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David Poland

By David Poland

When Armond Hits It…

I read Armond White of The New York Press every week. I rarely find myself just agreeing or disagreeing with him. My response is usually, “he’s so right and he said it better than anyone else” or “he’s completely nuts.”

This week, in reviewing Ray, I think he hit it out of the park. He’s also a little nuts, obsesing on his dislike for Michael Mann’s Ali. But in the end, while I have shortcutted it, all too often repeating, “it’s too long,” White gets to it…

“Committed to balancing chronological order with signs of personality, screenwriter James L. White avoids the bad taste and disingenuous omissions that ruined other recent black pop bios. But Charles’ extraordinary story eventually becomes mediocre when it ought to soar—or confront the contradictions of the music biz (remember Little Richards’ appearance at the end of the Frankie Lymon flick). White relies on the hoariest bio-pic clichés to depict the gestation of Ray’s artistic highpoints (such as the inspired recording of “I Got a Woman,” “Hit the Road, Jack,” “What Kind of Man Are You?” and the Modern Sounds of Country and Western album). This reduces Charles’ art to a consequence of mundane events (Ray’s lover’s quarrel with his women) or as a mere gesture of banal expediency. It is never acknowledged as the product of truth-telling or mysterious genius. In this sense Ray commits many of the faults of the bio-pics that preceded it. Its significance is in Taylor Hackford’s maneuvering past the genre’s many ideological obstacles. Thus, I’ve presented its negative virtues. Ray remains conscientious but unimaginative.”

Conscientious but unimaginative… ouch. But accurate.

A good movie… but it never quite dares to be great. And that is a shame, given how much real talent, from the actors to the director, is involved.

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One Response to “When Armond Hits It…”

  1. SRCputt says:

    Some people may overrate this film. Clearly Foxx is amazing. He is grat, the film is merely good — mainly because of Foxx.

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“But okay, I promise you now that if I ever retire again, I’m going to ensure that I can’t walk it back. I’ll post a series of the most disgusting, offensive, outrageous statements you can ever imagine. That way it will be impossible for me to ever be employed again. No one is going to take my calls. No one is going to want to be seen with me. Oh, it will be scorched earth. I will have torched everything. I’m going to flame out in the most legendary fashion.”
~ Steven Soderbergh

I feel strongly connected to young cinephile culture. The thing about filmmaking—and cinephilia—is that you can’t keep hanging out with your own age group as you get older. They drop off, move somewhere. You can’t put together a crew of sixty-somethings. It’s the same for cinephilia: my original set of cinephile friends are watching DVDs at home or delving into 1958 episodes of ‘Gunsmoke,’ something like that. The people who are out there tend to be young, and I happen to be doing the same thing still, so it’s natural that I move in their circles.

In terms of the filmmaking, there was a gear shift: my first movies focused on people around my age, and I followed them for three films. Until The Unspeakable Act, I was using the same actors, not because of an affinity for people at a specific age, but because of my affinity for the actors. I like to work with actors a second time, especially if I don’t feel confident casting a new film. But The Unspeakable Act was a different script, and I had to cast all new people. Even for the older roles, I couldn’t get the people I’d worked with before. But when it was over, the same thing happened: I wanted to work with Tallie again in the worst way, and I started the process all over again.

I think Rohmer did something similar around the time of Perceval and Catherine de HeilbronnHe developed new groups of people that he liked to work with. These gear shifts are natural. Even if you want to follow certain actors to the end of their life (which I kind of do) the variety of ideas that you generate makes it necessary to change. And once you’ve made the change, you’ve got all these new people around.”
~ Dan Sallitt