The debacle at the New York Critics Circle awards dinner, or, What do I know about anything? (The redux)

Armond White, crusader against hipster nihilism

Those unfamiliar with New York Press film critic Armond White owe themselves a stop at his profile.  White, notorious for his contrarian, strange and often needlessly venomous reviews (he called Dinner for Schmucks an “idiot film for idiots”), recently hosted the 76th annual New York Critics Circle awards dinner, where he exchanged some very public words with the likes of Darren Aronofsky and Noah Baumbach.  I will refrain from going into detail (you can follow this link for that), but the unfortunate incident did remind me of a piece I had written “back in the day” regarding my own feelings about the purpose of the film critic and film criticism itself.

The bottom line is this: No one with half a brain has ever avoided a film simply because a critic said it was no good.   Film criticism is not meant as a means to avoid “bad” films because, after all, what exactly is a “bad” film?  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and what if I just wanted to make popcorn and watch a few cars explode?  Or watch a zombies devour the flesh of their victims?

No, film criticism is, and always has been merely a means to start a dialogue.  There will always be a market for that.   A.O. Scott, who co-hosted “At the Movies” in its final season with Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, recently published an article in the New York Times regarding the very same idea:

“How can you do a movie justice in 60 seconds? You can’t, of course – or in 800 words, or in a blog post – but you can start a conversation, advance or rebut an argument, and give people who share your interest something to talk about.”

At his or her best, a critic should make you think about a film in a way you may not have on your own.

Yeah, I just blockquoted myself.  What up?

Oh Nina, if only you weren't in ethnic denial

Seriously though, I feel as though Mr. White may have forgotten himself.  I mean, regardless of how you feel about Aronofsky’s ballet themed psycho-thriller The Black Swan, I think we can all agree that White’s critique that its “ethnic denial and escape into Nina’s psychological trauma actually trivializes her artistic pursuit” should be met with a resounding “wha?”

Or how about his review of Resident Evil: Afterlife, in which he states that “if critics and fanboys weren’t suckers for simplistic nihilism and high pressure marketing, Afterlife would be universally acclaimed as a visionary feat, superior to Inception and Avatar“?  Wow.  He even condemns both Let me in for its “nihilistic indulgences” and The Dark Knight for “pandering to hip, nihilistic tendencies.”  The man hates nihilism.  Give a shit, Hollywood!

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Kevin, didn’t you just blockquote your awesome self as saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” and “What exactly is a bad film?”  Fair enough.  So I clearly don’t agree with White’s abstract, intentionally argumentative criticisms (in my humble opinion, of course).  Let’s put that aside and get back to the shenanigans he pulled at the awards ceremony, which I believe overstepped the bounds of a film critic and of pure, simple good manners.  Not liking a film is one thing, childishly throwing verbal barbs at the film’s creators in front of a live audience is quite another.

What Armond White seems to have forgotten is that a film critic is judging a piece of art created by not one, but several other people.  It is a tremendously difficult, time-consuming project.  Directors, writers, producers, actors, etc. all put their heart into their work.  Sometimes they fail, but one must always remain mindful that even the worst films have a certain passion behind them (check out interviews with the director of Troll 2 if you don’t believe me) and that should be respected.  Mocking something in the safety of your own home or amongst friends is very different than publicly calling someone out.

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