Armond White has seemingly gotten exactly what he wanted all along with his ridiculous, contrarian, anti-intellectual intellectual reviews for the New York Press. He’s gotten attention. Simply by virtue of shitting on good movies (Inception, The Dark Knight, and Pixar’s entire oeuvre (he claimed that Jonah Hex was a far superior film to Toy Story 3)) and praising shit (Transformers 2 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull , which he claimed was superior to Iron Man), White has reaped the attention he so transparently craves. And like the worst kind of Internet troll, people can’t help but to not just pay attention to him, but give him what he wants: attacks. Worse still, he’s like Tony Scalia: He’s brilliant enough to intelligently defend his own wrong-headed positions.
That was apparently the case when White appeared on the Slashfilmcast the other night: I haven’t listened to it myself yet (no offense to the brilliant, well-spoken nicest guy on the planet, David Chen, but the only podcast I listen to is FilmDrunk’s (Vince giggles like a ninny) or one where our boy Will Goss guest hosts, because most of those movie blogger podcasts are painfully myopic and manage to beat the living shit out of trade news minutia). Truthfully, I don’t have much interest in listening to Armond White because, like Scalia, he makes me seethe. And sadly, I’ve developed a begrudging respect for Scalia’s intelligence, and I’d hate to do the same for White. But, from what I understand, Armond White did a fairly decent job of winning the intellectual points with the Slashfilm guys, even as he lost the populist ones. (Either that, or possibly, some other movie bloggers criticizing the performance of the Slashfilm guys are jealous puds grappling with the notion that scoring Armond White essentially puts Slashfilm on a different stratosphere as the rest of us. But those dudes deserve it; they came about it honestly.)
Perhaps White’s most controversial statement in that podcast, however, came in his bashing of Roger Ebert, who he claimed ruined film criticism. He stated:
I do think it is fair to say that Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism. Because of the wide and far reach of television, he became an example of what a film critic does for too many people. And what he did simply was not criticism. It was simply blather. And it was a kind of purposefully dishonest enthusiasm for product, not real criticism at all…I think he does NOT have the training. I think he simply had the position. I think he does NOT have the training. I’VE got the training. And frankly, I don’t care how that sounds, but the fact is, I’ve got the training. I’m a pedigreed film critic. I’ve studied it. I know it. And I know many other people who’ve studied it as well, studied it seriously. Ebert just simply happened to have the job. And he’s had the job for a long time. He does not have the foundation. He simply got the job. And if you’ve ever seen any of his shows, and ever watched his shows on at least a two-week basis, then you surely saw how he would review, let’s say, eight movies a week and every week liked probably six of them. And that is just simply inherently dishonest. That’s what’s called being a shill. And it’s a tragic thing that that became the example of what a film critic does for too many people. Often he wasn’t practicing criticism at all. Often he would point out gaffes or mistakes in continuity. That’s not criticism. That’s really a pea-brained kind of fan gibberish.
It’s a stinging rebuke of Ebert, and while it’s absolute bullshit, it’s not bullshit without a little merit. It’s true: Ebert probably didn’t have the formal education, although 30-40 years of on-the-job training probably made him every bit the expert he is now. But I agree: Ebert’s television show was largely responsible for reducing film criticism to an up or down vote, and conditioned some folks to ignore the substance of a review and head straight for the letter grade, the number rating, or the thumb direction (that’s why we don’t provide such things). But then again, White represents that other extreme: With White, it’s not about the movie at all; it’s about the criticism. And if you reduce the movie-watching experience to an exhaustive, intellectual experience, then you’re kind of sapping the joy out of watching movies. In my opinion — and you’re certainly free to disagree and probably will — Transformers 2 didn’t deserve an intellectual examination of its “pop culture, industrial experience,” as White offered; it deserved Michael Bay penis jokes. Christopher Nolan films deserve thoughtful and smart reviews; Martin Lawrence deserves gimmick reviews. A review for a brilliant movie should complement the film; a review for a shitty one should stand on its own, because nobody is going to see that goddamn movie anyway.
At least that’s my philosophy. But then again, I had no formal training, either. Unless you count Professor Rykman’s property class, where we spent four weeks dissecting a two-page case (that’ll sharpen one’s analytical skills, at least).
Ebert’s not the best critic; he’s not the smartest dude in a room. But he did put a face on film criticism; he pulled it out of academia, and out of the New York Times, and — along with Pauline Kael — he brought it to the mainstream so dumbasses like me could make penis jokes. Armond White is a douchebag for not respecting the fact, were it not for Ebert, that the New York Press probably wouldn’t even exist.
And on a sidenote: Speaking of Internet trolls, we’ve had a few here of late (Rusty beautifully addressed the situation last night). It’s the price of doing business on the Internet, I suppose. And thankfully, we’re not overwhelmed by them, and most of the other regular commenters do good to ignore them, except for Pookie, whose schizophrenic ramblings have become weirdly endearing. But for the trollers among you: I don’t care if you want to criticize the site. I’ll put up with it. I’ll listen to it. And some of it I may even take to heart. But do me a favor, OK. Use one fucking commenter handle. Be consistent. Don’t be a cowardly douchebag and hide behind three or four different aliases. You’re already anonymous; you don’t need to splinter your anonymity. Grow a pair. I’m not going to ban you for talking shit. But I will if you use four different names to do so. (Or, at least, I’ll try). If you’re going to be a douchebag, be one douchebag, not four. Asshole(s).