[Marxism] Read New York’s 2009 Profile of Armond White -- Vulture

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 14 08:41:11 MST 2014


White says the difference between him and other movie critics—whether 
they write for The New Yorker or blog by the midnight oil, a practice he 
decried as little more than “a hobby” in a much fulminated-against 
recent piece—is that “they don’t see what I see. Where I’m coming from, 
they couldn’t.”

White does have his unique bona fides, including a twelve-year stint 
(1984–96) at the City Sun, the borderline-radical black weekly where he 
regularly slammed Spike Lee’s movies, referring to Clockers as “40 acres 
and a bunch of bull.” The youngest of seven children, and hailing from 
northwest Detroit, where his family “busted the block” as the first 
African-Americans to move into what had been primarily a Jewish 
neighborhood, White grew up in the era of white flight, the civil-rights 
movement, and Motown. His father played piano and worked for Ford after 
trying his hand at owning a gas station and a pool hall, neither of 
which lasted. “He taught us about the rights of the working man, and 
also that if you didn’t have anything to say, you should keep your mouth 
shut. But if you did have something on your mind, you should talk up, 
don’t keep it to yourself,” White recalls.

“We always went to the movies, every Saturday at least,” White says. “I 
used to love to see stuff like The Long, Hot Summer and Cat on a Hot Tin 
Roof. To me, this was a window into the adult world. Now people watch 
movies so they can stay kids, which proves how infantilized the culture 
is. I wanted to see how grown-ups acted, in CinemaScope. Paul Newman and 
Elizabeth Taylor, the most beautiful people ever, on that giant image: 
It filled my head … Detroit was a great movie town then. We got Canadian 
TV, so I got to see stuff like La Dolce Vita, Jacques Demy’s Lola, 8½, 
all of them dubbed. Boccaccio ’70—these shorts by Fellini, De Sica, and 
Visconti—I must have seen that one twenty times.

“People would ask why I was watching foreign movies. But from early on, 
I knew I was different … Our parents raised us Baptist, then they got 
saved and became Pentecostal. There was always a lot of religion around. 
It had a big effect on me. I’m a believer. I think God is the force for 
ultimate good in the universe. He made the movies, didn’t he? If you cut 
me open, that’s what you’d find: the movies, Bible verses, and Motown 

White’s narrative arc would take a turn in his senior year at Detroit’s 
Central High School, when he was assigned to write a paper on a book, 
any book. On a twirling rack in a drugstore, he spied a copy of Kiss 
Kiss Bang Bang, the second collection of Pauline Kael’s movie reviews. 
White had never heard of Pauline Kael, but he liked the picture of the 
camera on the cover. He began with the shorter pieces, then the famous 
Bonnie and Clyde essay, and went from there. Forty years later, long 
after coming to New York, meeting and befriending Kael, who in 1986 
would nominate him for membership in the Film Critics Circle—which makes 
him something of what is generally called a “Paulette,” even if one 
critic says “there’s Paulettes and there are Paulloons”—White still 
retains that original copy of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

In between bites of tempura, White pulls out the book, now yellowed and 
coverless, from his bag, along with an accompanying, equally 
well-thumbed copy of The American Cinema, by Andrew Sarris, the former 
Village Voice film critic and grand channeler of the auteur theory that 
championed B-directors like Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray. As any 
sixties-seventies film nut knows, the pairing of the two books on 
White’s part was a symbolic act, being as Sarris (whom White studied 
with at Columbia) and Kael, the two most influential figures in 
American-popular-film criticism, were often seen as intellectual 
antagonists back in the days when writing about movies was considered to 
be something of a life-and-death matter.

This was White’s point. If the discourse of cinema, as he claims, has 
reached “the bottom”—victim of Roger Ebert’s thumbs up/thumbs down Roman 
Colosseum–style methodology, excessive blurb-mongering, fixation on 
weekend box-office reports, sheer laziness, etc., etc.—the fault lies 
not with the movies themselves. There will always be good movies. The 
problem is with the messengers, the sold-out, the politically and 
historically indifferent movie-critic sheep who have abdicated the 
passion-filled mantle of Kael and Sarris.

To anyone who used to care about such issues, this can be a compelling 
complaint. As for White’s corollary to the argument, his 
however-immodest proposal that he, and he alone, remains to tell the … 
well …

“Shit, you’re writing a piece about Armond?” exclaims one well-known 
film critic who would just as soon keep his name out of this. “Armond’s 
smart and all, I get a kick out of him, but do I really have to see him 
looking out of the magazine like he’s the last angry, honest man in the 
film culture?”

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 


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