This being not an atypical attitude among members of the Film Critics Circle, White’s upcoming chairmanship figures to have its bumpy moments. (It has been pointed out that his “election” was not exactly by acclamation but rather because he was the only one who wanted the generally thankless job.) During White’s last reign, in 1994, he scheduled the awards dinner during the Sundance Film Festival, creating conflicts for some members. White defends this decision. “The circle is the oldest and most legitimate film-critic group in the country. We’re not the Dallas Film Critics Circle. If people wanted to carry water for penny-ante shit like Sundance, that’s too fucking bad. The circle comes first.”
White took a similarly purist stand when he railed against critics lobbying for free DVD screeners. “This is about the aesthetics of film reviewing,” he says. “We are obligated to see movies the way the public has to see them. If not, then become a DVD reviewer, don’t become a film critic.” Asking for product from the movie companies is a compromise of journalistic integrity, White says, declaring “the New York critics have been corrupted.” Despite his occasional soft-on-Bushism (and less-than- triumphalist celebration of Obama), it is his belief in “core values … the stuff I was brought up with” that is responsible for his reputation as “a hard-ass conservative,” White supposes—a characterization he rejects as a “smug and typical” reaction on the part of knee-jerk liberal readers and colleagues alike.
As you might imagine, self-respecting movie critics, traditionally being a touchy sort, have tired of getting called out like this. Last spring, following White’s now-infamous anti-blogger screed, Glenn Kenny, formerly of Premiere and now with his own Some Came Running site, counterattacked. In a post called “White Noise,” Kenny wrote, “White’s known for spewing bile at his peers in print, and then turning around and being quite affable to said peers in person—I’ve experienced it. And I’ve had it. So: Screw you, Armond.”
“I don’t say these things to call attention to myself or to get a rise out of people,” says White. “I say them because I believe them.”
Taking the high road, White says he has always attempted to “keep cordial relations with all critics.” Still, there have been incidents, such as one reliably eyewitnessed encounter during which White, after exchanging words with a well-known critic, asked the writer to step outside, though fisticuffs were averted. Nonetheless, White, who is about twice the size of the usual film critic and once seriously considered legally changing his byline to “The Resistance,” says the incident isn’t over with, not yet. “These people,” he says, “they don’t know who they are dealing with.”
Despite seeing as many as 400 films a year, White makes a point of keeping tabs on what the competition is doing. At a recent screening of Terence Davies’s new film, Of Time and the City, White was ticked to spy a second-string New Yorker reviewer seated a few rows behind him. This was typical of the disrespect to true cinema shown by the cultural gatekeepers, White says. Davies, director of The Long Day Closes, was a major international artist. Of Time and the City was Davies’s first film in eight years. Wasn’t that enough to get either David Denby or Anthony Lane, The New Yorker’s lead critics, to show up, or were they off handing out more mealymouthed awards for Milk?
A few nights after the Davies screening, White journeyed up to 42nd Street, where once upon a not so very long time ago, the film freak could put his feet on a sticky floor at the old Brandt Times Square theater and see a triple bill of Sergio Leone’s immortal trilogy, Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for $1.50. The in-theater entertainment was also memorable, such as on the immortal evening when, right in the middle of Enter the Dragon, yours truly heard some skell in the balcony scream, “You’re sorry? You piss on my date and you say you’re sorry?”
“Only caught the tail end of that era,” White said wistfully, as he entered the labyrinthic, decidedly unsticky AMC Empire 25 theater on the Eighth Avenue end of the Giuliani-renovated touristscape. Ostensibly, White was there to catch a screening of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a torturously unfunny comedy that would, of course, take in $32 million in its first weekend. White didn’t care about Mall Cop. After suffering through an hour, in true film-freak fashion, he left and snuck up the escalator to see Not Easily Broken, a black soap opera produced by the megachurch preacher T. D. Jakes.
In truth, despite the long-shot possibility of seeing treacle-free “positive” black characters, White wasn’t all that interested in Not Easily Broken either; it was A. O. Scott who persuaded him to go. The Times reviewer pulled what White calls “an Armond White,” i.e., he favorably compared the modest Not Easily Broken with the A-list Revolutionary Road, which Scott said “has energetically solicited the admiration of reviewers and awards-giving organizations.” To White, this was a potential infringement on his “better than” turf. As it turned out, White thought Not Easily Broken might indeed be “better than” Revolutionary Road, but they both sucked, so who cared? As for Scott, White pronounces, “Wrong again!”