Rose Hobart

Film Review by Dean Duncan Oct 3, 2014

I’m gathering that Francis Bacon more or less came up with the scientific method, and that for three hundred years afterwards the rationalists and the empiricists reasoned or measured their way to the truth, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.  I know that linear stories depend on effects being directly and measurably linked to causes, and that commercial movies depend on a whole array of clear and allegedly verisimilar narrative assumptions.  And then there’s Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart.  One little lark of a film, one antic little assemblage, and it suddenly feels like all the bets are off.  It even feels like the writing is on the wall.

Rose Hobart makes you think that Cornell was, among other things, an eccentric pack rat.  It also gives credence to the generally agreed upon idea that he was simply enamoured with the eponymous actress, who was the star of the 1931 Universal B-film East of Borneo , from which this assemblage was take.  And actually, Rose Hobart does work as a devotée’s erotical scrapbook.  But the resonances! For instance: who needs story?  Or, story is much more associative, subjective, ambiguous and dreamlike than we’ve allowed.  Whether Cornell meant it this way or not, his film represents a really important shift.  It shows that the viewer can have as much say in the meaning, even in the making of the film as the seeming filmmakers do.  Rose Hobart makes the act and manner of perception the actual subject, the actual point of the film.  Why stop here, you wonder?  Couldn’t this be true of any film?  People got the power!