May 14, 2008

A rebuttal to Armond White

Today I received an email from Dan over at FilmBabble, asking for my thoughts on Armond White's recent article in the New York Press (available here ). Specifically, my angry thoughts. The article is long, but you only have to skim it to get a sense of White's point, which is his passionate hatred for all film bloggers. Angry thoughts were not hard to come by after reading it.

First, a little background on White. Googling him reveals many interesting things, most notably a blog devoted solely to "parsing the confounding film criticism of Mr. Armond White" (to use their words). White is found to be a critic who has made a career out of making enemies, focusing more 0n films/directors he hates than ones he likes. He dismisses style, context, and production in films and claims that the only thing that matters is the message - which, by his logic, would make anything aired on C-Span the best movie of the last ten years. He is notorious for championing films that everyone else pans, including Little Man. Yes, Little Man. He criticized Zodiac for its excessive violence, although it featured only three murder scenes in the first 15 minutes of its 160-minute running time. He called A.I. - Artificial Intelligence one of the 10 greatest films ever made. And as a grammar and style nerd, I have to point out that in this article he does not italicize, underline, or use quotation marks for movie titles, which any tenth grader would know is necessary.

White’s first mistake is grouping all bloggers into one category. I personally think I might belong on the ivory tower that White believes himself to occupy. Though I belong to the unwashed mass of bloggers cluttering his precious cyberspace, I am a film major at a respected college. I could tell you what film stock any movie is shot on, and how they did the special effects. I have read Benjamin and Baudrillard. I have written lengthy papers on sexual transgression in the German silent film Pandora’s Box, recent trends in Korean popular cinema, and auteur theory as it pertains to Annie Hall. But none of this matters. All that matters is that I am a person, with a voice. If all I wanted to do was talk about how Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movies are the greatest cinematic achievement of all time, I have that right. Because we live in a democracy, the same democracy that affords Armond White a voice. The irony here is that White’s criticism is so far out that if the whole world subscribed to the same elitism that he did, his ideas probably wouldn’t stand a chance!

He also complains about bloggers ruining cultural discourse. Last time I checked, doesn’t “discourse” refer to people discussing things? And isn’t that what bloggers do? I noticed that on the page for his article, there was no option to comment or reply - heaven forbid he engage in discourse with plebeians!

Another tragic irony of this article is that White accuses film bloggers of “chipping away at the professionalism they envy.” Armond, honey. Were you ever a young boy that liked to talk about movies? Perhaps you would go to the theater with some friends and then afterwards discuss what you saw? Or was that banned in the apparent dictatorship you grew up in? No, it wasn’t, because you’re from Michigan, not Maoist China. So, what us bloggers did is take that discussion that I absolutely know you’ve had all your life and transplant it to the interwebs. We have no hidden agenda! We just like to discuss film! I started blogging because my filmic discourse was limited to myself and my friend Scott and, although fun, it often came to a dead end because we hadn’t seen very many of the same movies. So I opened my thoughts up to the blogosphere and started an ongoing discussion with hundreds of people about cinema. And as far as bloggers “envying” professionalism, that’s just poorly-disguised fear on White’s part that us peasants are going to put him out of a job.

Some of White’s observations about the current state of film criticism are simply insane, and seem to indicate that he doesn’t read any blogs or reviews at all, ever. “Movies are considered fun that needn’t be taken seriously. Movies contain ideas better left unexamined.” “Nowadays, reviewers almost never draw continuity between new films and movie history—except to get it wrong.” He claims that modern movies are escapist entertainment that perpetuates societal denial, which is funny because myself and my aforementioned plebeian friend Scott, after a viewing of There Will Be Blood, noted (without any help from critics!) the trend in modern movies to bravely depict the devastating and destructive consequences of hyper-masculinity. He accuses critics of blindly praising blockbusters (which they do, if they’re GOOD), then goes on to cite the Tom Cruise version of War of the Worlds as a movie containing moments of “personal emotion.” And he actually has the audacity, after all his nonsense, to bash elitism!

When I started reading this article, I was angry. By the time I finished it, I just felt pity for this sorry little man, kicking and screaming away at independent-minded movie lovers who manage to share their views without making atrocious puns like his “It’s entertainment - weakly.”

7 comments:

Scott said...

Thanks for making me sound smarter than I am. Although I strongly agree with his point about WAR OF THE WORLDS, one of the most harrowing experiences I had at the theater that year.

OKonheim said...

I thought you had a good article, good points, and you have a good reason to blog.

jasmine.celion said...

this is nice article i really enjoy it

jasmine celion
cool-hotstuff.blogspot.com

Eric Harvey said...

It's no secret Armond White worships at the altar of Pauline Kael (herself an atrocious sellot until she was basically run out of Hollywood)and his at-times pompous writing reflects that. But sometimes we need Pauline Kaels and in some sort of unoriginal way, White is definitely needed.

I do get his point, especially when he refers to the REELZ TV Movie Mob show. If you've seen it, it's pretty horrible and mind numbing. I'll come straight out and say it. A lot of those people sending webcams of themselves talking about movies suck. I wouldn't want to hang around them for a minute. A snob? Maybe, but I like to think that after 34 years on this planet, I've got a lot less time to make friends with zero taste and an affinity for 15 minutes of fame, no matter how trivial.

The show also gives an insight to why such bad movies are being made today. I won't say they have no taste, they're just passive about their entertainment. The weaker, the better. And more like a video game.

Not all young film bloggers today are like this and it shows in their writing and their knowledge. Unfortunately, Mr. White likes to paint with a very broad brush sometimes, which doesn't endear him to a lot of readers.

Mr. White also goes looking for things that aren't there either, which can sometimes be a good thing. Other times, he looks downright insane. His BRAVE ONE critique? Ha! It's nothing but DEATH WISH, and anyone who's actually seen DEATH WISH couldn't be fooled. Only this time Charles Bronson and Martin Balsam might fall in love. Anything else is what you read into it.

And that's what makes Armond White essential. He's not a passive moviegoer. He writes and hopes you may learn something about film, rather than behind the screen squabbles and the reasons for lousy box-office. He's a rare breed in a major city rag even if it does seem he's almost at odds with his film snobbery.

Wow Jones said...

Folks,

For those interested, There's a blog on the old Armond White book, "The Resistance: Ten Years Of Pop Culture That Shook The World"

For those who don't know, the book is a collection of Armond White essays covering the years 1984-1994.

http:///www.armondwhitebook.wordpress.com

Take Care,
WJ

Wow Jones said...

Oops,

http://www.armondwhitebook.wordpress.com

Later,
WJ

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