To me, the No. 1 male star at a certain period is a political figure, whether he identifies as a Republican or a Democrat or as nothing,” Hoberman says. “It’s an ego ideal for millions of men.”
The ’80s marked the end of an era
Hoberman decided to focus on Reagan for his book on ’80s cinema because the movies on their own, from his view, weren’t as thematically rich as the ones covered in his previous books, which examined the entertainment industry’s experimental phases in the ’60s and ’70s. He attributes the decline in part to studios’ increasing focus on marketing to teenage boys.
Hoberman thinks movies today have become “a minority taste,” like opera — many people still go see them, but they’re no longer a consistent draw for a mass audience, thanks to the accessibility of cultural content on streaming platforms. “I don’t see how movies can compete with that,” he says.