Thursday, July 8, 2010

Paul Brunick on Armond White on Toy Story 3 and Film Criticism

Freelance writer Paul Brunick has a fantastic piece up over at The House Next Door -- "Hating the Player, Losing the Game" -- on Armond White, White's controversial negative review of Toy Story 3, and film criticism in general. I'm planning to write about TS3 soon, but this should suffice in the meantime. Instead of mere sophistry or thoughtless anger, Brunick takes the time to engage White's review paragraph by paragraph, offering his own commentary and criticism of White's (supposed) arguments and, overall, his apparent and unfortunate inability to take a substantive, however sincere, stance on the film. Here is an excerpt from the end, but go read the whole thing:
So where does this leave us? By my count there are about three declarative statements in this entire piece that are not categorically inaccurate. The rest is a seething tissue of factual errors, self-negating examples, glaring elisions, logical inconsistencies, specious industrial analysis, mystifying rhetorical constructions and basic grammatical errors. It speaks for itself. As White's critical hero and much invoked "mentor" Pauline Kael once said in an interview, "No one should trust any critic who does not take the art form he is writing about seriously enough to write a decent paragraph. I simply do not trust the observations of people who write sloppily or in illiterate hyperbole." Of course, all of these mistakes would be far less objectionable if they weren't used to prop up some of the most misanthropic mudslinging that any "professional" reviewer has passed off as criticism since, well, the last outrageous thing Armond wrote.

Is White being sincere? I think so. I think he sincerely despises his "shill" colleagues and the "brainwashed" audience. I think he sincerely sees himself as a maverick outsider to the media establishment ("They don't see what I see, where I'm coming from—they couldn't") and that he is sincerely invested in this narcissistic fantasy to the exclusion of most everything else. Reading White, I am constantly reminded that the human intellect, which we often analogize to a courtroom judge dispassionately weighing arguments and evidence, actually operates much more like a lawyer-for-hire, rationalizing and enabling our emotional narratives. What makes Armond's reviews perversely fascinating is that he is so obviously intelligent, yet this intelligence has been harnessed to the warped imperatives of an increasingly frustrated personality. Where your average critical hack job is just banal, White's ability to disconnect the dots exerts a kind of bizarro brilliance. Try to take any of his recent reviews as seriously as he insists and you'll find yourself, like Alice and the Red Queen, running in hermeneutic circles, getting nowhere fast. It makes for mediocre criticism but lurid psychodrama.

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