Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Why I Hate Armond White



I make it a point not to bring up other critics when I discuss films... mostly, and usually not by name. I’ve been on record saying that Australian film critics, collectively, need to get their shit together as they seem to need a lot of work when it comes to prioritizing certain titles over others. And then there was that one time I openly said fuck you to Clem Bastow because of her views involving the film The Intern, and while I stand by what I said, I don’t actually mean any ill will towards any other person. Honestly, the main reason why I don’t bring up other critics by name (unless I’m praising the hell out of them, of course) is because most of them not only have a lot more credibility than me when it comes to dissecting films but also have a far larger audience as well. I don’t like tarnishing the reputation of people who actually have a reputation to tarnish, nor do I like diverting the few readers I have away from me. But even with all that in mind, there is still one guy that I have been really itching to talk about, and yet have also been trying to put off discussing on this blog. In the annals of film criticism that don’t habitually exist on YouTube, there is one name that is universally recognized as being one of the... well, ‘worst’ is going a bit far, but definitely one of the less respected critics out there. Yep, I’m talking about the white whale of the critical world: Armond White... and why I hate his guts.

Now, there have doubtless been many, many, many articles discussing this man and how he is an absolute mockery, and most of them bring a lot of similar points. For those not in the know, White is a mostly print-based critic whom has grown a reputation for being a contrarian; basically, he seems to go against popular opinion when it comes to more popular films, even more so than his peers. To put this into perspective, let’s go over some of his more controversial stances on some pretty big-name releases. When the finale to the Harry Potter series came out, and critics and audiences fawned over it (myself included; I see it as a great conclusion to a series that I and many others grew up with alongside the characters), White was not so impressed. To quote the man himself: “Now that the Harry Potter series is over, maybe the truth can be realized: This has been the dullest franchise in the history of movie franchises.” In a world where franchises are the cinematic M.O. in Hollywood, that’s a pretty big statement to make. I mean, I get not liking it, but there is such a thing as over-reaction when it comes to these things. I should know; I do it more than enough in my own reviews. When the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just starting to pick up steam with The Incredible Hulk, and fans were a tad iffy on that effort anyway, White described it as “the crappy summer blockbuster Marvelites probably deserve.” Putting down the fans, eh? Well, that’s one way to bring my piss to a boil. And in case this makes him come across as a negative nancy, he has given a positive mark to certain films. Films like the 2010 version of Clash Of The Titans, where he said that “[Director Louis] Leterrier certainly shows a better sense of meaningful, economic narrative than the mess that Peter Jackson made of the interminable, incoherent Lord of the Rings trilogy.” And just in case that didn’t cement things for you, he also called the few-lived-to-remember-it Wayan brothers film Little Man as “a near-classic comedy”.

So, this guy has the trappings of a higher-tier internet troll. Anything else we should know about him? Well, he’s also become known for being rather boisterous when it comes to face-to-face time with certain directors. He became web-famous for a while when, at the 2013 New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony, he yelled at 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen, called him “an embarrassing doorman and garbage man” and told him to “kiss [his] ass!”. White vehemently insists that this didn’t happen, but the number of outlets that have covered it (and the fact that he seems to be one of the few people saying that he didn’t say all that) would suggest otherwise. Now, I may be an uneducated kid from the suburbs of Sydney, but even when I didn’t like The Quarantine Hauntings and had a chance to say it to the face of the filmmakers, I had enough tact to not make a scene. Don’t get me wrong: I often have daydreams about taking directors like Terrence Malick by the collar and yelling at them for how bad their films are. However, one of the caveats that I thought existed in the difference between YouTube critics and print critics was that the guys on print were usually less impulsively vitriolic. Or, to put more simply, they know not to be a dick in public.

However, I have no problem with either of these parts of his work ethic. I mean, I’ve made it a yearly tradition to highlight where my opinion and those of the critical masses differ, so his ‘contrarian’ views don’t bother me too much. I mean, if you actually look at his Rotten Tomatoes score, he actually doesn’t differ from popular opinion as much as the Internet may have you think. He may champion Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, but he also described the Twilight Series as “an ADHD sedative.” That quote alone kind of warms my heart to the guy just a little bit. What also helps is that, for him to be a true contrarian, he would have to disagree with the public for its own sake. Instead, going by how he breaks down films, he has a very hyper-analytical and somewhat politically-tinted approach where he puts utmost focus on films as a means of delivering commentary, be it social, political, socio-political or otherwise. While I consent that he may focus on the subtextual ramifications a little too strongly, he still has his own voice that serves its purpose in the overall critical scene. As for his real-world antics... honestly, like a fair few of his fans, I like renegade artists. I like Kanye West for his complete lack of a filter and occasionally bursts of insanity, while others hate him for the same reason. Seeing someone in my personal field of interest who a) is this well recognized and b) is this demonstrably outspoken is kind of inspiring. He claims to have taken inspiration from New Yorker writer Pauline Kael, who herself was denounced for her less than popular opinions, and while I may not agree with either of them all that much, I can see why there would be inspiration coming from either of them.

So, you’re probably wondering why this article is titled as it is, if I am willing to defend this guy as much as I am. Well, while I may not hate him for the superficial reasons that so many others seem to, I have a very definite problem with something else he has a habit of doing. Weirdly enough, this also ties into a few of my issues with the critical scene as a whole, something that I see Armond White as a major embodiment of. When he was a guest on the Filmcast podcast to discuss the then-recent release of Inception, something that he considered to be far inferior and more juvenile than Michael Bay’s Transformers series, there was a certain line of reasoning that caught my attention. In the After Dark edition of that same episode, he and the hosts got to talking about the state of film criticism (as it is in the U.S.) and it’s here where the fuse gets lit for me. Armond White hates people like me. He hates how uneducated plebeians are being listened to as intently as people like him, proudly boasting about his formal education on the matter. He sees it as a sign of not only the critical scene being damaged but also Hollywood as a whole, and he puts the blame squarely on regular filmgoers who put their money forward to such projects. In case you missed last time I talked about this, I absolutely hate it when critics make judgement calls like this. There is zero reason why the blame should be put on the audience for liking/disliking a certain film, and whatever reason may exist is probably in it of itself a judgement call. Not that the commoner audience is entirely to blame though, as he also believes that legendary critic Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism as we know it, thanks to his work on At The Movies. Okay, I don’t agree with Ebert all that much either, but dude! All of this is coming across like the kid on the playground with a new toy, who then gets whiny when everyone has their own because he isn’t so special anymore. It is the elitism and snobbery and holier-than-thou attitude that I have come to despise when it comes to film criticism, and I have zero patience for it. He may have its place in the world, but if he’s sensible, it’s way the hell away from me.

So, in conclusion, I don’t hate Armond White because of his differing opinions on popular films. I don’t hate him because of his openly dickish behaviour towards certain filmmakers. I hate him because he represents an antiquated and almost fascistic mindset that says only properly educated people like him are allowed to have their opinions listened to, and everyone else are just making things worse. There may be points here and there where this notion aligns with my own disdain for the critical landscape here in Australia, but where I have some self-awareness about the food chain, this guy vehemently fails to realize where he is. What makes critics like Roger Ebert as lauded as they are is that, as the times changed, they shifted to meet the new audience. White doesn’t care about the new audience; he just wants things to be like they were in the good ol’ days. Time to grow up, Armond, in more ways than one. You’re not sitting in your ivory tower any more; you're sitting in its rubble.

For extra reading, check out this op-ed done by one of the hosts of Filmcast, which features nice, lengthy quotes from Armond himself just to prove that this isn’t just my own biases kicking in: http://www.slashfilm.com/armond-white-i-do-think-it-is-fair-to-say-that-roger-ebert-destroyed-film-criticism/

2 comments:

  1. Armond White can eat a dick and die slow.

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    1. I wouldn't quite go THAT far; honestly, my opinions on him have softened at least a little since I wrote this op-ed. That said, he's still a colossal tool. I'll settle for "Armond White can stop acting like he's king shit in the world of criticism".

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