Thursday, August 28, 2014


I've mentioned before that Armond White had a good record as a legit if insane film critic before he joined  National Review. I suspect they hired him because he occasionally says mean things about liberals (either that or there's a reeeaally big Spielberg fan over there that I don't know about), but the readership seems not to be responding well to him. I think that's because White is not sort of doctrinaire doofus they usually go for  -- not like Jay Nordlinger, for example, and his "this is really a lovely scherzo in Beethoven's Ninth, it reminds me of how liberals love Castro" horseshit. White is on a mission, and unlike his colleagues he doesn't appear to have read it from a telegram from the High Command.

For example, while NR's Jesus freaks were all in spasms about The Giver, because it's supposed to be anti-abortion or something, White gave them "The Giver: Pseudo-Rebellion for Conservative Sheep." The comments to that one are lovely (sample: "I'm going to see it tonight. Cal Thomas recommended it and I value his opinion on any subject. This movie reviewer? Never heard of him").

Who knows what they'll make of White's last few efforts: First, he describes 2004 as "the year film culture broke" because it saw "the media’s lynch-mob excommunication of Mel Gibson and his film The Passion of the Christ, soon followed by the Cannes Film Festival’s ordination of Michael Moore’s anti–G. W. Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11." So far so compatible, but White works up a rich froth that might have even the regular punters backing away from the podium:
It was moral vandalism, sullying ideas and totems sacred to many. Such a fundamental offense devastated civilized behavior in ways many still have not realized. It drove a wedge between the public and the elites who make movies; the very ground we walked upon as enlightened, cultured people was scorched like Ground Zero at the World Trade Center... 
From 2004 on, even “entertainment” movies were made and received with deleterious political and moral bias.
This is loony and conspiratorial even by culture-warrior standards, but wait, there's more: Later White listed "20 signs of a broken film culture," a list of entartete kunst including some films I'll bet National Review readers like, including The Dark Knight ("used the Batman myth to undermine heroism, overturn social mores, and embrace anarchy"), Knocked Up ("Judd Apatow’s comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety"), and Lincoln ("Spielberg succumbs to Tony Kushner’s limousine-liberal cynicism to valorize Obama-era political chicanery"). Comments to that one so far are also delightful ("How many times are they going to see the comments and realize we don't like him?").

There are all kinds of ways to look at this, but the big point for me is that people who are serious about the arts -- not serious about using the arts as a way to spread the usual dreary propaganda, but about the arts themselves -- are not just capable of surprising readers, but extremely likely to do so. And that's terrific. I hope National Review surprises me and hangs onto White so he can rave away like this on their dime. Who knows, maybe one or two of them will be improved by his example.


  1. OtherJimDonahue2:20 PM

    "6) Manderlay (2005) — Lars Von Trier’s Dogville sequel sold American self-hatred back to us, and critics fawned."

    Rotten Tomatoes rating: 51%. That's a weird way of fawning.

  2. OtherJimDonahue2:20 PM

    "10) The Social Network (2010) — David Fincher’s new Horatio Alger tale glorified technocrat Mark Zuckerberg with chic, digital-era arrogance."

    Um, what?

  3. Derelict2:22 PM

    "From 2004 on, even “entertainment” movies were made and received with deleterious political and moral bias."
    This is loony and conspiratorial even by culture-warrior standards, . . .

    I think the only thing wrong here is that he gets the incept date incorrect. Hollyweird has ALWAYS been about undermining the Real America, and (with the exception of a couple of John Wayne flicks) have been made the "deleterious political and moral bias."

    NR's readers don't like him, but that's mostly because they don't understand him. If you're not shoveling Zhdanovite interpretations of a movie, or writing "The bad guy blowed up real good at the end," the average National Review reader is just incapable of following along.

  4. Speaking of anti-abortion:

    Are the right-wingers who demand that we give even more obeisance than we already do (the current Administration's policies are no different than previous ones...but somehow we're selling poor Bibi out) aware that not only does Israel have universal health care, they also have 'abortion on demand'?

    Seems like something they'd object to, if it were happening here...

  5. What? He came off as a near-sociopath.

    You don't think American conservatives would consider that glorification?

  6. Who knows, maybe one or two of them will be improved by his example.Hahahahahahahaha... No.

  7. GOD, I hated The Giver as a book. How many levels can a book fail on? It had a sluggish plot, flat characters, smarmy politics, messed up basic arithmetic (Under the conditions of the book, basically all of the girls would draw "mother" as a career),told kids that everybody else is blind, a horrid Little Match Girl ending, and probably some others I didn't notice. Why would anyone film that crap?

    So I'm inclined to believe White's last graf, especially since he starts it with "In one of Elvis Costello’s shrewdest political songs, he warned, “You never see the lies that you believe.”" & isn't exactly coy about who he's talking to.

  8. Jay B.3:12 PM

    He's so dramatic.

    It drove a wedge between the public and the elites who make movies; the very ground we walked upon as enlightened, cultured people was scorched like Ground Zero at the World Trade Center...

    No it didn't and no it wasn't.

    Judd Apatow’s comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety.

    Yes, because it was a comedy.

    I never understood the 'respect' for White. Yes, he's entertainingly crazy. But he's also annoyingly grandiose and flops at profundity.

  9. Susan of Texas3:13 PM

    That was definitely the most elaborate "get off my lawn, whippersnappers" that I've ever read.

    The Giver is just newly dressed, pseudo-political pabulum, part of the entire Young Adult franchise designed to boost sales and naïve notions rather than connect to the eternal verities of classical literature.
    A lot of classical literature is subversive. Perhaps he meant BIble fan fiction?

  10. OtherJimDonahue3:16 PM

    Yeah, I would. But White is criticizing it for making him chic. Whatever that means.

  11. 5) Wall-E (2008) — Nihilism made cute for children of all ages who know nothing about cultural history or how to sustain it.

    "Nihilism?" It's a film about how humanity endures even when forces conspire to drive it out of us. Plus, the whole thing's built around a cartoon version of a classic Hollywood love story. What, did the guy walk out of the theater three minutes in?

    Man, if you ever needed proof that the guy was trolling...

  12. How to spot an intellectually lazy motherfucker:

    Such a fundamental offense devastated civilized behavior in ways many still have not realized.

  13. "13) Slumdog Millionaire (2008) — an Oscar-winning tale of game-show greed as an answer to systemic poverty."

    Either White's never heard of Bollywood, or he's pretending he hasn't for the sake of the rubes. Guess where I place my vote.

    (He does know he's not on Twitter, right? He can write more than one sentence for each of these)

  14. Jonas (Brendon Thwaite) is a youth in a futuristic society called “the
    Community” that, after some dystopian event called “the Ruin,” uses
    drugs and indoctrination to purge its citizens of emotion and
    distinction.I suspect that I liked this film better when it was called Equilibrium. And gad, is that ever saying something. (Though Sean Bean does turn in a mildly affecting performance before he [SPOILER] dies.)

  15. based on the 1993 bestselling young-adult novel by Lois LowryHmm, come to think of it, I suspect I liked this novel better when it was called Anthem. Wait, no, that's not possible.

  16. "13) Slumdog Millionaire (2008) — an Oscar-winning tale of game-show greed as an answer to systemic poverty."

    As opposed to ... what? Paul Ryan's "starve faster" economic blueprints? You'd think a modern conservative would approve of the glorification of greed and of a windfall in unearned income as a sign of merit.

  17. willf3:34 PM

    He was a near-sociopath before near-sociopathy became cool?

  18. Jay B.3:41 PM

    There's literally nothing true about anything in his statement. The movie explicitly joked about the tragedy of the remaining humans not knowing our cultural history and then showed how, in a montage during the closing credits, how humanity reclaimed it. It was one of the best movies of the decade, but even if you didn't like it, "nihilism" can't be part of the critique. Gah, what an asshole.

  19. Judd Apatow’s comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety.

    National Lampoon’s comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety.

    Monty Python’s comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety.

    The Marx Brothers’ comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety.

    Charlie Chaplain’s comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety.


    Shakespeare’s comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety.

  20. Jaime Oria3:45 PM

    Well, the book's specific merits or problematic elements aside, The Giver first saw print in 1993, well before the seemingly endless cavalcade of dystopian YA book series which only seem to get published so that they can be turned into feature film franchises. Historical perspective - or deep background, in the case of journamalism - how does it work?

  21. He notes the publication date in the second paragraph, and about half the comments tell him that he should have looked up the pub date. Stealth edirt or reading defect?

  22. tigrismus4:22 PM

    Through these two films, religion and politics — topics one had never
    argued about in polite company — became the basis for categorizing
    moviegoers as members of factions. Beliefs and positions calcified. Passion became a red-state movie, and Fahrenheit became a blue-state movie.

    Did he get hit on the head in 2004 and wake up to a brand new world? Because "these things were never an issue before!" is utter bullshit.

  23. BigHank534:24 PM

    I suspect you liked this film better when it was called Logan's Run. Equilibrium would actually be a pretty good yardstick as to how good an actor Christian Bale is: does he flinch or not when he's asked about it?

    After watching the first half of Equilibrium I was basically sticking around to see if it could get any stupider in the second half. Tragically, yes.

  24. Derelict4:38 PM

    I actually had to go look this one up. Guess that shows how fawned-over it was.

  25. J Neo Marvin4:39 PM

    White is like the black male Camille Paglia. At first you think, "what a cute little contrarian gadfly", but eventually you regret you ever paid attention.

  26. Derelict4:41 PM

    . . . in way many have still not realized. . . and I'm hoping that you gentle readers will help clue me in on what some of those might be.

    This isn't even etch-a-sketch writing. It's a white-board and he's just handing out boxes of dry-erase markers to his marks, er, readers.

  27. BigHank534:43 PM

    I was thinking more of the state-enforced conformity rather than a particular flavor of it. Lowry's use of pharmacology always struck me as an over-the-top literary crutch, anyway. Have you ever seen a group of military high school cadets parading? The sight of goddamned fifteen-year-olds marching along will send anyone who's ever read a history book straight to the nearest bar. All done with social pressure.

  28. Helmut Monotreme4:44 PM

    Most evangelical supporters of Zionism don't care what the Israelis are

    up to in the holy land, they're just sure that the end times can't get started unless the jews keep standing on the bull's eye. A few of them wish the Jews would hurry up and rebuild the temple. Point is, to evangelical christians, the jews are merely action figures in the end-of-times playset, and they can't play rapture without them.

  29. Smurch4:47 PM

    Don't stop there:

    Aristophanes' comedy of bad manners Lysistrata attacked maturity and propriety (and as a bonus, offered a withering critique of warmongering.)

  30. Derelict4:51 PM

    All too true. But there are some evangelicals who are working very, very hard to get Jesus back ahead of schedule. They're trying to breed a red bull (one of the prerequisites), and they're scraping up cash to help Jews move back to Israel (Jesus won't come until everyone's on the bus).

    And they're soooo excited for Jesus to return because when he does, he's gonna really take care of everyone who's slighted the evangelicals. No slight is too slight to forget or forgive, and they just can't wait to watch other people suffer. It's what every good Christian prays for--"that others might suffer horribly to make me feel good about myself."

  31. Fart and dick jokes. Lots of 'em.

  32. chuckling5:05 PM

    Well, he'll always have "Mission to Mars." Nobody can take that away from him. That review knocked me out, and although I never saw anything that matched that piece, I liked him back in his NY Press days. Even when I didn't agree with him, which was usually, he was almost always an interesting read.

  33. Halloween_Jack5:11 PM

    Does he have a shibboleth anywhere near as persistent as Paglia's Madonna obsession/perpetual wet-on?

  34. J Neo Marvin5:39 PM

    The American atrocities at Abu Ghraib were a cruel, jokey, ahistorical revision of Saddam Hussein's regime?

  35. White's continuing presence on the masthead is probably dependent on whether or not he has a sugar daddy in his... uh... corner. Jonah can crap out any blather, but he's a made man (made oaf is more truthful). If White has no patron, he'll probably be bounced to appease the 'bagger base.

  36. Geo X6:15 PM

    Probably because The Giver ducking owns. Still a bad idea to film it, though.

  37. TGuerrant6:15 PM

    It's in that little squeeze packet tucked in with the entartete kunst on wry you ordered.

  38. whetstone6:38 PM

    E.g.: "I'm going to see it tonight. Cal Thomas recommended it and I value his opinion on any subject."

    That is... astonishing. Even back when I gave a shit about what syndicated editorial columnists thought, Cal Thomas stood out for being both reprehensible and dull. Say what you will about Dowd, Friedman, Safire, Noonan, Brooks, et al, generally they do something interesting, whether intentionally or not.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure I've ever finished a Cal Thomas column. He did have one memorable moment: literally the worst lede I've ever read in my entire lifetime.

  39. Dr. Hunky Jimpjorps7:16 PM

    He's pretty obsessed with Spielberg (except for hating Lincoln, which he ascribes to a pernicious scriptwriter).

  40. geraldo nosebrawl7:50 PM

    Armond White has been working that same shtick for going on 20 years now.

  41. Or that gentle readers will shudder in syncopated horror at the thought of unnamed horrors to come.

    They do like their vague threats, but I really think they're getting lazier. All dude had to do is rummage around in ye olde cliche gunny sack and pull out Promiscuity or Rap or Drugs or some specific Bad Thing, but he couldn't even make that effort. That's pathetic.

    Or maybe they're starting to realize that everyone thinks Culture Warrios are tools for blaming teen birth rates on Hollywood, so they're trying to incorporate a written meaningful pause in their pieces.

    But anyway, this is as good a time as any to announce I'm going to start a blog for right wingists called LOOK OUT!!!© It is elegant in its simplicity: The title of each post will be LOOK OUT!! and the post will be whatever thing the RWs should watch for. Toss in ads for gold buggin', gun huggin' and seed vaults and I'll be rich!

  42. Chairman Pao9:18 PM

    You'd think White might also have checked the box office on "Manderlay" before assigning such seismic influence to the film.

    The U.S. gross was $74,205. According to Box Office Mojo, the average movie ticket price that year was $6.41. Let's round up to $6.50 for ease of calculation. With those numbers, it means that 11, 416 people saw the movie in a theater the U.S.

    Of course, all those folks must have raved about "Manderlay" at their liberal dinner parties…

  43. Derelict10:13 PM

    Can I subscribe to your newsletter?

  44. Wrangler10:16 PM

    Indeed, the first thing I observed about Transformers was the way it was basically a reprise of Oedipus Rex.

  45. Wrangler10:28 PM

    Well sure, this sort of thing is old as culture itself-- but that doesn't make these verities eternal.

  46. Wrangler10:37 PM

    Give it time. That "eternal verities of classical literature" line was pure pandering. His audience doesn't care a whit about any culture, but lines like that are the kind of music they like to nod their head to from time to time.

  47. Its not "an answer"Well, of course he was missing the point. But the point he thought he was getting isn't one that an NRO type should disapprove of. If that makes any sense. On bathtub gin so can't grkajg

  48. " What... what the fuck does he even mean by that?"

    I think it goes like this: White is a black film critic doing his shtick in the National Review, so even though his conservative readers probably have little to no idea what he's talking about, they know he's "One Of Us", and they're sure it must be some kind of critique of liberal Hollywood values, so therefore it's GOOD! And even if he occasionally tweaks their noses with, say, his review of "The Giver", the conservative sheep can pat themselves on the back for their "tolerance" of occasional crotchety contrarianism. Liberals, who are under no such constraints of tribal loyalty, are free to ask the question that really matters: (see above).

  49. I suspect that I liked that film better when it was called Stripes.

  50. How about Slap Shot 4: The Hockey Stick's Revenge?

  51. AGoodQuestion11:03 PM

    If white is actually going off-script over at NatRev, I may end up respecting him for the first time in, well, ever. I mean, years of aggressively hostile flirting with J Hoberman and he picks now to start acting like a real critic? Better late than never.

  52. Wow... I guess comedy is easier than Edmund Gwenn thought...

  53. AGoodQuestion11:07 PM

    Now, now. I'm sure Cal would make a fine mustache maintenance columnist. Well, back in the day, at least.

  54. davdoodles11:12 PM

    "Such a fundamental offense devastated civilized behavior in ways many still have not realized."

    The only way to salvage this pompous horseshit would be to have Vincent Price or Richard Burton read it aloud. Sadly, their dessicated husks are are no longer taking appointments.
    Anyone have Morgan Freeman's number?

  55. AGoodQuestion11:13 PM

    On the other hand... 12 Years a Slave is listed among movies with a "sour, contentious, pessimistic worldview." Well, you can kind of expect it to be a bringdown based on the title. If you want a sunny and optimistic take on the same subject, there are bootlegs of Song of the South floating around.

  56. Anonymous3711:55 PM

    Hey Roy, are you ever going to give us your take on James Bowman, the film critic (or is that former film critic?) for The American Spectator? Or is he just too low-profile to bother with?

  57. JennOfArk12:03 AM

    I posted a comment so deep, so profound, that it broke Discus.

    Fuck you, Discus.

  58. MCSquared1:10 AM

    I thought it sounded more like The Amazing Kreskin.

  59. Jon Hendry3:27 AM

    But he became a wildly rich near-sociopath.

  60. Jon Hendry3:58 AM

    Somehow, in my mind, "Cal Thomas" is mingled with "Hal Lindsay".

  61. bekabot4:00 AM

    Our tyrants are better than their tyrants, and our atrocities are better than their atrocities.

  62. Jon Hendry4:01 AM

    Wow, Bacall was in it...

    And now I learn that Bacall's last role was in The Family Guy, and had recently done a voice for a Scooby Doo video.

  63. bekabot4:12 AM

    Ben Jonson's comedies of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety, and how.

    (His tragedies weren't bad either.)

  64. Jon Hendry4:18 AM

    Rabelais's comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety

    Chaucer's comedy of bad manners attacked maturity and propriety

  65. bekabot4:22 AM

    I think the problem is that it didn't make him look chic enough...he's the emotionally starved rich guy (I'm not talking about real life, I'm talking about the movies) who makes all the money which pays for the parties without being invited to the parties. That's the complaint embedded in Atlas Shrugged divested of all of the glamour with which the book attempts to imbue it. In The Social Network the Zuckerberg character is too reminiscent of Horatio Alger, which means he comes off as an orphan boy, which is Wrong. Probably it smote many righties way too close to home and made them feel bad. When I saw that movie all I could think about was Richard Nixon, and though I enjoyed the movie I interpreted that as a bad sign.

  66. Jon Hendry4:24 AM

    How about Tom Baker?

  67. Jon Hendry4:41 AM

    "bathtub gin so can't grkajg"

    The subject of one of Hogarth's lesser-known engravings.

  68. Jon Hendry4:49 AM

    I think they'll let him stay as long he's getting pageviews, even those pageviews are from angry NRO readers leaving disapproving comments.

    Unlike their other writers, they probably don't have to worry about having to fire him for writing something racist.

  69. That was Charles Gray's line in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  70. Derelict7:47 AM

    . . . lines like that are the kind of music they like to nod their head to from time to time.

    Even Homer nods.

  71. This made me hysterical.But my point stands, dammit.

  72. Halloween_Jack9:33 AM

    Ah yes, Tony Kushner, the lavender menace.

  73. JennOfArk10:16 AM

    Helllllloooo? Am I just no longer allowed to post at alicublog? Diqsuc is working for me at other sites.

  74. sharculese11:36 AM

    I'd like to know more about this gunny sack full of promiscuity, rap, and drugs.

  75. Brian Schlosser11:48 AM

    "Gah, what an asshole" is tattooed across White's back

  76. Meanie-meanie, tickle a person12:55 PM

    Anyone have Morgan Freeman's number?

    Get outta my mind!
    Also too, Boris Karloff, who was always a dessicated husk...

  77. Meanie-meanie, tickle a person1:11 PM

    Perhaps Mr Wgite is merely (ala the famous descriptionn of Newt Gingrich) a boor's idea of what a cultured person sounds like, and, for the NR, that's good enough.
    Also too, It occurs to me that having a *black* film reviewer is, to these wankers, a virtue in itself, and they really don't care what he writes.

  78. Meanie-meanie, tickle a person1:14 PM

    Can't have a Left Behind without a Right...

  79. Glock H. Palin, Esq.12:32 AM conclusion, Libya is a land of contrasts.

  80. realinterrobang2:29 PM

    I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks the Midrashim are Torah fanfic.

  81. AngryWarthogBreath7:20 PM

    Won't they just all be "LOOK OUT, OTHER PEOPLE!" in the end?

  82. AngryWarthogBreath7:28 PM

    I was this close, this close, to saying that just putting "spoiler" before the word isn't a spoiler warning because of people who read fast, but, as YouTube has informed me, the name "Sean Bean" is a spoiler ANYWAY.