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February 13, 2009

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S.F. Hunger

I'm always up for an Armond-bashing party, but I don't find that Nacho Libre comment particularly galling. I'm not prepared to discuss its "spiritual" content, but Nacho Libre isn't bad at all if you're into Jared Hess's whole white-trash Wes Anderson thing. It's the kind of movie that I almost love Armond for championing, even in such wholly inappropriate places as Bunuel DVD reviews. But yeah, what's up with the crappy formatting? My god, can you imagine if Armond starts blogging?

Adam R.

What's even more typical/infuriating in his piece is the lazy swipe at Lynch, who apparently "started" at a 1962 Bunuel film but never surpassed it...whatever that might mean. Back to the drawing board for you 30+ years of visionary film-making.

I challenge White to write a positive review that doesn't waste half its bloated time bashing another film. A good example of this destructive tendency: his carping Coraline review, which he claims has arrived to "expose Wall-E". This juvenile need to see one film as a corrective - to anti-humanism, hipsterism, liberal self-regard, White's demented Norbit-pushin' canon-making, etc. - is inane beyond belief.

What's ultimately sad about his would-be praise of Bunuel (which I believe - like D. Thomson, he's always strongest when considering the past) is that apparently he sees the highest achievement of the new Bunuel releases as occasions for a reappraisal of Nacho Libre. The director of Belle de Jour would be thrilled, for sure.

Though, to be fair, his recent review of Terence Davies' wonderful Of Time and The City stirred me. It can't help itself with a couple of swipes at Benjamin Button and James Benning, but for the most part it's just simple insight, useful historical comparison and appreciation. You know, proper criticism.

(Oh, and I really disliked Stellet Licht - not because of anything to do with its "spiritual content", but because it feels like a facsimile art film, ponderous without aim. And I haven't read a piece of criticism yet that'll convince me the end is anything other than a shameless bit of Dreyer appropriation.)

Glenn Kenny

S.F. Hunger, it's not about how I, or anybody else, feel about "Nacho Libre," which I thought had its cute moments—more what Adam said: "He sees the highest achievement of the new Bunuel releases as occasions for a reappraisal of 'Nacho Libre.'" It's as if the films themselves have no interest except insofar as they can help make his case for the stupidity of other critics. Which he doesn't do, in any event.

Steven Santos

Another ridiculous Armond White piece?! I'm schoked!

Although I haven't seen the movies mentioned (the Bunuel movies going on my Netflix queue right now), this contains also one of my major annoyances with American critics in general. That is the mindset of "Hey, this movie was Mexican, so let's compare it to another Mexican movie even if they have absolutely nothing to do with each other!"

This basically applies to critiquing all directors who aren't white, as if "Nacho Libre" and "Stellen Licht" were in competition for Most Spiritual Movie South of the Border. Really, what does White think these movies have to do with one another outside of taking place "over there"? I await his comparison of "Killer of Sheep" to "Norbit".

Also, it is rare to see a White piece that doesn't have spelling errors and factual mistakes (that he often bases his conclusions on). On a few occasions, his random listing of movies he hates will contain movies he previously praised. He tends to turn on films he originally liked that were embraced by too many critics. Armond cares about little except proving other critics unworthy of licking his boots.

It is probably more important to criticize White than the many lapdog critics out there because, for some reason, people take him seriously, although he is a poor writer and his critical thinking is sloppy at best and an insult to one's intelligence at worst.

Steven Santos

Actually, it should read "This basically applies to critiquing all directors who aren't white and films with characters who aren't white..."

Matt Miller

"Also, it is rare to see a White piece that doesn't have spelling errors and factual mistakes (that he often bases his conclusions on)."

The aforementioned "Coraline" review is a great example of this. A quote from the end of his review:

"Selick doesn’t explain who makes the credit sequence doll which would enhance Coraline’s obsession with button eyes—Twilight Zone symbolism as shocking as Wybie losing his ability to speak."

This reveals such a shocking inability to either a) read basic narrative cues, or b) simply pay attention that I'm amazed (yet again) that anybody pays White money.

Dan

Must...not...make..."schoking the chicken"...pun!

Oh, also, Criterion was considerate enough to put "Simon of the Desert" and "The Exterminating Angel" out a month or so before my birthday, so I can drop heavy, heavy, hints. Do you think leaving the covers as the background on various computers is too obvious?

Ryland Walker Knight

Nacho Libre made me hate life a bit. Or, I was angry the entire running time. I never plan on revisiting it as it's been a while since a movie has done that to me, or since I've let a movie do that to me. Yes, I feel stronger now. No, it's still not worth it. IN fact, it's not worth this pithy bit of hate...

Scott Collette

I look forward to Criterion releasing The Criminal Life of Archibaldo De La Cruz so that I can read Armond's reappraisal of Mr. Brooks.

MovieMan0283

Well, a more appropriate target of your wrath, to be sure. I enjoyed reading White about 6 years ago, when I first discovered him, and was delighted to see someone taking swipes at Mystic River and other too-easily-let-off-the-hook capital-M modern "masterpieces". But slowly I began to realize that was all he was good for.

Oh, I think he could write excellent criticism if he wanted to. But at this point he's descended to a point below self-parody (he reached that point years ago and kept on going...). You could easily program a not-all-that-sophisticated phrase generator to spew out White reviews and no one would know the difference.

At least he's reverant towards the classics, though this only makes his contemporary polemicizing more transparent.

That said, he sure is amusing to read, isn't he (in small doses, few and far between, of course, before the self-consciousness-induced migraines begin...)

Steven Santos

Since this is relevant to the discussion, here is a link to what I feel is a tongue-bathing of Mr. White courtesy of New York magazine (complete with Glenn Kenny mention):

http://nymag.com/movies/profiles/54318/

As I said above, it's important to criticize Armond White because we get articles like this that portray him as a admirable crank, as opposed to addressing seriously the many issues some of us have with his writing and logic.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks for the tip, Steven. I think writer Mark Jacobson—actually an idol of mine for a long time, and one of my co-stars in "The Girlfriend Experience"—brings a bit of underhanded irony to the piece. But still—White's recent review of "Gomorra," besides being as big a piece of pig-ignorance as I've ever seen reproduced in a supposedly professional publication, is so thoroughly repugnant that it compels me to categorize White as not just a lazy, incoherent thinker, but as a disgustingly self-satisfied—there really is no other word for it—scumbag. Which categorization he and any of his apologists ought to feel free to place in their pipes and smoke. Not to sound, you know, "touchy" or anything.

Steven Santos

Calling it a tongue-bathing was exaggerating a bit on my part. I'm perhaps reading the piece with the questions I would have loved to pose to White if he actually wanted to ever have a genuine discussion, which, let's face it, wouldn't ever happen anyway.

I won't call White a scumbag though, but I haven't met him or been the subject of his attacks, so I would say you have a right to be "touchy".

Glenn Kenny

Steven—I don't use the word "scumbag" lightly, and my conclusion has nothing to do with any interactions between myself and Mr. White, so allow me to clarify. Here's White's review of "Gomorrah" (yclept "Gomorra") :

http://www.nypress.com/article-19391-more-mob-mentality-gomorrah.html

Now if White doesn't care for the film, that's his privilege. Where it gets to me is where he dismisses the picture as "fashionable." This picture was made at great personal risk by its director, cast, and crew. The author of the non-fiction book on which it is based is still under 24-hour police protection. And yet White presents the film to his readers as the work of film-festival ass-kissing dilletantes. Is White in ignorance of the facts? Or is he just ignoring them, the better to make his pathetically resentment-stoked case? Either way, to my mind, the "equals" sign leads to only one conclusion. Scumbag.

Steven Santos

Understood. I haven't seen the movie yet or delved into too many reviews, but was aware of the author being under 24 hour protection. Now having read Armond's review (with teeth clenched), he makes it sound like a bunch of hack filmmakers ripping off Goodfellas and Scarface to get into festivals, as opposed to a movie that was based on reportage and research.

You do bring up one of my main issues with White. His, I believe, willful ignorance of facts to make his case. It's not about whether I agree with him or not, but it's that I think he's dishonest in presenting his arguments, often misrepresenting what isn't up for interpretation to fit whatever he needs to rail against in a given week which can range from festival programmers to hipsters to nihilists.

His apologists often ignore this dishonesty when I think the contrarian viewpoint needs to be challenged as much as the majority viewpoint. Going against the grain doesn't automatically give one's argument substance.

Scott Lemieux

Yeah, I was actually going to post a quasi defense of White for at least being a sometimes entertaining contrarian. But then I checked over and read his "Gomorra" review...wow. It's not just that he makes the true-but-trvial claim that it's not as good as GF1/II, but 1)he throws in GF III, 2)seems to argue that every mafia movie should have the same theme and be shot and the same style as Coppola's movies (I know that seems like a joke, but really), and as the coup de gras compares "The Wire" unfavorably to..."State Property." No, I'm serious.

Other recent reviews include praise for Confessions of a Shopoholic and the hacktacular Luc Besson. So, er, carry on.

Scott Lemieux

BTW, was Mark Jacobson once the music critic for Esquire, or is that another guy?

John M

Glenn, Angrond White aside, what did you think of Gomorrah?

Just curious.

Glenn Kenny

@Scott: I believe it was the same M.J. Who didn't do a bad job. Had a real expertise in R&B, if I recall correctly.

@John M: I thought "Gomorrah" was very strong indeed. Here's what I wrote about it at Cannes:

'Balzac is often misquoted to the effect that "behind every great fortune there is a great crime." I thought of that idea during the end texts of Gomorra, director/cowriter Matteo Garrone's film of Roberto Saviano's explosive expose of Naples organized crime. The film's title is a play on Camorra, which is the name of said organized crime apparatus—this isn't the Mafia—and after the film's action concludes, those end texts lay out a body count of Camorra's murders, some statistics on the rise in the cancer rate in areas where the Camorra does illegal toxic waste disposal, and other pertinent facts, before dryly concluding, "The Camorra have also invested in the rebuilding of the Twin Towers in New York."

Garrone, who employed five other screenwriters (including Saviano, whose book touched such a nerve that he was placed under police protection) to bring Gomorra to the screen, smartly and deftly distills the tendrils of the book into five tight, compelling, narratives. A couple of knuckleheads find a stash of Camorra weaponry in a sty and start a spree of their own with disastrous results; a teen mob wannabe gets his hazing and is soon forced to betray a loved one; an old school bagman finds himself ill-adapted to cope with a new factional war; an aimless young man (based on Saviano's character in the book) hooks up with a Camorra entrepreneur who's expanding his toxic waste interests; and a master tailor in Naples haute-couture-creating quasi-sweatshop underground gets himself into a fix for tutoring at a Chinese-run "factory."

Garrone intercuts between these tales, shooting in what initially feels like a documentary fashion; lots of handheld, no fancy lighting, camera pans between characters in dialogue scenes. It's only in memory that the artfulness of so many of the film's compositions—the depictions of the labyrinths of the crummy housing projects, the claustrophobic order of the Chinese "factory"—registers. The imagery, including, of course, frequent bouts of violence, is both banal and shattering. These mobsters aren't flashy, larger-than-life characters of the "Jimmy 'The Gent'" or "Nicky 'Two Times'" variety; scrupulously eschewing sensationalism, Gomorra shows a charmless, down-and-dirty, ruthlessly capitalistic organization where all but the worst are always busting their backs and the good times are few (and often cost, dearly). The movie's overt yoking of capitalism to criminality boasts the advantage of having a preponderance of facts on its side; one delights in imagining the fulminations of protest this picture might inspire in a glib Randroid free-market cheerleader like Megan McArdle. Its particular social conscience aside, this is an instant genre classic that I dearly hope sees American distribution. '

Nick

I have thought for a while now that the key to understanding Armond White is to realize that he is not really a film critic. He is a bilious, bellicose, right-winger masquerading as a film critic. White's prefernces for films are, to me, largely explained by the extent to which they uphold or promulgate Victorian values and gender roles: honor, duty and sacrifice for the men; virtue, healing and steadfastness for the women, all colored by service to a Supreme Being. The filmic pleasures or accomplishments of a movie are largely besides the point for him. He's making political judgements, not cinematic ones. That's why he likes Spielberg so much. Spielberg endows innocents - often children - with his favorite qualities and Armond White goes nuts. He and I agree about the brilliance of one movie in particular - The Conformist - but it fits the pattern, despite the fact that it was made by a leftist (maybe even a Communist). The Jean-Louis Triginant character allows his true love (Dominique Sanda) to be killed to save his own skin rather than risking his life for her as an honorable man would do. Very British public school outlook on the filmmaker's part, so White approves. The New York Press has been a haven for smug reactionary crackpots for two decades and White is just one more.

John M

Thanks, Glenn, for the review.

I couldn't fall completely for it, and I'm still trying to figure out why--I"ve been scouring reviews, good and bad, and nothing's convincing me either way. (White's review has almost zero to do with the movie I saw.)

The multiple strands--always a risk--never fully cohered for me. Well-directed for sure, but it had the anecdotal feeling of a good piece of non-fiction...just maybe not a piece of fiction, or art. (I feel sometimes that I've completely given my will to the Narrative gods.)

thornwell jacobs

You should at least try to spell Buñuel's name correctly. If you don't put the ñ it doesn't really make any sense and shows how sloppy you are.

Glenn Kenny

Mr. Jacobs, I haven't the foggiest idea of what you're talking about. Also, didn't you die in 1956?

Joking aside, thank you for nudging me into exploring KeyViewer a little more ardently than I had done prior to this. Such an error won't happen again.

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