A few days ago Armond White was recently expelled – my, that sounds kind of violent and ominous – from the New York Film Critics Circle. It was a big deal when he joined the Circle in 1987. With him gone, the group has one black member. I’m hoping that there is better representation of Asians, Latino(a)s, Native Americans. I sort of doubt it, but I hope so.
Does the Circle still matter? Yes, and no.
Here’s its storied history:
- John Huston once called their award “the greatest honor that anyone in my profession can receive,” and John Ford even admitted, “it means more to me than any other honor.” For sixty-five years the New York Film Critics Circle have consistently recognized, championed and defended films that may otherwise have been slighted by audiences and the entertainment industry. Founded in part as a response to the Academy Awards’ sometimes dubious selections for the annual best in cinema, the NYFCC has from the start prided itself on striving to recognize a higher standard of film. (http://www.nyfcc.com/history/)
With blogs and sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, it seems like everyone’s a critic. But the major outlets still matter. They may matter less, but they still matter. Reviews in the LA or New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, may not hold sway as Pauline Kael’s did. It’s hard to see how a critic today could emerge to have the same pop culture panache as Roger Ebert.
But nonetheless. The Circle and criticism still matter. To marketing, to distribution. It influences what films are triumphed and which are relegated to the dust bin. It shapes who gets tenure and retrospectives. Criticism whispers into the ears of directors, actors, writers and designers.
Armond White is by all accounts a bit of a curmudgeon. And if it is true that he heckled Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), that was rude. I personally cringe. That old slave mind kicks in. Don’t embarrass us in front of folks.
But given the utter obnoxiousness and disdain I’ve seen live and in print from several of his colleagues, it is very hard for me to respect a decision where he had no input and accounts are a bit inconclusive.
** I know that he declined to attend the meeting. But under the circumstances, that seems very understandable. I clock the odds of his attendance being anything other than a beat down at nearly 0%
Bullying, hectoring behavior is celebrated for some. Gov. Christie before the Bridge, Secretary Rumsfeld before Iraq started to unravel. For others, perfect manners aren’t even enough. I think this is a move that was hoped for for some time. Did Mr. White make it easier for the Circle? Absolutely. But White’s departure makes me wonder. What does work? Thuggery? Kwame Kilpatrick. Nope. Gentlemanly? David Dinkins. Nope. All business? Herman Cain. Nope.
So, the Circle is now less than it was. White is a distinguished, independent minded (City Sun, anyone?) critic. The Circle will be reduced without his voice. And they have set a dangerous precedent that the law of karma dictates will bite them in the end.
How do you carve out a space in a difficult, barren land, Mr. White? When you find out, let the rest of us in on it.