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2008.11.25

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Futura2000

I don't understand how Armond White is the Dean of NY Film Critics. Really, I don't. He's a joke to me. I don't find him to be a particularly good writer, he has no sense of humor, and his knee-jerk anti-contrarian contrarianism (or whatever it is that he's doing) is intellectually bankrupt. He thinks like Kael, sans the wit, soulfulness or joy. Dismissing Synecdoche because it fails to live up to Max Payne's CGI images is such a deliberate, transparent provocation that it makes me think White is crying out for help, much like a serial killer who leaves fingerprints all over his victims. Armond White hates movies. He is the black Dale Peck, a burnout who could do with some re-assigning. Maybe he should follow in Kael's footsteps and procure a job within the film industry. I'm sure Spielberg would gladly hire him to write corporate memos extolling the accomplishments of D.J. Caruso, who, I'm sure in White's head, is our generation's De Palma, or at least, a much better pop filmmaker than Carlos Reygadas, that pretentious Dreyer-wannabe. Because isn't that what it's all about with White? Populism? The will of the people? In his quest to squash every filmmaker who dare make a personal statement (especially Noah Baumbach, that filthy little rat), Armond White's voice in print resembles nothing so much as a curdled Teutonic shout.

Keith Uhlich

I'll take it:

My anger toward the film stems in no small part from the fact that it did not inspire reflection. I saw it at a very low point in my own existence. I'll admit, a point where my emotions were fluctuating between the stagnant and the suicidal (and these feelings related to both my existence and my art). So from that perspective, Kaufman's film seemed a flagrant misrepresentation of something I was myself going through, a reduction of experience to simplistic signifiers and a belief that depression and despondency stems only from the things in life that do us outward and immediate hurt.

As far as great movies go, I believe that even those with the most depressing subject matter contain, when all is said and done, some measure of elation. I reach the end of "Oharu," most Naruse films, "Diary of a Country Priest," "Barry Lyndon" (to name but a few "depressive" films/artists dear to me) and my soul is filled. On every level, Kaufman's film is joyless, inept even when it's intentionally trying to be. I also feel it wraps a Linus-esque comfort blanket around a certain perspective (that life is one long dirge of failure, so why even bother trying? See what it gets Caden?) that I find entirely reprehensible, that I think denies personal responsibility in effecting change in one's life (and I acknowledge that bettering oneself is difficult, increasingly so as one gets older and settles into routine - this is a constant struggle for me, and I fail and succeed in varying measure. No one ever promised me a rose garden.)

My hostility stems from other more concrete factors as well: I think Philip Seymour Hoffman has become an atrocious and predictable actor with two registers (miserabilist sad-sack and monotonal in-your-face screamer - in the even worse "The Savages" you get both, plus Laura Linney. Oy!). I think Kaufman is cruel to his actresses, good as they are, using them as the butt of clever jokes that obscure rather than illuminate their essences. I think Elmes' DP work is mediocre at best, a victim of Kaufman's inexperience behind the camera (even when meta, it comes off as just so much rigged and manufactured games-playing).

But can I have my experience of this film in concert with yours? To love what you see in it (and the laudable efforts you've gone to expressing your point-of-view) without sharing it? Yes!

Pace something you wrote to me on The House, under the link to my UGO review of "Synecdoche": You're a dear friend, and a passionate critic, and you are so very, very right on this one. As am I.

And somewhere in the space emanating from the collision of those two perspectives, we meet in solidarity.

Yours always,
Keith

Filmbrain

You know, I have such a hard time reconciling my feelings about Armond. He's intelligent, passionate, and a damn good critic when he wants to be! Yes, he's a hardcore Paulette, and that does get in the way at times, namely that he spends too much time criticizing others rather than the film itself. (Worse than that is when he declares that if you like the movie it's for the wrong reasons.)

This business with him labeling everyone who disagrees with him a "hipster" is pathetic, as are his leaps in logic, which are anything but logical. The contrarian game is getting tired, but it certainly keeps all eyes on him. His bitterly nasty piece several months ago about film criticism certainly ruffled some feathers, but there were no lasting repercussions.

I've spoken numerous times with Armond in person, and he's far different than he is on paper, which is a shame. I don't know why he acts the way he does in print -- maybe that's just the schtick that works. But name calling? Please....

Futura2000

I'm sure that Armond White is a swell guy to sit and kibbitz with. In the past, I often read his reviews just so that I could get upset, as I found it stimulated my own critical discourse towards whatever it was that he was flaying. However, I found his attack on Sidney Lumet, um, disturbing, to say the least, and that's when I decided that Armond White was a bully, and I don't like bullies. To attack an 80 year old man, a professional in the most literal sense, who has never wanted anything more than to be allowed to work, with such linguistic violence, shed a light on White's personality unlike anything he had ever written before, including his review of Torque, which he called a "pop-art masterpiece," thus aligning Joseph Kahn with the likes of James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichenstein, and Andy Warhol. I feel like Armond White has hate in his heart, which to me, is the opposite of passion, and serves no purpose other than to instill hate in other people. Armond White is toxic, and should be treated as such. If film criticsm is a body, then it can be argued that it's heart rests squarely in NYC, where White, by dint of his title, is the main valve. Therefore, if film criticsm is in trouble, as many have hypothesized, maybe what it needs is a transplant. A tortured metaphor for sure, but maybe it has some validity, no?

Filmbrain

Keith --

Thanks for the comment.

You know, not once did I think of the film as a portrait of (or study in) depression, and I think that's a critical factor when approaching it. To view Caden as a victim of depression (which I'm not saying you've done exclusively) is to belittle the bigger ideas at work here -- the very things I've written about in two overlong posts.

As for other bleak films, what about Mouchette (for example)? As for the soul-filling properties of the films you mentioned, well, that's not something we can objectively measure, for obvious reasons. I don't agree that the film is joyless -- Caden's life certainly is, but I think Kaufman is standing at a comfortable distance showing us that, not prescribing it as a way to live. That's precisely why the film is so powerful, for it's not a first-person "life sucks and then you die" emo-tale. This is film that shows the results of someone incapable and/or refusing to live life, not a meta-narrative about the futility of life. Personal responsibility is precisely what the film addresses, for it's what Caden refuses to accept. Things happen to him, or so he believes. Look at the post-it notes he creates for his actors -- they're all events caused by external forces (you were raped, you lost your job, etc.) Caden has the tools to change his life. His talent, the love of not one but two women, children -- yet he never stops and considers that.

But as you said, let's agree to disagree, and get drunk from the communal cinephile well.

c mason wells

I swear to God, I almost emailed you with the suggestion to call this piece "Forever Jung." Great minds, FB, great minds...

Kev

I don't think anything Jung wrote was scientifically verifiable. His approach to the human brain and its interior function might be like the geologist's approach to the earth and its interior functions while sitting on the moon with a telescope.

Tom Russell

Everything I ever wanted to know about Jung I learned from Billy Jack. ;)

Seriously, though-- these two essays of yours make me wish I had (a) $20 and (b) an arthouse theater within twenty miles from my home, so that I could see this movie before it comes out on dvd.

Ah, to live in the Midwest in Suburbia... :(

BMIML

You're making me wish I'd paid more attention to the Buddhist koan of the burning house. Also, I misstated my case in my previous comment. Cottard wasn't the novelist; his neighbor, J. Grand was.

Complex

I actually think that Caden did not reach the later stage of individuation. He in fact was possessed by the mother complex if anything. His needy need of his wife which drover her away, then his fallow screeching for his daughter, lastly the earpiece which literally gave him directions on every move he was to make by his feminine voice, his anima. His final small gasp of a statement that he finally has 'it figured out' an inkling that he could be free of this possession.

I laughed quite a bit at this movie. I liked it.

john john

Harold Pinter died today.
Oh, wait...
...Yep, I read that correctly. Harold Pinter died today.

David Ehrenstein

Excellent piece!

Armond White is a compelete pill. He want to be "Head Nigger in Charge" and "Head Faggot in Charge" at the same time. But it's pretty fucking obvious from his writings that he doesn't like being black or gay -- two "labels" that I have always enjoyed.

Rex Reed's review is very funny. I don't know why he goes on about it so. This simply isn't his sort of film and he really should have dismissed it in a few lines. But it REALLY got under his skin and he goes on and on and ON.

I wouldn't reach for the Jung, but I'm ever so glad to see that you hold Gaddis in such high esteem. In a way his life mirrors Caden Cottard's. "The Recognitions" got some good notices but zero sales. So Gaddies was forced to go get a regular job and he spent the next two decades writing catalogues for corporations. The result of his labors was his second masterpiece "J.R." - the most devestating critique of capitalism ever written -- and yes I'm looking at you Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.

Kaufman has much in common with Latin American fabulis literature, particularly Adolpho Bioy-Casares' "The Invention of Morel" and the films of Raul Ruiz -- particularly "Memoire des Apparances."

BTW, my favorite film director Patrice Chereau told me he'd love to do a movie version of "The Recognitions."

Filmbrain

David --

While you may enjoy the labels (and wear them proudly) I don't know if I agree about your assessment of Armond. Yes, I disagree with him often, and at times he infuriates me, but first and foremost the man is deeply passionate about cinema. How he feels about his race and/or sexuality doesn't really factor into it....at least from my perspective.

As for Kaufman, Gaddis, etc. -- I'm not familiar with the work of Bioy-Casares -- I'll definitely look into that. Good call on Ruiz. Sadly though, I've never seen Mémoire des apparences though I've wanted to for many years. (It's not available on DVD, is it?)

Chereau and The Recognitions? I love that he'd love to do it, but do you think he could he handle the humor in it? Isn't he far too somber a character?

Finally, couldn't agree more with you about J.R. -- I need to read that again soon.

David Ehrenstein

Well from my perseoctive it does. I could write a Master's Thesis. But who would want to read it?

Ruiz is sadly hard to find on video. There's TONS of him. But re Kaufman, his The Top of the Whale (which is on video) would serve just as well.

Chereau only seems somber because of the depth of seriousness of so many of his projects (ie. The Ring Cycle, L'Homme Blesse) but he's a very witty and amusing fellow in actual life and I'm sure that would figure into a Gaddis adaptation, should he get the chance to do it.

john

Was going through some old picture files, and found this one of Caten Cotard's Schenectady theater. That's a doozy of a theater.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_EHsppOmC5n8/SqYbfmCwlFI/AAAAAAAABFY/C-tsnpLeqTY/s1600/034.jpg

F.A.W.

Armond White is a retarded failure. No one likes him, no one agrees with him, no one supports him. Why is this loser still writing reviews? If people had more common sense these days, his sorry ass would've been fired a long time ago! He's a f*cking creep and everyone knows it. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem racist, or sexist; but the thing that really pisses me off is that it's so f*cking obvious that he hates kids. He has no heart, no brain, and no conscience. He has no sense of humor and he has the worst taste in movies imaginable. I hate him - the world hates him - so, why the f*ck doesn't anyone fire the bitch?! And why would anyone hire him in the first place? I mean, he looks like a wanted child molester (which doesn't seem that strange to me, considering the fact that he hates kids)! Sorry if my comment is too long - sometimes you just gotta tell the WHOLE truth. Okay, bye! *Walks out the door*

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