And by saying I love Armond White, I don't actually mean love in the dictionary sense of feeling a deep affection for the man. Oh, God no; far from that. What I actually mean, is I "love" Armond White, as in I find him to be an endless source of unintentional hilarity because of his batshit insanity. My "love" for Armond White is comparable to the "love" people share for Troll 2, or the films of Ed Wood, or waking up in the middle of the night and finding Meat Loaf licking your butthole. I'm sure many of you are already familiar with Mr. White (not the kick ass one from Reservoir Dogs), but for those who aren't, here are a few nuggets of truth about him:
- Armond White was born in New Jersey when Mother Leeds invoked the devil while giving birth to her 13th child. After he was born, he sprouted wings and flew off into the night.
- His favorite hobbies include: punting Siberian husky puppies; convincing kids at an early age that Santa doesn't exist, and even if he did, would not be obligated to provide them with gifts due to the little they contribute to society; competitive omelet making with bald eagle eggs; and smooth jazz.
- Dictates reviews to his sexual partner immediately after coitus.
- Bigfoot thinks he's a myth.
- He hates you.
- He's the film critic for The New York Press.
Admittedly, some of those bullets may have been exaggerations of the truth (Bigfoot was actually quoted as saying he would need some definitive proof), but those of us who have heard of Armond White before are very familiar with his legacy, which is one of hating everything that's good and liking everything that's bad. If you think I'm joking, take a look at just a few of the films that an overwhelming consensus has deemed excellent, except for Armond:
– The Wrestler
– The Dark Knight
– There Will Be Blood
– Michael Clayton
– Eastern Promises
– Knocked Up
– Every single Harry Potter movie
– Every single Pixar movie
I admit that just because 9 people like something, there is no guarantee the 10th will agree – I mean, come on, there's always that ONE dentist that disagrees with the other ten about Crest or Colgate or what-have-you. I've heard complaints that The Dark Knight was too long and politically heavy-handed, The Wrestler was just Mickey Rourke's life story, Eastern Promises had a maddeningly ambiguous conclusion and Knocked Up negatively depicts married life. There's nothing wrong with going against the consensus. Taste for anything, especially in an art like filmmaking, is subjective after all. The fact that we have different tastes ensures that we can escape from high-browed Michaelangelo Antonioni films with mindless Michael Bay spectacles and vice-versa. Flavor is the spice of life.
Yet, while everyone is entitled to their opinion, there is certainly something that needs to be re-evaluated or seriously worth ignoring if that opinion is so vehemently contrasted to an overwhelming consensus for reasons that seem to have little validity or have been projected onto a piece by the person expressing the opinion. For instance, here are some commonly, sometimes overwhelmingly, dumped on films to which Armond has given a ringing endorsement:
– G.I. Joe
– Transformers 2
– Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
– Little Man
– Death Race (the Paul W.S. Anderson version)
– Transporter 3
– Jonah Hex
– Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
– Land of the Lost
Some of those, such as Transformers 2, he passionately supports as the well-executed example of a failed attempt at something similar, such as Toy Story 3. This should, and probably does, strike many of you as sheer lunacy, like looking at blue and calling it yellow or seeing a dog and calling it a grandfather clock. The difference there, of course, is that it's been proven that a dog is NOT a grandfather clock and that certain people have physiological deficiencies that don't allow them to recognize yellow as yellow and blue as blue. I believe that Armond White knows that a dog could never keep time and calls it a clock anyway. He does not do this out of stupidity or ignorance – if you read any of his reviews you would see that he is in fact a very intelligent, well-read and cultured man – but because he knows exactly what buttons to push to upset people. That's why I "love" Armond White – he's a genius when it comes to outrage, a scientist when it comes to a formula for making people angry. He may be the most brilliant film critic alive.
You see, when it comes to any art form – painting, music, writing – you have to know so thoroughly the medium in which you work before you can subvert it. Jean-Luc Godard once said a film has to have a beginning, middle and end – but not necessarily in that order. While that's very true, you need to first understand how those three parts establish and further a story and how you can manipulate and shatter people's expectations before you can put a climactic character death in the middle of the film as opposed to the end. Mixing things up just for the sake of mixing things up is pointless. What made the script for Memento so brilliant was that Nolan knew that telling the film backwards would more realistically simulate the physiological condition of his protagonist and turn everything we knew about a reliable narrator on its head. Pulp Fiction was brilliant because the characters went through the standard character development arc even though the film's events were chronologically out of order. Groundhog Day was a tried and true Three Act Structure despite the fact the same day repeats over and over again. Chinatown had 10 plot points as opposed to the standard 2 or 3. I could go on.
In a way, Armond White is Quentin Tarantino. He's Christopher Nolan. He's Danny Rubin. He's Robert Towne and Roman Polanski (minus his understanding that no means no). Armond White knows exactly what people expect from reviews about certain films, he knows what others will write about them and he knows he could fall in line with everybody else; he just chooses not to. Worse yet, he knows just what to say in order to elicit intensely passionate albeit reactions from readers. He is a troll amongst critics in the reactions he sparks, but he is the most succinct troll on the web today because he is so cunning at it. Even Roger Ebert, one of the most open-minded and diplomatic film critics of all time, thinks so. White doesn't try to offend his readers or personally attack them. Instead, he uses blanket statements backed up a very impressive vocabulary and an encyclopedic knowledge of film, music and literature to imply to readers, "I'm just like you are, except I think the exact opposite thing and here's why." It's a lie, of course – he's nothing like us – but because he disguises his attacks with intelligence and lucidity he is even more lethal a troll than those who overload your inbox with so much hate mail that your computer crashes or those who can track down your credit card number. He attacks the mind and he's ever so efficient at it.
This is why I think Armond White is brilliant. And this is why I "love" him.