The Film Pitt

Byron Pitt lives and breathes cinema, displaying a rare and sometimes explosive passion for the silver screen - often with unpredictable results. GeekPlanetOnline is proud to present a movies column from the self-confessed “film drunk”; a man who once yelled at an entire cinema for laughing at Johnny English

For the last week and a bit the hills have been alive with the sound of Potter tweets. For a decade the franchise has delighted many a book reader and film goer alike. This week has the last entry winging its way to cinemas to much acclaim. The buzz has been good, the retrospectives plenty and despite not being a massive fan (although I’ve softened to the later films slightly) it’s quite a pleasant end to a franchise that many have enjoyed and grown up with.

Oh... but Armond White has seen it also.

For those who don’t know, Armond White is a reviewer for the New York Press (amongst others) whose reviews have been considered... contrary to say the least. Much has been said about his delivery of Toy Story 3’s first negative review last year on Rotten Tomatoes (he slammed its branding and product placement, and called fans non-thinking suckers) while highly rating films like Transformers 2 (you know, the film based on the toyline) as brilliant (Bay is considered a real visionary in the first paragraph). I won’t state too much of the past here and have provided the links for your pleasure.

It’s been a bit quiet on the Armond Front. I have not seen the usual outrage that stems from film fans about him. I’m guessing that this year, for the most part, his usually outspoken reviews have fallen in line with everyone else. However it seems with Harry Potter going out to stud for Warner Bros, White has decided to take no prisoners.

White bashes director David Yates as a director with no talent and considers the Potter franchise to be:

“Unintelligible fantasy epics that people went to out of consumerist habit and left unable to recount or fondly recall”

He describes The Lord of the Rings films similarly.

Although sometimes his work is an intriguing read, often sounding like a biased and arrogant oaf, it’s safe to say that sometimes, it seems that White just likes to rile people, and his review of the final Harry Potter film seems no different. Once again a review like this will quickly get the mini-muggles on their soapboxes casting poisonous hexes on his colon (one stupid comment I saw was “I hope you die of aids and cancer while suffering from alzheimers”).

Like I said before, I’m not a Potter fan but I still often question White. I have no problem with a critic disliking a film, but my issue with Armond has always been the way his opinion seems to pop up nearly every time something of any popularity or likability rears its head. There’s also an air of hypocrisy with the guy.

A quick web glance has White lambasting other critics for arrogant behaviour while insulting audiences, adults and children alike, for even thinking that they could enjoy Toy Story 3. It’s also interesting seeing White’s reaction when Roger Ebert called him a troll.

“"The guy has won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism" "Criticizing colleagues is not what we do.”

A fair point. You shouldn’t criticise colleagues right? So why Is White allowed to call the state of film criticism “intellectual anarchy” or call Village voice critic J Hoberman "pathetic", "despotic", "traitorous", "racist" and "the scoundrel-czar of contemporary film criticism"? Why is he also allowed to call Hoberman's associates in the film community as "brown shirts", "fascists", and "backwards children"? (Same article). He may have reasons behind his insults but it seems Ebert’s troll statement is slight in comparison. Ebert also stated that he reacted in poor judgement; I’ve never heard anything like that come from White, no matter what he says about anyone, and I doubt I ever will.

Such frustration flows through his film writing for me. White makes a point in his Potter review that:

“It doesn't help that audiences are so accustomed to TV banality that they no longer watch or read movies visually; they simply follow dialogue and extol the CGI.”

But it’s hard to have that review ring true when his glowing review of Transformers 2 seems to forget all the CGI and simplistic A to B dialogue within that movie. Needless extended transformations that rotate round and do nothing for visual storytelling other than to once again state a robot is transforming. I’m surprised he sees so much in a film whose fans defend it for being all about the action and CGI and nothing else? I’m sure it almost creates a paradox. I’m also intrigued to know how he found poetry and meaning with TF2’s haphazard and schizophrenic editing. But I’m falling into level upon level of subjectivity that I’m already trying to scramble out of.

But then with that said, how about the racism he found within District 9 or the stereotypes within Precious? Yet he had no problems with Norbit, Dance Flick and Transformers 2...and 1 and 3 for that matter.

Although he is thoroughly knowledgeable in his field and often carries interesting points (he has stated that criticism is still one of the only things providing space between the audience and marketing, and I agree), far too often White’s writings reek of elitism, arrogance and bullying. Far too often in his reviews of more favoured films - both commercial and critical, you’ll see him taking nagging pot shots at those who may generally like what they like, or at the personal grudges that have had him barred from screenings of certain directors' work. He often displays the type of macho posturing that you see in internet commentators on those online film sites he dislikes so much. Although he does have a point that such sites should have writers more versed in film history.

His admiration for Spielberg is great to see in a world that now dismiss him far too quickly, however his love often comes over as bias, as I’ve never seen him truly take Speilberg to task for any film. I am a firm believer that a film is a film is a film and whatever the franchise, director, actor or otherwise, the film should still be able to go either way. Once again I seemingly doubt this as the case for White.

White is far more suited to the realms of world cinema, as his writings on that are his best and most on point. And if there is one thing I like most about White, it’s his ongoing wish to look for depth in films beyond surface level, often utilising history that other reviewers don’t. However when it comes mainstream American cinema, I often get lost in his bizarre out-of-leftfield readings, while his “better than” lists have more of a jarring quality due both to the match ups he makes and the reasons why one is better than the other.

With this however, much like so many movies that are badly received only to grow to prominence, maybe Armond’s writings will rase like a phoenix and provide a critical discourse to be followed much like Pauline Kael - but with that said more people like Harry Potter than hate it.



Note: My ramblings on Armond White a a bit dime a dozen, but then again no one is saying the same things about other non-conformists like Jonathan Rosenbaum and Ray Carney. I wonder why that is?