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Armond White Expelled From New York Film Critics' Circle

by Sam Adams
January 13, 2014 1:59 PM
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Today, the New York Film Critics Circle voted to expel Armond White, a former three-time chairman, over comments he made at their annual awards dinner. (New York Post critic Lou Lumenick, accused of breaching the Circle's charter by revealing details of their internal voting, was suspended for a year.) As Criticwire reported, there is some confusion over what White said and what was said by his guests, but Vanity Fair blogger Katey Rich saw White yell "White liberal bullshit!" as Steve McQueen stepped onto the stage to receive the NYFCC's award for Best Director, and Slate's Dana Stevens, who was at White's table for much of the night, says he and his guests were consistently loud and disruptive. 

At Entertainment Weekly, NYFCC member Owen Gleiberman, has more:

I’ve known Armond White casually, as a fellow critic, since the early '90s, and seeing him around at screening rooms, movie-industry parties, and, yes, awards dinners, what I’ve always observed about him is that as contentious as he can be on the page, he has always come off as a strikingly friendly person -- not only to me, but even to critics he's bashed. For all his bluster, he's got a hearty, understated demeanor, a twinkle in his eye, and a gentle jolly chuckle. You can talk to him about a film he’s disemboweled on the page (one that you loved), and he’ll say what he thinks, but the words always come out a lot mellower than what he wrote. I suppose that could make the more forceful torrents of his writing look scarily "compartmentalized," but the way I’ve always seen it, Armond cared, to the point of anger, about art, but he was a civil and even gracious person because he recognized that even the people whose work he didn’t respect (filmmakers or critics) were human beings. When he went kamikaze on the page, he was acting like the critic version of a performance artist, transforming his opinions into scalding drama (which is part of what critics do).

Yet this all began to come crashing down at the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner back in 2011, when White was chairman. Emceeing that year's awards, he insulted several of the winners from the podium (introducing Tony Kushner to present the Best Picture award to The Social Network, he said, "Maybe he can explain why it won"), and then, last year, when he was no longer chairman, he heckled from his table in the same way that he did this year (at the time, the object of his wrath was Michael Moore). And now that he has done it again, what’s clear is that Armond White's "contrarian" impulses have crossed the line from being things that he thinks into a depressingly established pattern of reckless uncivil behavior. Ultimately, the two things have nothing to do with each other. White has the right to believe, and say in print, anything he wants. But disrupting a public event is a squalid form of acting out that has no defense.

I'm on record (or at least, on Twitter) saying I thought this was the wrong move, but then I'm not a member of the NYFCC and my personal contact with White has been fleeting. There's no doubt that White's expulsion will further stoke the suspicions of those who think he's being singled out for his views -- for being "the strongest voice in contemporary criticism," as he put it himself -- and not his behavior. But it's possible to agree with, or at least see merit in, some of White's views on 12 Years a Slave and hold that yelling obscenities in public is not the right way to express them. (It doesn't help that White, who has accused Stevens and Vulture's Bilge Ebiri of being "haters" and saying they lack the intellectual fortitude to debate him, took objection to being confronted by McQueen at a Fox Searchlight party in December, telling the BBC, "A more experienced filmmaker understands what the event was about – and it is not about arguing with a journalist.") Although there have been plenty of voices calling, some with rather too much enthusiasm, for White's ouster, it's a sad day for all involved.

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  • Margamoo | January 15, 2014 1:17 AMReply

    Folks, please tell us what would happen if someone shouted "White Liberal Bull Shit" at Steven Spielberg as he received the award for Schindler's List?

    Also, did anybody call Solomon Northrop's autobiography "White Liberal Bull Shit" when he first published it?

  • Glory | January 17, 2014 1:14 PM

    It may have been wrong or in poor taste, but throwing him out of the Critics Circle smacks of censorship. White was a critic who in his writing often made fun of the Hollywood and Critical establishment. Tossing him out reeks of implications other than the rudeness of his outburst: mainly, punishing those who would seek to throw light on the ridiculousness that often defines our popular culture. A public censuring would have worked just as well, except without those other unspoken, desired effects of punishing free speech.

  • Margamoo | January 17, 2014 12:56 PM

    Hi Glory. Thanks for your reply. It is difficult to tell form your answer to the question if you are defending Armond White or not. I think his outburst was wrong. Do you agree or disagree?

  • glory | January 15, 2014 11:03 AM

    They would have been hustled out the back by two thugs in suits and never seen or heard from again. But that's you're defense? That anyone who dares to put a pin into the balloon of Hollywood self-love and appreciation should disappear? I guess you got your wish.

  • anaovqonvao | January 14, 2014 2:01 AMReply

    Yeah he has the 1st amendment, but he also has his bed side manner, in a sense. If you're not allowed into the French Laundry without a suit and tie, as a formality for men, then why not a certain set of standards for critics to not test the boundaries of their vocal eccentricities? The guy's a provocateur, a standard by which Von Trier has no comparison, and he's set his life on that standard. Thinking more than a little bit about his intentions not only devalues anyone's capacity to make up their own mind, but it gives his thoughts a vastly more important existence than yours. This is the deconstructing of a film critic. He's a blogger, just like the people he deplores. He just gets paid more for his ego.

  • anaovqonvao | January 14, 2014 2:06 AM

    He will, undoubtedly, play the martyr, and that's the only strategy he will have left after squandering his privileges in a job that allows him to be the Tom Leykis of film critics (not the same set of moral ideals, but he same sense of freedom of speech without consequence).

  • Kevin | January 13, 2014 9:43 PMReply

    He exercised his 1st Amendment "right" by yelling obscenities from the back of a room. And Circle exercised their democratic right to vote him off the island. Fair exchange, no robbery.

  • Colossus | January 13, 2014 6:07 PMReply

    "But disrupting a public event is a squalid form of acting out that has no defense."
    See 1st Amendment.

  • David Klein | January 14, 2014 2:51 AM

    The First Amendment grants you the freedom of speech; it doesn't exonerate one from taking responsibility for that speech. Big difference.

  • Fred | January 13, 2014 4:08 PMReply

    They HAD to get rid of him because he revealed the greatest "secret" of critics: that they're ALL harboring a barely-containable, quiet seething under the surface.

  • flesh peddler | January 13, 2014 6:06 PM

    Blame the messengers. I assume you're talking about the ones who aren't paid to give good reviews to all of Hollywood's big projects.

  • TY | January 13, 2014 3:57 PMReply

    This is the same Owen that gave Three Stooges an A-.

  • No | January 13, 2014 2:35 PMReply

    The supreme irony is that no one who follows film or movie criticism will remember Armond White except for this outburst and expulsion. Can you recall any well-written and nuanced critique by him of a film? I didn't even know that he was still writing and now I've learned that he's doing so so for City Arts, an insert? That reads like a project of the Manhattan Institute which also runs City Journal, which is where Rudy Giuliani got all his ideas from.

    So, now he'll be he'll get to play the victim of the same white liberal BS that he tossed at Steve McQueen. He'll probably get a show on Fox News excoriating white liberal BS for Roger Ailes.

  • logic fail | January 13, 2014 2:38 PM

    Yes, everyone one who decries liberalism is by default a conservative! You think maybe someone could hate them both for the same thing?

  • Theo | January 13, 2014 2:21 PMReply

    I actually appreciate a guy calling filmmakers out for making generic, ultra-liberal garbage. However I don't think this is the case with Steve McQueen and 12 years a slave. Had that comment been directed to someone like David O. Russell or Steven Spielberg who are only able to make a decent picture because of their influence and ability to attract talented people. While O.Russell creates pure garbage (can't possibly understand how Jennifer Lawrence's role in Silver Linings Playbook was considered the best performance in 2012), Spielberg seems to have become afraid to ruin he's career, therefore opting for safe projects. It hurts that a film like American Hustle is considered superior to films like All is Lost, The Place Beyond the Pines or Out of the furnace (the list can go on) and that it will most likely get the Oscar for Best Picture. This is way I find it hard not to side with Armond White, who basically got punished for not going with the flow (a very unknowledgeable one I'd might add).

  • Warranted | January 13, 2014 2:18 PMReply

    Interesting that this comes right after Hollywood's self-congratulatory Gag Fest of the Golden Globes. At any rate, if he did heckle, then he'll have to take his punishment like a big boy, even though I for one agree with his view of the movie and look at heckling the Hollywood establishment as about a big a crime as heckling Congress.

  • WARRANTED | January 13, 2014 2:23 PM

    Wait a minute, he actually emcee'd the 2011 awards, giving his trademark contrarian criticisms and also heckled at last year's ceremony too? It sounds like he was drawn into a trap, and that his behavior may have even been encouraged in the past. Like if they fired Ricky Gervais from hosting the Golden Globes the SECOND time for doing the same thing he did for the first.

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