By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 13, 2014 at 2:38PM
"It’s a smear campaign from people who don’t have the intellectual capacity to argue with me or debate me in terms of criticism," Armond White declared to Slashflim last week, in response to the backlash he received following the New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony in which he allegedly heckled Best Director winner Steve McQueen (after an introduction by Harry Belafonte), yelling “You’re an embarrassing doorman and garbage man” and “Fuck you. Kiss my ass.” (And while White continues to deny it was either his voice and/or that his words were just intended for his table, numerous accounts from other attendees widely dispute that argument.) So, what happened next?
Twitter exploded, a public apology was issued by the NYFCC while internally, the organization was in the midst of damage control as they tried to figure out how to proceed from a very embarrassing situation. The NYFCC is typically the first critics group in the country to issue their awards in early December, with studios and filmmakers often scrambling to finish their movies so they can be screened for the group in time. But White's actions would certainly give pause to any studio or filmmaker about trying to accommodate the group in the future. Why should they rush for the NYFCC if their winners will only be open for catcalls when they come to receive the award? And what kind of supposedly prestigious group allows this kind of behaviour? Moreover, it's just poor form and bad decorum.
Indeed, this isn't the first time reports of White using the NYFCC awards show as his own playground have surfaced. As Variety notes, Annette Bening and Michelle Williams were his targets in 2011 (when he was chairman of the group), while the following year, Robert De Niro and Viola Davis were heckled as well. To a small degree, the NYFCC is responsible for not calling out this behaviour the first time it surfaced, and arguably created at atmosphere where White felt he could continue in this way. But regardless, this year tipped the scales.
An emergency meeting was held today by the New York Film Critics Circle and the decision came down to expel Armond White from the group (NY Post critic Lou Lumenick was also suspended for a year after revealing vote totals on Twitter). Here's part of what fellow member and EW critic Owen Gleiberman had to say about it:
This morning, the members of the New York Film Critics Circle, including me, voted to expel Armond White, the former critic of the now-defunct New York Press (and currently the editor and movie critic of City Arts), from the group. To me, it was a sad moment — pathetic, really, though Armond brought it on himself. A week ago, at the Circle’s annual awards dinner, White made a rude and bellicose spectacle of himself, as he did the year before, by heckling one of the winners — in this case, Steve McQueen, the director of '12 Years a Slave'....
....Everyone at my table lurched around to see where the loud, jeering, disruptive comments were coming from. This unquestionably fit the definition of heckling. It was all meant to be heard by the room at large. When White later claimed that his comments were “sotto voce” (a musical term that literally means “soft voice”), he was either lying or lying to himself, or perhaps both....
....Does Armond White simply have his own idiosyncratic opinions? Or is he a contrarian, a bomb thrower who’s deliberately out to rile people up? I would say that both are true, but for most people the contrarian label sums him up, and you often can’t tell where the fearless free-thinker leaves off and the bullying, didactic iconoclast begins. And that’s the problem with Armond’s criticism. He writes like he’s the last honest man in America, but contrarianism, by definition, isn’t completely honest. It’s self-hype, designed to provoke a reaction.
And getting a reaction is what White digs, as once again, he's issued his annual Better-Than list in which he pits two (usually totally different) movies against each other and declares one better than the other. This year, sure to raise eyebrows, is his assessment that "Man Of Steel" is superior to "Gravity," which is comparing apples and oranges, but here's what he had to say: "Zack Snyder’s powerful visionary re-imagining of the spiritual potential in comix trounces Alfonso Cuaron’s second-rate Kubrick-DePalma rip-off."
That's probably the tamest assessment of the bunch, that finds White as usual tossing critically acclaimed films under the bus and praising less well-regarded material (case in point, his assertion that "Bad Grandpa" is better than "Nebraska").
Anyway, Slashfilm has a pretty concise rundown of all the events surrounding this, as well as chat with White himself about the events of that night, and his opinion that this is all just a conspiracy against him. Listen below.