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August 15, 2009

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Aaron Aradillas

Dude, fuck jazz, tell us about interviewing the Ramones. Were the guys still talking to one another? Was Joey the smart one? What were the other guys like?

Sorry, I didn't mean to break into my punk-kid mode.

I do have one question that is sorta related to this. Glenn, seeing as you state you were a proud punk-rock kid, did you have any use for disco? I mean, being half Italian, did Saturday Night Fever do anything for you? Like jazz, did it take time to appreciate disco?

Cadavra

Hey, I LOVE Maynard Ferguson! So there!

Glenn Kenny

@ Aaron A.: The Ramones were all still speaking to each other, and were very nice. Tommy was still in the band. As a 17-year-old-idiot, I actually asked the question "Where do you get the ideas for your songs?" Johnny, in immaculate Queens deadpan, said, "Oh, you know, the usual. Go to movies. Read comic books. Take long walks." Years later I got to be friendly with Joey, who was, in my experience, an absolute sweetheart. I would see Johnny at Chiller expos and he was always cool.

I actually enjoyed a good deal of the "SNF" soundtrack, particularly The Trammp's "Disco Inferno" (ten-minute version only, please). Always dug Chic, as only a complete cretin could fail to get into Nile's guitar, Bernard's bass, and Tony Thompson's drumming. Was also a hip-hop early adopter—bought a LOT of Sugar Hill 12-inches. I was totally into the fact that The Clash had Grandmaster Flash open for them. Because I was a saint, and a genius, and always had impeccable taste. Thank you for asking.

JC

Yeah, Ebert wrote a blog entry in defense of White's negative "District 9" review (even though Ebert gave it 3 Stars), before being given a history lesson on AW, and coming to the conclusion that he's little more than a "troll".

I wonder: is the head of the New York Film Critics Circle not a desirable position to have? Because I can't think of any other reason why AW, at this point in time, would be afforded such stature. Are they looking for a little more attention this year?

bill

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

Sal C.

A few years back I collected 6 months of Armond's reviews with the intention of counting the references to "morality". I don't remember the final number, but I do remember that there were only 2 reviews over the entire period (we're talking dozens of pieces) that did not reference the filmmakers "moral" stance in one way or another.

partisan

So you have a problem with Armond White. The question I have is that, since SLATE felt it necessary to run excerpts from "Critical Amnesia" in 2007, should we take Clive James seriously?

Glenn Kenny

@ partisan: You say I have a "problem" with White. Fine for you to put it that way, I guess. But when I say White can't write, I offer up some hard evidence. When I say he argues by non-sequitur, I provide evidence. When I say he's more interested in touting his own moral and aesthetic superiority to his colleagues than he is to actually illuminating art, I provide evidence. So what's my "problem," exactly?

As for Clive James in relation to Slate, well, I'm no fan of the "e-zine," and I'm certainly no fan of Jacob Weisberg, the James champion who published chunks of what became "Cultural Amnesia" in Slate. But James is an impeccable writer who does his homework and is often very funny. None of that can be said of White. I don't think that White aspires to be James in any event. I think he would rather be Malcolm Muggeridge. But he hasn't got the talent, or the intelligence, for that either. The proof is always in the pudding, more so than the outlet, to answer your question about taking James seriously. I mean, Armond is published in Film Comment. Does that disallow every other thing ever published in Film Comment? No. Taints it a little, maybe, but doesn't delegitimize it.

@ JC: You ask, "is the head of the New York FIlm Critics Circle not a desirable position to have?" Well, yes and no. The post sure SOUNDS good, but it comes with a lot of administrative and clerical duties that are huge pains in the ass. I could name at least two folks who were brought into the circle and immediately placed in the president's position because nobody else could be arsed to do the work it required—a rather classic bait-and-switch honorarium! Armond, of course, loves the position, because he fancies it gives him power. Power he exercised, as Mark Jacobson's New York magazine profile chronicled, to prevent many New York film critics from attending the Sundance Film Festival one year. Because that's the kind of spiteful child he really is. "They don't know who they're dealing with," indeed.

Earthworm Jim

Not disputing any of your points about Armond, but I think there are certain reviews, when he chills the fuck out and just grooves on a movie he likes without any unwarranted attacks on other critics or other films, that make him almost valuable. Granted, this is (increasingly) rare. As an example I'd submit his rather lovely defense of Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind." Aside from a brief swipe at Todd Haynes, none of White's usual anger is present.

"The surprisingly nostalgic sight of VHS boxes is the most poignant thing in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind," White begins. "It’s like the closetful of stacked-away board games in The Royal Tenenbaums: the detritus of our youth or of once-shared passions." He continues, "Mike and Jerry are Slackers N the Hood. Mos Def’s squirrelly voice barely admits rage or ambition (“What the duck!” is his harshest retort). Jack Black makes Jerry’s mania benign; a habitué of a junkyard paradise, he embodies Gondry’s visionary side. This duo progresses from manchild and freak to primitive artists when they eventually make a Sweded biography of local hero Fats Waller...they discover that one’s relationship to art—as maker or consumer—is best when personal." And he nails the dismount: "Their Sweded movies contain such visionary enchantment—the visual wit that made Gondry a music video wunderkind—that you often can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. Gondry toys with real and fake, past and present, old and new. Be Kind Rewind explores the meaning of originality, but it’s also a fable about art and social change."

Call me crazy, but that reads like a nice little movie review to me. Of course, one could argue that it's merely the exception that proves the rule. But I'd like to think it's the real Armond, and the other stuff is a heavy-duty shell he's encased himself in as his petulant teenager tendencies have overtaken him. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

Glenn Kenny

@ Earthworm Jim: I like your citation, and I'm at a loss to counter it. As you may suspect, this is the kind of response I'd hoped for—some hard evidence against my own. It doesn't turn me completely around, but it does force me to consider the notion that A.W. may constitute some kind of paradox. This is what arguments are for. Thanks!

Joel

I guess I agree with Earthworm Jim. Armond's biggest crime is being a dick to other movie critics, which he certainly is. Since I'm not a movie critic, I don't get terribly upset. When he likes a movie, he makes a pretty convincing case. And why not focus on morality? When I like a film, I also tend to approve of a director's moral point of view, something that is often indistinguishable from that director's cinematic vocabulary. Just because I think that A Christmas Tale was last year's best film, or I'm Not There the best film of 2007 (thereby putting me firmly in the camp of Armond's hipster enemies) does not mean that I disagree with him on some fundamental level. Why the focus on Armond White here and elsewhere in the blogospehere, to the point where he is cited not only in the blog's subtitle but also on a weekly basis in that Auteurs column? He's not writing for The New York Times. And he's definitely more educated about film than Glenn was about trad jazz in the above anecdote. As a college-kid alt-jazz obsessive, I can certainly relate (even though my ranting was confined to the 5-watt college radio show where I played 40 straight minutes of Cecil Taylor, not a college newspaper), but Armond is certainly better than some teenage punk with something to prove. My point, I guess, is that being full of shit is only a crime when you're a critic who is illiterate about the medium you criticize. For what it's worth, Armond is far from cinematically illiterate. Now I have to get back to watching Pinocchio on ABC Family. I'm drunk, and it's making me cry like a baby.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks, Joel, for reminding me to change my fucking subtitle. And since you're drunk, I won't come down too hard on you for failing to recognize that Glenn Kenny in 1977 and Armond White in 2009 are two rather different things. Enjoy "Pinocchio," it's great. And understand that I really don't have any problem with a director who has a moral perspective!

Earthworm Jim

Yes, I feel that Armond contains multitudes. His more odious traits are obvious and well-documented (by you and others), and are so odious that they may well trump any redeeming qualities. But I think it's worth digging to find the trace elements of clear-eyed (if provocative) insight and humanity.

I feel that Armond's worst hypocrisy is his putative (I picked up this word from you, Glenn) favoring of "humanism" in films while acting absolutely monstrous and misanthropic in his assessment of almost every human being besides himself. But pieces like that "Be Kind Rewind" review (see also his "My Blueberry Nights" review) hint that he may once have been human after all.

Joel

Of course, I probably should be watching it on Blu-Ray instead of waiting out these commercials, but thanks for the drunk-guy handicap. Also, I'm thankful for the nostalgia. My weirdo atonal-jazz geek phase is a great source of amusement for my wife. On one of our first dates, ten years ago, I took her to see the remaining members of the Chicago Art Ensemble. She gritted her teeth and married me anyway.

By the way, EJ's right. Armond got My Blueberry Nights in a way that few other critics did.

Earthworm Jim

Damn, Joel, it still breaks my heart that so many blinkered critics dismissed My Blueberry Nights. I think it was a case of reverse racism...or maybe just regular racism...or something. If Wong had released the same film with Chinese actors speaking Chinese dialogue, it would've been as much a critical hit as his previous films, is what I'm saying. However, Armond wasn't the only critic who got it: his former NY Press colleague Matt Zoller Seitz, who I like to think of as the light-magic Armond, wrote a stunning, glowing review for The House Next Door that I'm too lazy to link to presently. It began with the line "Wong Kar-wai's films aren't just intoxicating; they're intoxicated." Despite my defense of Armond in this thread, it does rather break my heart that Seitz is retired and Armond still chugging away.

Allen Belz

Did some Googling around but couldn't find the only piece of countering evidence I can remember, a bit of semi-rapturous praise for Scritti Politti's "Cupid & Psyche 85" (and its 12-inch remixes) in the Pazz & Jop poll supplement that I remember being quite taken with way back then. Of course it helped that I loved (and still love) that album, so some confirmation bias may exist, but I don't think that's the whole of it. I did turn up a positive review of one of their (his, I mean) later albums that was nothing special but at least mostly lucid. Lemme look a little more...

Allen Belz

And yes, the fact that that little bit of writing from almost 25 years ago is the only one that comes to mind certainly says something. Back in the early '00s I impulse-plucked a collection of his writings off a library shelf and about halfway through, immersed in the (I agree, often sheer non-sequiter-ish) recesses of his mind I actually found myself wondering if this stuff was really fucking nuts as it sounded, or if the problem was me. Thankfully it didn't take too long after setting the book down for the answer to come to me, but damn.

JF

@ Earthworm Jim: I think I've picked up "putative" from here, too. Or from a recent reading of Infinite Jest. Or both.

A.W.-as-paradox sounds about right, or maybe A.W.-as-critical-manifestation-of-Heisenberg's-uncertainty-principle.

You might have offended jazz students, Glenn, but at least in your school's paper you never wrote the headline "V for Vendawesome." Unfortunately for myself, and for humanity at large, I can't say the same.

partisan

Actually, I wasn't trying to defend White or slight your criticism of him. I just wanted to discuss Clive James. I disliked the historical parts of "Cultural Amnesia," and I heard that some people were not that enthusiastic about his film criticism.

Steven Santos

I think each of us can find a moment when we happen to agree with Armond White, but, for me, it has never been about the opinion, but about how he makes his argument and, as Glenn points out, his lack of writing ability.

It may be easy to label White as someone crazy, but I just don't think he's as intellectual about film as much as he and his supporters try so hard to convince us. White gets basic facts about movies wrong that makes me wonder if he actually saw the film or was paying attention. His sentences are not well-constructed considering he's been writing for quite awhile now. And making an argument requires more than railing against other critics and using adjectives as "stupid".

White's supporters are actually upset that Ebert labeled White a "troll", but I don't remember any uproar over the many nasty potshots White took at Ebert over the years. I certainly don't mind the idea of having a contrarian critic, but why can't that person be a little more intelligent?

And can any of White's supporters explain to me why he suddenly doesn't like "The Hurt Locker" mere weeks after raving about it? Are we really to believe his opinions are his own or mere self-promotion when he consistently turns on movies he initially lauded because too many critics agreed with him?

PaulJBis

I'll admit that I haven't read much of the reactions against White, but judging from the defense that Roger Ebert wrote, I'd be inclined in principle to sympathize with Armond, since it looked as if most of the fanboys protesting were the same kind of illiterate youngsters that we were complaining about in the other thread a few days ago, the ones who think that "The dark knight" is the best movie ever made in human history, and look at you funny if you even dare to mention a movie not spoken in English.

...That is, I *would* be inclined to sympathize with Armond White, if it wasn't because of all the abundant evidence that our host and other people have gathered, as well as my own readings of him. "Before sunset" is hipster trash? "Munich" a masterpiece? Feh. As it is, I'm afraid that "a pox on both their houses" is the only possible reaction.

As for "My blueberry nights", I have the impression that american critics hated it for the same reason spanish critics love every Woody Allen movie made in the last 10 years except "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", or why british critics loved VCB but hated "Match point", or why american critics told Truffaut "you just love 'The rear window' because you're not from New York, so you don't know what Greenwich Village really looks like". When a foreign director screws up with some of those specific details that give "realness" to a place (accents, people's attitudes and behaviour, set decoration, etc.), it's very hard for those intimately familiar with the place to overlook it and try to focus on appreciating purely its aesthetical virtues.

Allen Belz

I wouldn't label him literally crazy, no. Though this doesn't entirely cover it, reading his book was more like being in a half-lucid dream, listening to someone speak in a manner that sounds like they have a point to make that truly means a great deal to them...but what that point is exactly keeps eluding you, and trying to focus in on the words a little more just brings the realization that a lot of it's just nonsense. Crazy sort of like that.

Glenn Kenny

BTW, while I have some strong reservations about "Blueberry Nights," I am absolutely NOT in the out-and-out "anti" camp. I'd hit a Blu-ray of that sucker in a minute.

lichman

If I don't defend Armond at times, the value of my t-shirts go down. C'mon Glenn.

Glenn Kenny

@ lichman: Excellent point. Hey, when do those things ship? And now that you're in L.A., you should try to get Dov Charney on board. Maybe I could convince Sasha Grey to model one...

Holy shit. I think I just had an actual IDEA...

Mh

Armond White, it seems to me could easily be described (and not unreasonably) as a fascist commentator on film. I daren't use the word critic because I don't think he is.

otherbill

Just felt the need to note that Armond White- Armond f@#$%ng White- stating in his "GI Joe" review that other critics attack films like "Transformers 2" and "GI Joe" with "inconsistent and arbitrary affectation" gave me as good a laugh as anything I've ever read.

lichman

@glenn

as of now, planning to get them in nyc when i arrive for nyff.

Glenn Kenny

@ lichman: e-mail me. As Sellers sez at the end of "Strangelove," I have a plan...

steve simels

Nice piece, as always, but two points spring immediately to mind:

White's entire raison d'etre, is, as you so accurately pointed out, is "that every other critic is a moral degenerate and an aesthetic cretin." This was a tired shtick when Tony Parsons and Julie whatsherface were doing it in the NME during the punk era, but at least they had they excuse they were on meth.

Also, if you think your Mel Lewis review is embarrassing, you should read some of the crap I wrote in the first couple of years I was at Stereo Review.

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