March 21, 2010

Armond Hammer

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.

6 comments:

simonsays2 said...

Armond probably generates the most negative user comments on RT boards and that's where I first caught wind of his schtick. The FFC tweet about the spat between White vs. Baumbach & co brought my attention to this story. This news is important for those in the biz - I'm sure. I don't think it constitutes as newsworthy. Every job has politics and getting blacklisted seems par for the course as say - not getting a promotion based on perception. I ee where White crossed the line (as Walter points out) by discussing the banning in the review of the same film but let's get back to talking about movies FFC ! The Bounty Hunter anyone ? :0

James Allen said...

I've been reading Armond White for a long time, and I never miss a column, and it seems that every year or so people proclaim he's "gone over the edge" which, if true, means he's gone over more edges than exist in the Adirondacks.

I'm probably about where you are as it concerns Armond, Walt: he's there, and we're still talking about him and I suppose that counts for something. I've never met the man so I can only guess whether he's forcing his contrarianism or not. I've actually vacillated both ways in respect to that question, so at least he's keeping me guessing.

As far as the spat with Hoberman, that came as not much of a surprise (as the critic for the other NYC free weekly of note, maybe their paths have crossed one too many times) I'm not defending it, mind you, I'm just saying it doesn't shock me. Besides he's slagged other critics many times before (this one and this one are classics). I suppose his "Last Angry Man" stance has been in place for some time.

eddie said...

Sorry for being off topic, but the Toy Story 1&2 reviews were great reads. The arrival of these blu-rays will test my self-restraint to the max as I've resigned myself to waiting for a deluxe box set of the trilogy later this year.

kenjfuj said...

I still read White every week, but you gotta question the man's integrity when he praises The Hurt Locker to the skies in his first review and then proceeds subsequently to trash it, calling it "now-overrated" on many occasions, every time he can. Yeah, even critics can change their minds, but this near-complete 180 came without a word of explanation; it forces me to wonder how authentic his contrarianism is.

Anonymous said...

Roger Ebert came to the conclusion that he is a troll - a very-well read, educated troll, but still a troll. Just someone writing solely to piss people off for their own amusement; I don't agree with this - I find that he uses an impressive vocabulary to critique and make points, none of which I can understand. I just can't. His arguments seem to be based in logic that isn't backed up or literate. The praise for Norbit and Little Man are two examples - he uses them as examples of good filmmaking involve black people, without describing how he reached this conclusion. I am fascinated and confounded by what he writes.

Ricky Bleu said...

I don't like him at all. He reminds me of Camille Paglia in that he's always making ridiculous conclusions as though they are obvious despite the fact that they're completely off base and, like Camille Paglia, he seems to use his education as a weapon to neutralize people who disagree with him.

Unlike Paglia though, he's completely devoid of humor or charm and while reading Paglia is worthwhile for all the times she hits at something brilliant, surprising, and true or just because her diatribes are funny, I've generally found White's reviews to be dull, artless, and unconvincing.

If only Paglia had time to be a film critic...