Monday, August 17, 2009

What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Armond


"I love the idea of Armond White, but I hate the fact of Armond White."

-Bill R.

The New York Press' infamous contrarian has been spurring up a lot of net discourse lately, more than usual, no doubt in large part stemming from Roger Ebert's kinda-sorta defense of him and then non-defense of him posted at Ebert's blog near the end of last week. It's shocking to me that Roger Ebert, who is known to read into all corners of the internet, has managed to avoid Armond White for so long; White has been writing criticism for a quarter of a century, and back in 2008 he had some pretty unkind words for the man in his gibberish manifesto, "What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Movies". But apparently Ebert stumbled onto him because of the latest Rotten Tomaotes shitstorm that White's review of District 9 caused (because he dare make its Tomatometer score anything less than a perfect 100, because that's the kind of mass-consensus sheep haven the site really is). It was interesting reading Roger Ebert's perspective on White, especially coming to him as an outsider, appreciating his forcefulness and outspokenness, then being turned off by his balls-out insanity and poisonous vitriol; but at the same time part of me wishes he hadn't posted that particular entry to his blog. White says what he says in the manner he says it strictly for the sake of attention and provocation, solely for the purpose of moving issues of the trashy news weekly he writes for, and the attention he receives and the reactions he incites only validate his notion that he's the lone defender of truth fighting the corrupt 'hipster' amateur critics and the even more corrupt 'corporate' professionals. The attention he receives from people with infinitely more eloquence, dignity, and grace only validates his moralistic superiority and ideological bullying. It fuels the fire instead of dousing it.

Not to mention I feel Ebert uses the weakest of criticisms to prove the point that White is a 'troll'; it's not the constant attacking of his peers, it's not the garbled prose, it's not the holier-than-thou contrarianism, it's because he thought Transformers 2 was a good movie while Synecdoche, N.Y. was not, because he said Death Race was a good movie while There Will Be Blood is not. This is a questionable mindset; it implies that the opinion itself is the reason for White's lack of worth as a critic, not his extremely questionable critical methods and highly obvious agenda. It's an eloquent version of the same Rotten Tomatoes fanboy mindset that he was originally decrying: White, by disagreeing with the consensus, is not useful as a critic. This is a mentality that misses the forest for the trees, as anyone who turns to criticism for validation of one's own opinion has many outlets for that sort of thing. Those of us who like to be challenged by critics have fewer outlets to turn, especially in the print-press, and this is where, theoretically, White's value lay. But he makes it difficult for those of us who try to defend the occasional relevance of his ideas by sensationalizing his writing to the point of absurdity. He's the Bill O'Reilly of film criticism; ranting about how wrong everyone but him is and decrying the corrupt mainstream media, while really subservient to the agenda of the trashy news outlet he works for. That he writes for a weekly that claims to fill a 'niche' market does not make his pandering anymore acceptable than it would if he was writing for the Times, the Post, or any of the other mainstream outlets he spends so much time tearing down. It may even make it worse, because White is disingenuous about who he really works for.

And this is what we don't talk about when we talk about Armond White. By focusing on the semantics of his opinion --- by making it out like he's a madman, a lunatic, a contrarian-for-contrarian's sake --- the real issue with respect to White's criticism gets distorted. We're talking about a critic who was, at a time, one of the most sharp cultural observers writing in the Metropolitan area --- film criticism doesn't even quite encapsulate what White was attempting to do. I think Steven Boone put it best in a piece for The House Next Door "Ten Armond White Quotes That Shook My World" (as well articulated a defense of the man as I have ever seen) when he said "White is out to change the world"; that notion, in and of itself, isn't particularly earth-shattering though. What separates White is that he honestly thinks he can. But White is now a servant to the agenda of his media outlet (which isn't to say I don't think he believes what he writes), dumbing down and tarting up his writing for the sake of getting the New York Press off stands and to get the website's hit-counter up; the advertising revenue, after all, is the only thing that keeps that garbage afloat. 'Sell-out' isn't quite the word I'd use to describe White, because 'sell-out', to me, doesn't quite encapsulate the idea of a critic who has extremely unique and occasionally relevant ideas, who has the potential to be among the most idiosyncratic voices in criticism, but squanders that potential to the agenda of a corporation who is only interested in making him a commodity. And not even a big corporation, at that --- White is a small-time crook.

Which is especially disappointing, as there are many pieces of White's writing, even for the Press, that are of a great deal of importance to me --- his appreciation of Spielberg (especially his reviews of The Color Purple and A.I.), his defense of De Palma as more than merely a Hitchcock plagiarist (especially in his essay collected in his book The Resistance: "Brian De Palma, Political Film Maker"), his eloquent appreciation of Michael Jackson's power as a pop-star and artist, both during Jackson's life and after his death --- these pieces helped me look at these respective artists in a new, eye-opening light. He once said of Spike Lee that he was 'born to make' Do the Right Thing; on that note I think White was put on this earth to wax poetic about Spielberg, De Palma, and Jackson. But what separates his Press writing from his City Sun and Film Comment days is that even in his stronger Press pieces (by which I mean cohesive and lacking in vitriol), he can't help but throw in asides about how much better his taste is than everyone else's, how all the media is corrupt (with the notable exception, of course, of his employers), and baseless comparisons to other works (i.e., in a mostly exemplary review of Borzage's No Greater Glory from around last year, when he randomly name-drops The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and There Will Be Blood, or in his piece after Jackson's death called "In MJ's shadow", where he states that "People who don’t appreciate “Ben” don’t really appreciate pop culture and remain clueless about MJ"); it's this type of holier-than-thou rhetoric that turns even the best of White's work into a highfalutin fraud, a sheep in wolf's clothing. That he has the potential to be so much better than he is --- that he was once a unique critic who put films into a valuable cultural, racial, and political context --- makes him worse than the hacks he spews so much venom at. They were born sell-out hacks, White turned into one.

So this is my plea to all those who help put White onto the pedestal that he rests on today --- by treating him like a cartoonish super-villain instead of a venomous, shameless self-promoter, we give him the attention he and his employers so desperately crave; indeed, the attention that they depend on. The New York Press' livelihood relies on the controversy that White stirs up --- what other publication puts their film critic on the cover with such regularity? He is their main draw, and they'll even occasionally host polls with questions like "What's Armond White's wackiest review?" --- they treat him as a commodity, as if saying 'Look at our nutty critic, he hates everything that people like!'. That he allows himself to be marketed that way, that he plays into that blatant pandering with his increasingly sensationalistic and mean-spirited writing , exposes him as the fraudulent bully that he is. There are many writers out there with more relevant ideas and more eloquent prose, and who don't feel the need to attack anyone and everyone who doesn't agree with them. Let's stop giving Armond White the power that he and his employers so clearly thrive on, and in doing so, turning him into something he isn't. There are more relevant issues worth discussing.

36 comments:

rob humanick said...

Brilliant - and more insightful than Ebert's assessments, I might add. It's a sad day when an RT posse is able to stir up so much nonsense.

Now, run for cover. You might just become the hipster poster boy for the roasting. In which case, I'll just have to get burned, too.

Ryan Kelly said...

Rob, I am honored to have you stop in and to give me such praise. You know you were the inspiration (and instigation --- what with your constant nagging to get me to blog) for my starting to write so it's great to have you here. Does this mean you have internet now?

It's a sad day when an RT posse is able to stir up so much nonsense.

Exactly, as I said in the piece, I feel Ebert was just kind of legitimizing the Tomaotoers' view of White, that he's a 'troll' because he doesn't agree with the RT consensus. That really distorts the real problem with White's reviews.

And if I become the whipping boy, so be it. As long as they spell my name right.

Sam Juliano said...

You deserve that praise for this ever-insightful essay, which I hung with every word on. I am no fan of this mean-spirited grand stander, who recalls John Simon in more ways than one. Of course, Simon got far more personal, one going as far as to say that Barabra Streisand had an ugly face and a big nose in his review of WHAT'S UP DOC?

"The attention he receives from people with infinitely more eloquence, dignity, and grace only validates his moralistic superiority and ideological bullying. It fuels the fire instead of dousing it."

Yep, and that is disturbing.

But your appraisal here is a fair one, as you do bring out White's respect for Spielberg, and for Jacko. But in th eend, your pleas don't fall on deaf ears with me. This man is shameless, and his writing is dwarfed but a number of critics who seem to get less notoriety: Kauffmann, Sarris, Hoberman, Gonzalez, Lane, Dargis, et al.

Krauthammer said...

This parallels a lot of my thought on White. Although he champions some of my favorite modern filmmakers like Charles Burnett or Mel Gibson, his work is filled with such a meanness that even when he agrees with me it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It's not enough for Armond to be "in the right" when he feels so many other critics are in the wrong, he feels the need to hammer it home, constantly exhaling how he is the one true moral and incisive critic in a sea of idiots, to the point where it seems that his hatreds (of "hipsters," "liberal elites," and so on) have overpowered and taken over any actual love for film that he had.

But this isn't the kind of thing most people talk about when they decry White as "the worst critic in America," they just look at what he likes and dislikes, and completely overlook what the real problem with Armond is.

Adam Zanzie said...

As rob convinced Ryan to become a blogger, so did Ryan convince me to start up the habit, and now look! We're all a happy family again like Pinocchio, Gepetto, Figgero and Cleo inside the Monstro. Okay, I'll stop now.

I only take Armond White's opinion to heart when there's nobody else to turn to. This, sadly, was not the case with "Youth Without Youth", for which he sides with everyone else in trashing it. Sometimes it's funny to see his patriotism get the better of him. Like for instance, he loved Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" (2006).

On Ebert's blog, I wrote a comment on August 14 pointing out that White and Jonathan Rosenbaum understood "A.I." a lot better than he did. I was hoping for a response, but didn't get one. Bollocks.

To reply to what Sam Juliano said, I will take White over J. Hoberman ANY DAY! I absolutely hate Hoberman; one of the most hatefully narcissistic critics working today. He brings out the Isaac Davis in me who would like to sock him in the face for his self-absorbed pseudointellectualism. Notice that Hoberman cannot sit down and watch a Spielberg film without making up his mind even before it begins: I am going to find as many reasons as I can to hate this film, and won't even try to admire it. Thus, he's under the delusion that "Schindler's List" is "a theme park version of the Holocaust"; that "Minority Report" SUPPORTS (instead of attacks) the Patriot Act; and that "Munich" is a form of right-wing Zionism that denounces the Palestinians. If Hoberman would just take his head out of his ass, he would realize that Spielberg's films do not symbolize pro-Bush politics and, rather, attack them.

Matt Zoller Seitz wrote a fascinating rebuttal to Hoberman's long anti-Spielberg essay, by the way!

Sam Juliano said...

OK Adam, let's put aside Hoberman, who I mentioned here as an afterthought. To me White is a worse narcissist, and an inferior writer to boot. Hoberman blows away White any day of the week in my book. Here are the critics you need to read:

Stanley Kauffmann
Pauline Kael
Dwight MacDonald
James Agee
Andre Bazin
Dilys Powell
David Thomson
Andrew Sarris
Robin Wood
David Bordwell
Donald Richie
Parker Tyler
Vernon Young
Robert Warshow

Manola Dargis and Stephanie Zacharek are among the better current writers, by the way.

I know many critics who make up their minds before they sit down to watch a movie including the aforementioned charletan of the New York Press.

Their work comprises the essence of film criticism.

Sam Juliano said...

Adam's blog cannot accept non-google user comments, so I was tuned away. This is what I entered without success:

This is a great review for sure. I have a fondness for this film, and I can say this as someone who can comfortably referred to as an 'old fart' as this stage. (I'm 54) I grew up with this Hawks, and always dismisses it's clunkiness, taking the proceedings as high camp. The last sequence with the sand poring through the stone openings of course is the supreme set-piece, but at the end of the day I do believe this 'entertaining in spite of itself' film is a dictionary definition of 'guilty pleasure.' This is as definitive a treatment as I've read on this film by anyone.

Adam, I responded to you on Ryan's blog on the White/Hoberman comparison. Nothing personal there, just an opinion. I'll bookmark your blog here.

Apparently you must loosen your comment restrictions, I'm not sure, Adam.

Ryan Kelly said...

Sam, Armond has been known to make pretty mean personal attacks as well. Just for starters, I know he's suggested that Noah Baumbach should have been aborted, and is known to call film makers he doesn't like 'assholes' and things like that. I understand that movies he thinks are bad offend the very fabric of his being, as sometimes movies that go against my sensibility can do to me. But I also can't bring myself to attack people personally --- I'll gladly attack the work, but not someone's personal life.

Well, I was not implying that his virtues in any way should overshadow his bad qualities. In fact, I think that he has potential to be better than he is makes his sensationalist, trashy prose and personal attacks (both on his peers in the critic community and film makers) makes him worse than the hacks out there. He's said some things that will always be of great importance to me, but that guy is a bully and a fraud and, as you rightly point out, there are other more interesting critics who don't get enough attention.

Ryan Kelly said...

Krauthammer, you're right, even when you agree with White, or he with you, there's something nasty in his town. It's amusing that a writer who decries films which lack in humanity, because humanity is the one thing his more recent writing lacks. There was a time when he acknowledged that he was approaching things from a different perspective than other outlets, and that perspective was refreshing both in outlook and honesty, but he's grown into a caricature of himself.

Yes, Armond always feels the need to tear others down in the name of building himself up. And, he'll even attack critics who do 'agree' with him, in spirit, because one doesn't agree with him for the right reasons! No matter what, he'll always find ways to be more right than you. And it's a schtick that gets old, and undermines any value his ideas may have had.

And I agree, the arguments people use against White (Ebert included) are just weak. It's not the opinions themselves that are the problem. Far from it.

Ryan Kelly said...

Adam, I'm thrilled that I may have been the inciting reason for you throwing your hat into the blogosphere. You're developing your voice wonderfully and even in just a few months you've grown as a writer and blogger. Just write more, already! (I should take my own advice... but I am trying)

Exactly, sometimes with a misunderstood film will have a moment of clarity. He will put aside the vitriol (though never entirely) and simply develop his ideas about the movie. When he really likes something, and doesn't use what he is liking to make a polemic against something he doesn't like, he can be quite a sight to see. It's hard to believe he didn't like Youth Without Youth OR Tetro, because he respects Coppola and just loves to go on about how aesthetically vacuous his peers are. Guess you can lump Mr. White in with the 'hipsters' on Coppola in the 21st century.

And yes, I can overlook some of the vitriol in his A.I. pieces, because you can tell the movie affected him very deeply. I still think Rosenbaum's analysis is the most sophisticated from that time, I feel, and I love the way he discusses how it made him rethink both Spielberg and Kubrick. It does radically shift the context of both of their careers. And yes, Ebert's review is pretty bad, and he's probably no small part of why we continually hear about the film's "third act problems" and the use of "aliens" in said third act to this day. He either doesn't realize, or doesn't care, how many people he influences.

And yes, Hoberman is certainly among the many whom I think has leveled charges against Spielberg that are simply inaccurate, ignoring even the validity of the opinion itself. The fact that some viewed Munich as a Zionist movie, while others viewed it as pro-Palestinian (depending on your bias), pretty much says it all, I think.

Adam Zanzie said...

Ironically, I started out four years ago on xanga and myspace. I made some friends, to be sure, but those blogs mostly consisted of capsule reviews of the past four movies I had seen each week. Nothing professional or anything. Inevitably, I lost interest. The advantage of Blogger is that I only use it to write insanely long-ass reviews; but of course there are wonderful people like you guys who have your own blogs, also.

White didn't like "Tetro", either? Even when I still haven't seen it yet I know from your old review that it's gotta be awesome.

Ebert's review of "A.I." was odd. He must have had writer's block before he sat down to write it... because no human moviegoer would rather have seen a film entirely devoted to Monica's suffering after she deserts David. Where's the AWE in a movie like that? Spielberg wasn't trying to go down the Bergman/Bresson road.

Adam Zanzie said...

Sam, that's a good question. I'll check my profile to see if it's disabling outside comments. I would most definately like to be hearing more from you!

Looking at your list of alternative critics, I do like Kael from time to time. Ryan knows that I hold a minor grudge against Sarris, but I do occasionally like what he says. I haven't read much of Stanley Kauffman, but I did read his negative review of Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" (he didn't think the story was worth a three-hour running time) which I thought was unfair. Bazin has written some insightful stuff on Bresson's work which I admire. I'm familiar with Thomson and Agee's names, but know very little about them.

Now, as for Robin Wood. I've heard a few good stuff about him- he's a scholar of Bergman, for instance- and he even claims that Hitchcock's work helped him to discover his own homosexuality. Not so sure how that might happen, but it's interesting. But have you read Wood's review of "E.T."? He calls the film "extremely sexist" and claims that he doesn't know any women who like the film. Wood, of course, fails to realize that the film was WRITTEN by a woman, and no wonder- Melissa Mathison is not mentioned once in his review.

These days, I trust mostly the opinions of Ebert, A.O. Scott, Richard Schickel, Scott Foundas, Lisa Schwarzbaum, and yes, Manohla Dargis (loved her review of Charlie Kaufmann's "Synecdoche, New York", one of my favorites from last year). Rosenbaum and White come in handy for me only in the most dire of situations. Then there are the boring, ill-educated wannabes like James Berardinelli and Peter Travers of whom I was fond of in my youth... not anymore. At the top of my Most Hated List would probably be J. Hoberman and Kyle Smith.

Adam Zanzie said...

UPDATE:

It is now possible for anybody to post on my blog.

MovieMan0283 said...

I discovered White about 6 years ago, when I was living in New York and was thrilled by his broadsides against sanctimonious films like Mystic River. Within a couple years, his predictable contrariness had become tiresome and eventually I gave up on him. He remains a cartoon version of something I'd like to sympathize with (except for the constant veneration of blockbusters), but he seems to have ossified into a hipster-baiting, ranting and raving, conservatism-defending, always-bring-up Spielberg stick figure. I still like the fact that his quirks and eccentricities are quite unique: who else combines those particular attributes into one cantenkerous personality? But his very un-predictability has become predictable, so that he's still entertaining, but one can't take him seriously.

That said, I think your attack is unfair insofar as it does not explain what the Press has to do with White's "development" as a critic. Yes, of course they're exploiting the wild controversy he evokes but that's not evidence that he holds his opinions and voices them in the manner he does merely to push papers. After all, he was striking these poses years ago long before he had become such a cult figure.

Also, the Press isn't much worse than the Voice these days, whose current management is in the process of systematically dismantling every single unique aspect of the venerated publication. I'm surprised J. Hoberman still has his job what with all the other heads who have fallen (I mean, Nat fucking Hentoff? REALLY?!?). He can't have much longer...and then who will be left?

Marilyn said...

Great essay, Ryan, as usual. Your probing mind is worth any 20 newspaper critics you want to name.

You know, I don't read any of the established critics with any regularity anymore, not even Ebert, who was my earliest influence and is still the biggest sweetheart out there if not the best critic anymore. He worked prolificly under deadlines that would have made Rosenbaum (who I also grew up with) would have screamed "mercy".

I don't come by my film habit or criticism the way others do - I don't know Kael or Sarris or even White and Hoberman except where I've been looking for a specific review.

I read my fellow bloggers for advice because they are my friends. I know them and what they stand for and how that gibes with what I like and stand for. I could never be friends with a psycho like White; heck, I can't even understand his point half the time when he runs off on a tirade (I've only read a couple of his essays, btw). How, therefore, could I trust his opinion?

Ryan Kelly said...

Hi Movieman! Always nice to have you stop by.

Yes, White has his virtues, which I tried my best to address. He's certainly a unique character in the criticism world. But I fear he's just become more and more of a bully, and tries to be a dictator of taste. Admittedly, I think there are many critics who like to play 'my-taste-is-better-than-yours', but White takes it to a bit of an extreme.

Well, I don't think the Press is necessary the cause of this, er, progression of White's, but the way he allows himself to be subjugated by them exposes him as something of a self-promoter and sensationalist. I'd say it's just his getting older but when he does things that aren't NY Press relate : essays for DVD releases, and he also does music video presentations through out the year in New York, and he is eloquent, insightful and, when he speaks in person, soft spoken. Yet when he rights for the Press, he's incredibly mean-spirited. His writing for the NY Press bascially falls in line with the rest of the paper; sensationalist, trashy, and lacking in good grammar. And he uses it as a forum for the most vitriolic of attacks on the critical community (not entirely unfounded, but he's so nasty he undermines any substance to his views). Yes, he did always play the role of the lone voice of reason in a world gone mad, but in many ways the writer he is now doesn't have much in common with the writer he was.

And I'll agree that the Voice and the Press are about equal in terms of quality.

Ryan Kelly said...

Marilyn, such praise from you is, as they say, worth it's weight in gold. As always, it's a pleasure having you here.

If I like a critic, I'll read books of theirs from cover to cover--- even the critic in question. I read criticism on a weekly basis less and less lately, because if I'm looking to review something it's hard going into something as a member of the public and not being influenced at least in one way or another.

Well, if you're saying you read people who are your friends, then that is a real compliment. I agree, one of the advantages of blogging is the ability to engage directly with the person and get a give-and-take of ideas. And yes, you wouldn't want to be friends with White --- because he's known to be kind to people in person, yet turn around and write vile, nasty things about them. Talk about bi-polar.

Adam Zanzie said...

Wait a minute! Armond White said that he thought Noah Baumbausch "should have been aborted"? Why such harsh words? I loved "The Squid and the Whale". Maybe White was offended because the film is anti-family values?

MovieMan0283 said...

That's a fair enough distinction regarding the Press ... though it may not have caused his "development" you are quite right that he's hardly unaware of it and runs with the notoriety it gives him, which is unfortunate.

Can't attack their grammar, though, as I've had my own scrapes with that in the past (ha, ha) though I guess they're supposed to have editors for that very purpose...

Ryan Kelly said...

Yes, Adam, he said that Baumbach's mother, Georgia Brown (who wrote for the Village Voice, and whom White has exchanged some harsh tones with both in print and in person) should have had an abortion. I mean, not liking a guy's movies is one thing, saying they shouldn't even be walking the earth is something else.

Ryan Kelly said...

Well, MovieMan, I think we all make grammatical/typographical mistakes. I try to my best to proof read as carefully as possible, and I have my lovely girlfriend do the same, but they're impossible to avoid altogether. Being bloggers and editing ourselves makes us all the more susceptible to such errors, and I think we can let them slide. I understand occasional mistakes --- but it's a consistent thing in the Press; from formatting errors to typos to bad grammar. Those editors are really asleep at the wheel, and their lack of care for the publication they put out is pretty clear.

bill r. said...

... I know he's suggested that Noah Baumbach should have been aborted...

That's insane. I'd never heard that before, though I know White despises Baumbach. Which is sorta funny, given how much he loves Wes Anderson. I seem to remember White having to twist himself into a pretzel in order to remove Baumbach from the equation while praising The Life Aquatic.

I can't remember quite how I found White, but I suspect it was in a roundabout way. Someone was trashing him and calling him a lunatic, so I became curious and started reading some of his reviews. And I wanted SO BADLY to like him, because politically he's so much harder to pin down than most critics, and because of his love of A.I. (isn't it interesting that so many of us seem to want, but are unable, to forgive White because of his praise of that film?) and Wes Anderson, but the man is absolutely impossible.

If he's not actually mentally deranged, then he is, as you say Ryan, a total fraud. The intellectual and moral inconsistency is impossible to ignore, and can only be evidence of one thing or the other. Just today Glenn Kenny pointed out that in White's negative review of The Headless Woman, White sniffs at critics who praised the film's "exacting formalism and beauty". Kenny reminds everyone that White took that quote from A NEGATIVE REVIEW OF THE FILM by Manohla Dargis (or if not outright negative, than at least mildly dismissive of everything but the first 20 minutes)

And I have to say to Sam, in regards to his criticism of John Simon for his personal attacks, while lifting up Stanley Kaufman: Kaufman wrote a review of Altman's Thieves Like Us in which he referred to Shelley Duvall as a "buck-toothed bean-pole". Kaufman did that shit a lot, too.

Anyway, sorry I'm lat to this discussion. Great piece, Ryan, and thanks for quoting me!

Ryan Kelly said...

Yeah, he skirts around the issue that someone he doesn't like was involved in a film he does, and that this individual he claims should have been aborted helped write The Life Aquatic's wonderful screenplay.

I stumbled on White the same way, I was with a bunch of people who talked about how White sucked as a critic and what an asshole he was. Like you, I want to like him, but he makes it extremely difficult. I'd still defend him to an extent, and do take exception to a lot of the criticisms lobbed at him, but at the same time you simply can't defend a lot of the guys rhetoric. In spit of his incredibly thoughtful word about A.I., I agree, it's just impossible to ignore the nastiness --- and I've tried.

And you're welcome on the quote --- I think you encapsulated in one sentence what I was getting at in 1500 or so words. You're good like that.

MovieMan0283 said...

A bit of a non sequitur, but I much prefer Owen Wilson to Noah Baumbach as a Wes Andrson co-writre. Baumbach is a snob and possibly kind of a prick (at least he appeared to be so in the Q&A I saw him in a few years ago). He makes some good movies but his particular gifts do not really complement Anderson's. The movies written with Wilson, particularly Rushmore and (to a limited extent, as Wilson was somewhat MIA in the collaboration) Royal Tenenbaums, have real heart, a melancholy spirit loosely situated in the real world. The other Anderson films lose their moorings and become mildly interesting mood and style piece while losing the powerful resonance of his earlier works.

Get back with Owen, Wes. He's good for you. End of message.

Ryan Kelly said...

I may agree with you on that, MovieMan --- there is an every so slight undercurrent of smugness in The Life Aquatic, but I think Anderson's humanist sensibility is able to override it. But there are traces of it. I do love the screenplay the two of them wrote for Rushmore, because it does feel like two friends making a celluloid version of their inside jokes as youngsters. There's something refreshing about its honesty with respect to that time.

But I really think The Darjeeling Limited has the best --- as in funniest, most humane, and most economic --- script of his films so far. Though Baumbach helped write the script for Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I guess we shall see...

But I guess Owen's too busy making lousy movies and hating himself to be bothered writing. Which is a shame, as there's something beautiful and extremely revealing in his performance in The Darjeeling Limited.

Eric R. said...

One thing that I've noticed about White is that his reviews are always either all negative or all positive. He never seems to discuss a specific element in a movie that he liked even if he thought it was an overall failure. The same goes for movies that he's admired.

I can see what Ryan means about his writing. White writes with a certain agenda to not only act as a dictator on taste but also uses his reviews as a system of attack. The truly depressing fact of it all is that White's gotten so much recognition in the world of film criticism. At least Ebert took back his defense of White.

Ryan Kelly said...

Eric, that's dead-on, and that's because White isn't generally evaluating per-se... he's using whatever movie he happens to be writing about as a forum for polemics. If it's a negative review, he'll use it to build up something he likes. If it's a positive review, he'll use it to tear down something he doesn't. And of course regardless of the tone of his review he'll attack his peers. The strengths and weaknesses of the films themselves seems to not really be the issue with White.

Yeah, I'm glad Ebert recanted, but I also think it's a little dishonest of him to go back and change his initial blog post. He should have just done a new one instead of doing a bit of revisionist history. And I'm really surprised Ebert had never heard of White before, the man's been writing for 25 years! And I'm equally surprised that he didn't do a little more research on the man before singing his praises as he did.

Marilyn said...

I'm going to write to Ebert and ask him if I can do freelance research for him. He admired the research work I did on "Sita Sings the Blues" and clearly the man needs some help here.

Ryan Kelly said...

Seriously, I think he could use all the help he can get in that department.

Wow Jones said...

Folks,

You might be interested in knowing that controversial NY Press Film Critic Armond White has released a new book.

It is entitled, "KEEP MOVING: The Michael Jackson Chronicles" and the book is a collection of explosive essays on pop star Michael Jackson where he writes on the songs and the music videos produced AFTER the record-breaking commercial success of the Thriller album.

Written by Armond White during his 25 year span as a critic, the essays examine Michael Jackson as a cultural phenomenon, musical/aesthetic force and dance icon/show-biz influence.

The book is 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches and 117 pages long.

If you are interested in learning more about the book, check out this link:
http://www.resistanceworks.blogspot.com/

Also, the book includes the infamous essay "The Gloved One Is Not A Chump", an essay on the cinematic and musical achievement of the "Black Or White" music video that won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for Music Criticism in 1992.

Ryan Kelly said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Wow. His appreciations of Jackson are among the most elouqent essays on the man, and that sounds like it could be a good read.

I also heard he was releasing another book of criticism called "What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Movies". White had a review of Molly Haskel's Gone With the Wind book published in the NY Times Book Review, and it mentioned at the end of the article that his new book was expected sometime this year. I would assume that this would be a collection of his Press stuff which, I must be honest, doesn't exactly thrill me. Do you know anything of this?

Wow Jones said...

Ryan,

Not sure about the status of the "What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Movies" book.

It was my understanding that the book was an expansion of the ideas introduced in the essay of the same title.

Haven't heard much since that byline in the NY Times article. I guess the "Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles" book will have to do for now.

I am familiar with the essays in the book and yes the book is QUITE a read.

Those who care about Michael Jackson's art are sure to love it.

--WJ

Wow Jones said...

Folks,

Thought that some of you may be interested in knowing that Armond White is FINALLY making his Michael Jackson Music Video Presentation at The Walter Reade Theater @ Lincoln Center in New York City on Sunday November 22, 2009.

Here are two links to a radio interview (on youtube.com) he did on Friday, November 20, 2009 on the subject of Michael Jackson AND his upcoming music video presentation, entitled "KEEP MOVING: Michael Jackson's Music VIdeo Art".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kM5zkOmQE8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y76Tzx-rfU4

Enjoy and if you are in the New York City area and are interested, hope to see you there. Armond White will also be signing copies of his new book "KEEP MOVING: The Michael Jackson Chronicles"

For information on tickets, check out this link:

http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/mj2.html

Best,
WJ

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