Thursday, July 21, 2005

Stop Armond before he kills again.

So this is the second post here about the inscrutable film critic at the New York Press, Armond White. You'd have begun sensing a pattern eventually, but I figured clueing you in early wouldn't hurt. It's my plan to discuss every review the man writes from here on out. First there was the truly mystifying display in his mid-year roundup (wherein he compared Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" to Godard's "Weekend" and claimed that "Unleashed", that shitty Jet Li movie, was "a Sam Fuller film from beyond"), That particular offense came hot on the heels of David Edelstein's 2004 Movie Club over at Slate (wherein Armond trashed each and every one of his colleagues, then proceeded to lavish praise on the remake of "Flight of the Phoenix"). I'm here to tell you that I have had enough to know that I have had enough.

White thinks he's some kind of cinematic badass. The Hemingway of the critical intelligentsia. He desperately wants to be Pauline Kael, who, if you recall, was also prone to jarring outbursts and deliberate contrarianism. But this is different. At least Pauline was funny, and, let's face it, she knew her shit. Armond is the critical equivalent of a guy who soaks himself in gasoline and starts smoking cigarettes. He's the guy who hangs out in his basement all night, biting the heads off lightbulbs and shoving thumb-tacs into his kneecaps. I've said before that it's not at all about the movies he chooses to praise or ignore, but the logic he applies to them.

Okay, I've ranted enough. With the previous statements in mind, I present Armond's latest work, a review of Craig Brewer's hometown-pimp-makes-good movie, "Hustle and Flow", which I'll be excerpting. A quick note: I have not seen the film, and do not care to. I have no issue with Armond recommending the film. Let's roll.

Playing a small-time Memphis con man in Hustle and Flow, Terrence Howard steps into a contemporary stereotype of an African-American male: a vaguely criminal sexual athlete...

A small time con man? A vaguely criminal sexual athlete? THE MOTHERFUCKER PLAYS A PIMP!! How is that "vaguely criminal"? Last I heard, prostitution was illegal in Memphis.

Most reviewers respond to Djay's spiel and interracial impudence by clinging to their middle-class paranoia (Newsweek called him "dangerous"). They flinch at Djay's audacity while also being fascinated by it, as if any black man talking to a woman were Snoop Dogg.

"Most reviewers"? Who gives a fuck what David Ansen said over at Newsweek? Again Armond takes a shot at his colleagues, as if he were the only one qualified to write about film. And since when is it a symptom of so-called "middle-class paranoia" to find a pimp unsympathetic? Is there some kind of criminal heirarchy that makes a pimp less evil than a child-molester or spouse-abuser? It seriously sounds like he's saying David Ansen doesn't have the balls the slap a ho.

But the way our corrupt media celebrates Hustle and Flow is by underestimating Howard's charming complexity. He makes this the most flamboyant and riveting opening scene any movie actor has had since George C. Scott in Patton.

Corrupt media? Is that relevant? I'll say it again. This movie is about a pimp who cuts a record and makes his bitches pay for it. And the "Patton" thing. That's the worst fuckin' hyperbole I ever heard.

Hustle and Flow isn't really about a pimp.

See above. Trying to divorce this movie from that issue is pointless. A lot of people liked "Ray" for the same reasons they seem to like "Hustle and Flow". A strong male performance centered around a challenging piece of characterization. But what Armond's forgetting is that if Ray Charles weren't blind, that movie would be about a really talented musician who's also a dick. How is this any different?

Its concern is with the emotional turmoil a man faces while dealing with women on top of the social difficulties that beset impoverished black men.

The poor bastard. If only his bitches would stay in line, he could become a rap star. I know how hard it is the get my grip together when the ATM's on the blink. I bet David Ansen's glad he's not a chick right about now.

All right, I'm exhausted. I simply cannot understand where this man is coming from. He praises the film for deglamorizing urban stereotypes and boldly characterizing male angst, yet ignores the simple fact that the film centers around a complete male fantasy that's salacious and creepy at best, and downright fucking abusive and illegal at worst. I don't doubt that "Hustle and Flow" is able to skirt these issues effectively. But Armond here seems to be giving the movie a pass because, hey, pimpin' ain't easy. And that's just goddamn irresponsible.

By the way, everybody should read that Slate Movie Club I linked to earlier. Despite Armond's ranting, it's downright fun to read. And my boy Wesley Morris over at The Boston Globe gets his licks in.


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