Armond White is an American film critic whose writing, whilst often erudite and perceptive, is shot through with a strain of aggressive contrarianism that can make people murderous. His refusal to fall in line with critical consensus winds up a lot of people, but especially the kind of folk who get very angry that someone has “ruined” Avatar or The Dark Knight’s score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. Flicking through his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes reveals pearls of genius, which spit in the face of accepted wisdom:
On Resident Evil: Afterlife:
“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 on every level.”
But he had this to say about There Will Be Blood
“‘No!’ is the first word spoken in There Will Be Blood, and it should be the last said in response to Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest pretend epic.”
And this about Jackass 3D:
“Steve O’s Super Cocktail Bungee routine in a feces-filled port-a-john utilizes distance and trajectory in a way that recalls the great waterslide joke in Norbit (and should help rehabilitate that wonderful film’s unfair reputation).”
Some have argued that his approach is calculated; that he waits to see which way the wind is blowing amongst critics around a forth-coming feature then bravely strike out in the opposite direction. Looking through his reviews it would seem he agrees with critical consensus sometimes and even if it is the case he is being deliberately provocative, would that be such a bad thing? What is the point of criticism if it doesn’t inspire debate or invite you to reconsider your own opinions and assumptions? Reading through his reviews of recent films it is hard to say he is being deliberately disingenuous , even when he slates films I have loved such as Amour and Django Unchained his opinions encourage reflection that praise may not.
White’s approach to criticism is so divisive his Wikipedia entry has a whole section devoted to criticism of his criticism, there is a whole other section devoted to the various critics and filmmakers he has annoyed. Which isn’t really surprising when he has called for the retroactive abortion of certain mumblecore auteurs. Pulitzer prize winning American film critic Roger Ebert has gone so far as to label White a troll, declaring:
“It is baffling to me that a critic could praise Transformers 2 but not Synecdoche, NY. Or Death Race but not There Will Be Blood. I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll; a smart and knowing one, but a troll.”
Is it really baffling though? I’m sure you could find hundreds if not millions of people who would take Transformers 2 over Synecdoche NY: if there is anyone who needs trolling it’s a critic who has forgotten they are only dealing in opinion. To paraphrase the rap in one of White’s heroes’ most iconic songs wouldn’t you rather hear both sides of the tale?
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