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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Armond Picks A Fight With The Web

I can’t say I disagree with Armond White.

Well, except for the part where he does to “the internet” and “bloggers” precisely what he claims “they” do by their nature.

The reason many of us still bother to consider what Armond White writes is because, as here, he is nothing close to insane. He’s just an old guy who doesn’t want to do the heavy lifting of distinguishing from smart conversation about films on the web and idiotic, aggressive, mostly worthless wannabe vomit.

He writes: “Attacks from bloggers—crude interlopers of a once august profession— are not about diversity of opinion. What’s at root is an undisguised rivalry. Every moviegoer with a laptop claims equal—vengeful—standing with so-called professionals.”

Well… sometimes. And in many cases, not.

There is a difference, which completely eludes Armond, between commenters at Rotten Tomatoes and many writers who toil professionally – whatever they are paid – on the web. In some cases, the RT screamers may be smarter than “real” critics. But there should be standards for professional standing as a critic of films. But the standard should not be – and is not in the NY Film Critics Circle or National Society of Film Critics, for that matter – publication by a Traditional Media outlet.

He writes: “The most important concern exceeds the critical profession; it’s the danger these changes pose to the culture in general. Ridiculing the need for mature thought and discriminating judgment diminishes film culture. Any opinion that challenges the blockbuster market gets punished. We never experience a healthy exchange of ideas. The social networking approach to criticism encourages anti-intellectual harassment and the excoriation of individual response; it may spell the end of critical habits altogether.”

Agreed.

But Armond, baby, you are so busy pissing on your potential allies in this fight and you are so prone to wildly overreaching about who is degrading your art, that you end up destroying your own authority.

“The Internet’s querulous, sarcastic backtalk should not be mistaken for intellectual debate; it’s schoolyard bickering, enmity from an otherwise voiceless mob unable to synthesize opposing points of view. What’s missing from the Internet hordes’ meanspirited griping is the learned skepticism, detachment and rationalization that are essential to intelligent cultural consumption and maintaining individual taste and choice. The late Pauline Kael’s warning, “Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising,” has gone unheeded thanks to the newly empowered nonprofessional bloggers. Now, moviewatchers—including some scared reviewers—have lost faith in journalistic criticism as a trustworthy source of information or judgment.”

Again… agreed… except for your notion of “non-professional.”

And more importantly, though I understand the aggravation of becoming a target for having a differing opinion from the majority, you are being way too hard on The Internet and not nearly tough enough on you Traditional Media brethren. Seriously. If there is a single film critic of serious Traditional Media standing who is shredding the fabric of legitimate criticism, it is Peter Travers, who is quoted on, it seems, about 50% of movies, almost invariably before the overall embargo date.

On the issue of The Social Network, Sony has paraded Travers’ wildly extravagant quotes in combination with Scott Foundas’ Film Comment quotes… which came before screenings of the film for critics. I have a lot of respect for Foundas and the very serious folks at Film Comment and NYFS. But it was not some web wildman who set the bar that made your review seem contrarian… it was your brothers in print.

As for “spoilers,” I think it’s your right to review as you like. Personally, when I write before people have a chance to see a film, I like to be as spoiler-free as possible and then, when the film is out, to engage in conversation about the details of the film. I consider it part of my gig to do both, as both conversations engage my readers and commenters differently. But the idea that any critic should feel encumbered by people not wanting to have a film “spoiled,” an indignity which we who see movies early almost never have to suffer, is silly. Just make it clear that you are going to write about whatever elements of the film you want to write about. People can come back and read you later.

On the other hand, so many “critics” make 50% or more of their reviews a rote recitation of the story of the film, which is not only not intellectually engaging, but disrespects the idea of experiencing a film for yourself. Maybe you should be screaming that any 2 or 3 paragraph run of “here’s what happens in the movie” should disqualify the author (sometimes cribbing directly off of press notes) from “professional” status.

Moreover, on the web, it is not just commenters and anyone who can afford the $20 a month to start a blog, that clog up the critical ideal. There are many feature writers who now consider themselves critics. In most cases, “Blech!” But again, what is The Standard? How do we do this? Is AO Scott qualified because he started as a book guy and not a movie guy? How many years of TV makes Richard Roeper a “real” critic? And who gets to decide? You? Me?

I can tell you, many people who like me and show respect to me, refuse to allow to consider me a “real critic.” And I have to tell you, I write more in-depth coverage of movies, exploring films in depth, than 90% of the writers you surely consider “professional.” That doesn’t mean I am the best at it or even good at it. But I engage serious discussion of current films as much as anyone out there. Doesn’t keep Glenn Kenny from thinking I’m a twit.

In any case…

The issue of reestablishing the authoritative voice in film criticism is as serious and challenging as you suggest. But you’ve picked the easy, dare I say, lazy target. Oh, that darned interweb!!!!

11 Responses to “Armond Picks A Fight With The Web”

  1. jim emerson says:

    I don’t read A—– W—- anymore, but somebody sent me this piece and I wondered: Does he read his own stuff? Nobody has done more to degrade professional criticism than he has. Nobody has made such a tiresome, snarky habit of namecalling, bullying, arrogant opinion-slinging (unaccompanied by critical analysis or observation)…

    AW writes: “We never experience a healthy exchange of ideas. The social networking approach to criticism encourages anti-intellectual harassment and the excoriation of individual response; it may spell the end of critical habits altogether.” I worry about that, too, but I would suggest, as Michael Jackson put it, that AW “take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

    P.S. Headlines like “Armond Picks A Fight With the Web” don’t help.

  2. David Poland says:

    Not sure why they don’t help, Jim.

    The point is to engage in the conversation, no? Or should we just bury it?

  3. joey says:

    The film critic is disappearing because technology and the media, forever married, have evolved and have increasingly become easier to access.,, the film critic is disappearing because he is no longer an individual but a percentage; one opinion is no longer enough and to be fair, it never was…the film critic is disappearing and Armond White’s angry struggle to stay relevant reads to me as both sad and hilarious.

    And yet sometimes amidst the tragic hilarity of his mostly horrible writing are good, interesting points that I’m glad I read. But only sometimes.

  4. joey says:

    By the way, I like the headline dave

  5. jim emerson says:

    The head that appears at the top of the browser (though not on the page itself) at the NY Press is: “Armond White takes on Rotten Tomatoes, bloggers and the rest of the Internet hoi polloi.” Isn’t that kind of mindlessly adversarial, Me vs. Them attitude exactly what AW is ostensibly complaining about? That’s what I mean. Your headline is, in fact, accurate, in that it reflects the way AW writes about himself and his many enemies/colleagues, real or imagined.

    But, yeah, it might be wiser to leave AW out of any serious discussion of critical values at this point. He’s not contributing to the conversation, he’s just finger-pointing. (Where does he cite even one example?) Paul Brunick’s piece said all that needs to be said with a careful, respectful, line-by-line analysis of AW’s “Toy Story 3″ review.

    P.S. I have a policy of not using A—– W—-‘s name, because I feel the attention is all he really wants and I don’t want to be an enabler. Same for A– C——, the blond on the right.

  6. Don R. Lewis says:

    I actually really agree with what White wrote but as Jim points out, the White article also reveals how he operates and why he bothers “reviewing” anything. It is, as anyone paying attention can see, just a somewhat brainier version of trolling. Or worse, he’s just writing to indeed fuck up the tomatometer and be a contrarian.

  7. leahnz says:

    “the social-networking approach to criticism, blah blah blah…”

    what is mr. cranky-ass-terrible-taste-pooh-pooher armond talking about, exactly? bloggers discussing a film review, or the actual film reviews by individual bloggers on their respective sites? two different beasts entirely, which he appears to conflate again and again.

    a person’s film review on their blog – however inane it may or may not be – is still an individual pursuit to be evaluated on its own terms/merits; the debate of said review in the comments forum open to the public, while perhaps by virtue of existence giving a small degree of credence to that review, is a separate entity altogether. the after-the-fact blog commentary on a review can’t be judged as part and parcel of the film critique itself, and then deemed flawed due to the shortcomings of ‘social networking’, that’s just bizarre.

    declaring obnoxious blog commentary/debate of film reviews will lead to the downfall of civilisation, or at least “discriminating” (armond-ese for ‘pretentious’ and ‘self-aggrandising’) film criticism, is rather silly.

    the rest comes from a place of fear/paranoia that the hallowed voices of professional critics in their ivory towers as appointed ‘expert-interpreters-and-opinion-as-truth-sayers’ are under threat of being drowned out by the voices of ‘the ignorant mob’. but there has always been (and likely will always be) perceived “ridicule” of the appointed intellectual taste-makers by ‘the mob’ in one form or another throughout history, this is nothing new; the difference is now with the net individual opinions can be aired in public far and wide en masse, and such a proliferation of opinion is providing a clearer (and perhaps more disturbing) snapshot of what ‘the public’ is thinking and the contempt in which they at times hold the self-proclaimed ‘judges of quality’. whether this brand of anti-intellectualism is more extreme now, or just easier to ‘hear’ because of the easy access and expression provided by the internet helping it to appear thus, is debatable.

    (clearly armond doesn’t care for the pleebs making a racket outside his window and looking down his nose at them is making him dizzy and even more persnickety)

    the real problem with the internet as far as the state of film criticism goes is that above all else the net has led to a proliferation of shitty writers. effective film criticism, as much as it involves sheer subjective interpretation and opinion relies heavily on persuasively stating one’s case and concisely relating one’s insights and examinations to the reader in a well structured, compelling manner.

    one could argue that established professional media outlets at least enforce a certain standard of the written word when it comes to expressing critical interpretation/opinion on film; so of course when a flood of people from anywhere with no required training or ‘mandate’ or oversight – and most importantly many of whom can’t write persuasively to save their lives – come diving headlong into the ‘criticism’ pool and splash about causing a din, they dilute the conversation not by virtue of the fact that they necessarily have inferior insights/opinions on the art of visual storytelling to offer, but rather that so many lack the writing skill and style to express their interpretations in a unique and satisfying way. thus their contributions seem rather unnecessary, arbitrary and meaningless (in so far as film criticism can be ‘meaningful'; interpretation of art being inherently and entirely subjective, criticism of the visual story form may be interesting and thought-provoking, but it is ultimately meaningless in that no two people view a movie the same way – each person brings their own perspective/personality/baggage to the viewing experience making it unique to them – so no critic’s perspective/experience/interpretation, no matter how well expressed, can accurately predict another viewer’s positive or negative experience — tho by the laws of serendipity interpretations and opinions can match up after the fact, which is rather cool). certainly weeding through the dirt to find the gems is difficult and time-consuming.

    but cream always rises to the top, that’s my theory. i’m not sure exactly how it applies here but it falls somewhere in the realm of ‘she’ll be right’ rather than white’s chicken little-esque attitude of ‘the sky is falling (on me)!’. rubbish. everything changes, evolves, and sorts its shit out, including the lofty ideals of film criticism, which is inherently subjective anyway. the interweb is nothing if not a great leveler/diluter, and as is inherent to nature the cream shall rise…

    (or maybe not; maybe the apocalypse of stupid really is upon us and the idiocracy is looming, but monumental ego-tripping sourpuss loon armond white appointing himself the arbiter of valid film criticism kind of makes me throw up in my mouth a little; what a clown, and unfortunately not the silent kind. i’d rather read the movie reviews on the blog of this teen girl — darn it i’ve forgotten her name and i’m not at home right now w/my favourites on which i rely and i’ve had a few tgif cocktails — whose observations and insights on theme, story, character, symbolism, performance, film-making technique, etc are rather fascinating and provocative and INSTINCTUAL, lyrically phrased and thoughtfully expressed with a maturity and wisdom far beyond her years, the insights of a ‘mere blogger’ and a teenager no less that FAR outshine any critique that monumental grumpass, contrarian and professional shit-stirrer armond white has ever written in my book. what a relentlessly negative, pompous wind bag. oh the comical irony of white of all people deeming himself the ‘spokesperson for the falling standards of film criticism’, christ on a cracker. as jim intoned above, take a good look in the mirror, mr. lemon-sucker)

    clearly i babble when i drink

  8. Keil Shults says:

    Can’t wait until Deathly Hallows Part II, when Harry finally encounters He Who Must Not Be Named, and it’s Armond White emerging from the shadows in a Norbit Crew t-shirt.

  9. anghus says:

    i don’t know who armond white is. every time i hear him mentioned it’s because he is in direct opposition to everyone else and seems to take pride in it.

    so basically he waits to hear what everyone else thinks and then takes the opposing side and screams about how everyone else ‘gets it wrong’

    sounds like your typical internet talkbacker.

  10. Keil Shults says:

    Speaking of people who disliked The Social Network, did anyone bother to read Prairie Miller’s review for it? I’d never heard of her until she became the second “critic” on Rotten Tomatoes to give SN a “rotten” rating, so I decided to read her full review. It was very poorly written, though I’m not sure if she edits her own pieces or has someone do that for her. If it’s the latter, they should be fired.

  11. Al E Ase says:

    I fear becoming the contrarian will be viewed as a quick ticket to ‘notoriety’ and we are seeing the begginning of a trend.

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