Join us or die! A (reluctant) defence of Armond White.

Join us or die! A (reluctant) defence of Armond White. By Simon Miraudo.

Did you know that it is actually both illegal and immoral to criticise Toy Story 3? Well, it is. So if you don’t end up liking the film, you better keep schtum lest you and your opinion be thrown into the online bonfire – something New York critic Armond White is surely used to by now. White – the hilariously contrarian film critic for the NY Press – posted the first negative review for Toy Story 3, ruining its perfect 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and thus irrefutably proving that the film is not the greatest thing to be forged by man since the advent of fire.

If you’re not familiar with Armond White’s work, he is famously derided as one of the foremost rabble-rousers of the film-writing community. He rarely agrees with the critical masses (if we can assume that Tomatometers reflect “the critical masses”) and he compares films by way of a connection that no reasonable person would make (TS3 was compared unfavourably to Jonah Hex, Transformers 2 and Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan). Director Noah Baumbach allegedly had his publicist ban White from a screening of his latest film, only to have an invite extended to him after the story stirred controversy online. White, obviously, gave Baumbach’s film a poor review. Even Roger Ebert thinks he’s a “troll”. Basically, look up any critically beloved film from the past few years on Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll find their almost-perfect Tomatometer BESMIRCHED by one lone dissenter – Mr. White.

Anyway, that’s the stereotypical depiction of White these days. Having spent the better part of the past few years raising the ire of fanboys and bloggers, he now takes on a sort-of larger-than-life supervillainy persona. And how dare he drip his evil, critic-y goo all over the pure-at-heart Toy Story franchise?! So many have taken to White’s online forum with the decorum that internet commenters display all over the web. They want White sacked. Sigh. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I’m on White’s side.

Now, I don’t share his opinion on Toy Story 3 (I loved it, obviously), but his criticisms against the film are not totally unfounded. Having scoured through White’s back catalogue of reviews, I have concluded that I disagree fiercely with many of his opinions. It’s not just a simple case of “I love Up in the Air and he hates it”. His definition of ‘a good movie’ seems to exist on a whole different plane to my own. He thinks The Ugly Truth sinks to “Apatow depths” (!) and calls Michael Bay “a real visionary”.

But you know what? When 200+ critics claim that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a noisy, messy failure, it’s essential to have one person (at least) scream out in its defence. And I’m not talking about the lazy fanboy “it has explosions!” or “you’re think too much!” defence. White, whether you agree with him or not, explains in a thoughtful, erudite and passionate manner why he feels the way he does. And I can only respect him for that. But not the online masses. They want consensus. They want that ripe 100% Tomatometer … or else.

I’m a fan of Rotten Tomatoes, but only as a gauge of the critical community’s stance on a film. I just happen to be one of those film nerds who is as fascinated by the climate of art and criticism as the criticism itself. That being said, a Tomatometer is not indicative of a good or bad movie. Even if Toy Story 3 had held onto its perfect score (it has since received two more negative reviews post-White), would that make it a “perfect” film? Would it be the best reviewed movie of all time? As Matt Singer of IFC puts it so wonderfully, “a) could [that] be accurately measured and b) would [that] mean anything even if it could actually be ascertained.”

The goal of film criticism should never be to rally a consensus together. The reason we, or at least I, love to write reviews and articles such as these is for the conversation. To argue why a film is important, or why a film is trash. Not to strong-arm anyone into agreeing with me. And should we convince someone to not spend $15 on a ticket for Sex and the City 2 in the meantime, well, that’s just a bonus.

No critic, and no amount of criticism, can define a film as objectively perfect. There is no criteria for a perfect film, so stop looking for it. There will only ever be films you love – perhaps irrationally, in the face of flaws. In the end, these will be your perfect films. When the sum is greater than its parts. If you love TS3, or if you think it’s perfect, not Armond White’s review, nor anyone else’s opinion should sway you on the matter. But that does not make Armond White wrong. All a film critic can do, like any viewer, is feel a certain way towards a film, be truthful about their feelings and explain them thoughtfully. I’m not even sure the “truthful” part is essential.

As anyone who has ever been on a debate team knows, sometimes you have to argue for something you don’t fully believe in. Why? Because damn it, there is no “objective truth” out there. It’s the argument and the discussion that matters most. Maybe Toy Story 3 is Armond White’s favourite film of all time. Maybe he is being contrarian just for the sake of it. But maybe he feels that all voices shouting the same thing at the same time is … kind-of boring. As with any of the controversial subjects of our time – abortion, capital punishment, the Lost finale – we as a society are unlikely to ever reach an agreement. But as long as the argument is alive, we know that we’re still human. Still thinking, processing, debating. Mr. White, in the far-less controversial but equally incendiary world of film criticism, is doing his part.

Discuss: The above.

2 Responses to “Join us or die! A (reluctant) defence of Armond White.”

  1. Even if Armond White does represent a part of film criticism that we need, it's a shame he has to be the one to do it. Looking at his review, it's clear that he doesn't have a good handle on what's happening in the film. "The toys wage battle with the daycare center’s cynical veteran cast-offs: Hamm the Piggy Bank pig, Lotsa Hugs and Big Baby." Now, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty certain that confusing Hamm, a character who has been around since 1995 and clearly one of the good guys, with Lotso's (who he repeatedly calls "Lotsa") gang is an indication of not only sloppy research, but also of the question: "did this guy even watch the movie?"

  2. Sure. And not to be the one to KEEP jumping to White's defence, but I don't think flaws such as these are exactly pertinent. I would be lying if I hadn't looked up Wikipedia to jog my memory of a film's plot points (especially something as incomprehensible as Transformers 2). Perhaps White just needs a better sub-editor. I'm more interested in the ways you might disagree with his arguments.

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