I’ve got, by my modest standards, a big piece now up and running. It’s an essay for RogerEbert.com. It’s a huge honor to be on Ebert’s site, which started its life just weeks before the great critic’s death and which is now edited by Matt Zoller Seitz, a critic/filmmaker whose work I’ve loved for years. Here, I defend another of my favorite critics—the difficult, perennially combative, and often incoherent Armond White. Given all those adjectives, why do I like him and feel the need to bat away some of his naysayers? *long sigh* Well, here’s a taste:
Armond White is an important, distinctive, and (okay, I’ll say it) necessary voice in film criticism. He’s no troll, and he’s one of the few critics capable of noting the inherent—and latent—racism of much of cinema and its discourse. In his writing at City Arts, Film Comment and the now-defunct City Sun and New York Press (where he wrote alongside Matt Zoller Seitz and Godfrey Cheshire), he has provided a rare black voice, and perhaps an even rarer conservative voice, to film/video commentary. White is fluent in pop culture outside of cinema, academic theory, religion and politics, and brings it all into his writing. He throws brickbats at stuff I love, sure, but I’ve got thick skin, and his provocations serve to jostle me out of received opinions and consensus feedback.
If nothing else, Armond White—like almost no one else in today’s mainstream American film criticism—makes me consider why I like what I like, and to learn to defend it against his attacks. In his essays, he points the way to classics (American and otherwise) that I might not have otherwise considered, and unearths underdog gems on a regular basis. He makes seemingly bizarre juxtapositions that, more often than not, grow to feel correct upon reflection, and that show the ways in which cinema is itself a bizarre concatenation of different modes, technologies, discourses, and genres. Just as White’s chosen art form is hybrid, so too is his criticism, and it’s odd to note how rare this trait is in film commentary.