Armond White of the NY Press is a pretty polarizing figure, I suppose, except that I don’t really know of anyone who’d defend him overly beyond the basic “he can write, too bad that’s what he writes” defense that I hear bandied about a lot. I do know that he was pretty amazing for a stretch back there in the late 90s into the early 00s – vital, principled. Who slags Spike Lee in favor of Stephen Spielberg? Who finds good in Norbit and Michael Bay? I’ve been curious about him forever. Whenever I meet a colleague from NY, I ask about White – is he insane, is he reasonable, is he ravening, is he urbane? And what I hear consistently is that he’s kind, gracious even in person, but clearly has an agenda that he’s wearing to the bone…
Here's the thing: I like critics with agendas.
I don’t understand the idea of objectivity as applied to our kind of writing – what is an objective critic but a complete asshole instead of a principled one? But I was embarrassed as hell reading White’s review of Greenberg which is essentially an extended diatribe against J. Hoberman for apparently posting an old White review in which White – if he’s not suggesting Baumbach be retroactively aborted – is at least dancing around the idea. More, it betrays a personal vendetta against the late Georgia Brown that should, ethically, excuse White from reviewing Baumbach pictures along with a pathological paranoia that used to be amusing.
There’s talk now of “banning” White from future screenings while his own publication posted a poll on their website for readers to vote for “worst” White review. Both abhorrent ideas, both only another salvo in the extended slide into obsolescence for film criticism in the United States - and both examples that White's pathological paranoia has a basis in some self-fulfilling reality. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this relationship between movie studios and critics forged in the 1920s had a moment in the 60s-80s where it flourished as a forum for real conversation and is now reverting back to the incestual give-and-take of producer-and-publicist. It’s a slide facilitated by idiots like Richard Schickel that defend their indifference aboard their respective Titanics as they disappear, and good riddance, into the inky murk.
I got in a good bit of hot water a while back when I suggested in an interview that we at Film Freak Central have trouble getting into screenings and access to the bulk of interviews in which we might be interested. The gist of which being that White is kind of sort of essentially saying the same thing while introducing race and class into it - so really, how upset should I be about his Greenberg diatribe? More, a publicist has come out (Leslie Dart?) to say that it was she alone who made the decision to "ban" White from an early screening of Baumbach's flick which raises again the tired specter of what happens when publicists make these kinds of decisions to preempt bad reviews of their product. Frankly, when George Lucas took us off his screening list, we just kind of took it without much uproar. What I'm saying is that it happens all the time. After I slagged Peter Hedges' Katie Holmes flick much to Hedges' irritation, I was told directly by those publicists that I had been blacklisted from future interviews from that studio... I wish I was still frustrated by that kind of thing instead of resigned.
Whatever the case, the irony is that White is the only critic we’re talking about anymore for any reason surrounding film criticism, for good or bad. I think he’s a loon… but I’m thinking about him. That’s a real shitty place to be.