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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

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    Armond White and Roger Ebert

    By kyle | August 22, 2010

    Benjamin Kerstein sides with the former in a harsh critique of the latter:

    Armond White of the New York Press, detractors have noted, seems to think he is the only real film critic in America. They may well be right, but probably so is he, and the Press’ house contrarian deserves thanks from all self-respecting cinephiles for doing the one thing most (perhaps all) other American film critics either refuse to do or are incapable of doing. Whether one disagrees with White or not, and almost everybody does at one point or another, there is no question that, whatever he writes, he is always thinking about cinema. What it is. What is can do. What it means. This is not much in the tradition of American film criticism, which has mostly been the domain of frustrated literary or theater critics, and sometimes simply the cub reporter nobody knows what to do with. It is far more in line with the extraordinary legacy of French film criticism, especially the avatars of the nouvelle vague like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who later became groundbreaking filmmakers in their own right.

    Topics: Movies | 34 Comments »

    34 Responses to “Armond White and Roger Ebert”

    1. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 22nd, 2010 at 11:07 am

      The main difference between Ebert and White is simple. If there’s something wrong with a movie, Ebert can tell you what they could do to make it better, which is why filmmakers pay attention to him. White can only tell you what is wrong with it, which is why only critics pay attention to him. White is the sort of fellow who would rather tear a house down because he doesn’t know how to fix the garden gate. He’s an entertaining writer and nothing more.

    2. kishke Says:
      August 22nd, 2010 at 11:37 am

      Good article by Kerstein. He dismantles Ebert.

    3. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 22nd, 2010 at 11:55 am

      I hardly think so, Kishke. All he did ( in a remarkably snobby and elitist manner), was to tell everyone what was already evident: Roger Ebert, like Kyle, for example, is only a film reviewer, not a film critic. A film reviewer is a person whose job is to tell Joe Public whether a movie is worth their nine bucks and perhaps a babysitter; a film critic talks about film as a medium. There’s a world of difference between the two.

    4. kishke Says:
      August 22nd, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      That’s a fair point; however, I think Ebert considers himself as something more than a mere reviewer, and he’s certainly thought of that way by others. Either way, though, the article was an excellent and nasty takedown.

    5. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 22nd, 2010 at 1:25 pm

      Ebert can sometimes be way off (his slating of the hugely entertaining GLADIATOR was ridiculous) but he serves the public interest – if he gives a movie a four-star rave that film is going to be worth your money. It’s true he is a liberal, but, like Nolte at Big Hollywood, he won’t let his politics get in the way of telling you a movie is terrific.

      And both men are wise to do so: once a reader realizes that a particular reviewer will automatically diss a movie regardless of its merits because of their personal politics, left or right, that reviewer soon loses all legitimacy and becomes a laughing-stock.

    6. Patrick Wahl Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 1:13 am

      I think all 3 of these people bug me. Armond White is full of himself, as apparently is Kerstein, and I’ve lost a lot of respect for Ebert since he started interjecting his political opinions into his writing. I wonder what sort of “foundation” White thinks you need to be a film critic, and I wonder why Ebert can’t have acquired it as a life long film enthusiast, even if he didn’t get it academically (maybe Kyle could comment on the foundation a critic needs). And why does Kersstein feel the need to say Ebert “claims” Kane is his favorite movie? Does he think Ebert is making that up? (“with depressing predictability” Kerstein says, again, what the hell does that mean? Is he monitoring each time Ebert says that? How many times is too many?) I’ve watched the Criterion Citizen Kane with Ebert’s commentary, and I thought the commentary was excellent. On the same disc was Bogdanovich’s commentary, no where near as good, I stopped listening after a while.

      Botched Surgery? Not that I heard, that was strictly due to cancer. Kerstein must have made that up.

    7. James Frazier Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 2:15 am

      Patrick beat me to a point: Ebert’s “Citizen Kane” commentary was terrific. I doubt anyone could listen to it and then proceed to claim that Ebert lacks an understanding of the film.

      Kerstein rants about how Ebert’s commentary often spells out things that would already be noticeable to even common viewers, but what exactly is inherently wrong with that? One of Ebert’s greatest strengths is that he writes in such a way that the layman can feel like they know as much about film as Ebert does (which, despite what Kerstein might assert, they don’t). His best writing is both accessible and insightful.

      White, on the other hand, writes mainly to impress his peers, or perhaps just himself. Not knocking that, because he’s one of the first critics I read when I’m looking for commentary on a new release, but he’s about as concerned with showing off as he is in talking about the movie at hand. His knowledge of film history is certainly formidable, but he often goes off on so many obscure tangents that it’s rough to follow. Ebert can rarely be accused of such a thing.

    8. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 9:32 am

      If Ebert gives a film a four-star rave it’s going to be worth your money? Really? Cue his review of “Knowing,” a movie that was basically laughed out of theaters.

      His review of Green Zone was also four stars. It exposed “the nature of neocon evildoing,” you see.

    9. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 10:17 am

      There is a difference between a four-star rave and a four-star movie to Ebert, Kyle. Ebert frequently gives a movie four stars. Nither of those reviews were raves. Ebert said they were worth seeing, and they were.

      And surely that’s preferable to giving a movie that won Best Picture and Director two stars because it wasn’t gung-ho for the war, or giving a movie a lousy score and trashing an Oscar-nominated actor because his character gave an incorrect Army salute.

    10. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 12:06 pm

      Ah. Giving a movie your highest rating is not a rave. You have a real problem admitting you’re wrong. (And then you change the subject — maybe Kyle is mean to animals?… and get things wrong all over again!)

      Say it, Hunter: on this, the GZM and much else: “I…was….wrong!” You’ll feel better.

    11. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 12:52 pm

      What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, Kyle.

    12. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 2:45 pm

      But I’m not wrong. “The Hurt Locker” isn’t that great. (I gave it 2.5 stars, by the way, which is above average.) I’m hardly alone in thinking it is one of the most overrated movies of the last 10 years. Go to any dinner party and bring it up if you don’t believe me.

      I will of course be happy to admit I am wrong if, at some point in the future, this unlikely event ever occurs.*

      You, on the other hand, said ground zero mosque opponents were bigots. Then you said you had completely changed your mind and tacitly admitted they were right! Say it Hunter…. “I … was….wrong.”

      *Come to think of it, I was wrong on “I’m Not There.” Hated it first time I saw it. But I did see it again and gave it 3 stars in the review, although by the time I saw it a third time I probably would have given it 4 stars.

    13. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 4:28 pm

      Interesting, Kyle. What is your second viewing score of Howard the Duck?

    14. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 4:35 pm

      I’m not hearing you unless you’re saying, “I…was…wrong”

    15. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 4:37 pm

      I’ll give you part credit if you say it in Yoda: “Wrong was I!”

    16. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 4:38 pm

      You have the option to say it in French: “Je me suis trompé.”

    17. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 4:38 pm

      You can even try the White House Passive Voice: “Mistakes were made. By me.”

    18. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 4:57 pm

      The Searchers, John Ford.

      Ethan Edwards: “Never apologize, son; it’s a sign of weakness.”

      Will that do, Kyle?

      Hugs and Best Wishes


    19. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 6:16 pm

      John Wayne pressed into service as spokesman for an effete pacifist Englishman?

      “That’ll be the day.”

      Hug your wife, not me.

    20. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 7:13 pm

      I’ll bet you have never even met John Wayne, Kyle. I have. And he was a big hugger.

    21. Anwyn Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 7:28 pm

      ….and then came the name-dropping. Like clockwork.

    22. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 7:29 pm

      I’m sorry, Anwyn. Tell us about the time you met Michael Moriarty. Was he sober?

    23. Anwyn Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 7:36 pm

      Who cares? Obviously by your lights all that matters was whether, if he was drinking, I drank with him.

    24. Kyle Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 8:49 pm

      Since I was in seventh grade when he died, no, I did not hug John Wayne due to local and federal man-boy ordinances that no doubt do not apply in English boarding schools but as I bloomed into the full flower of manhood I did enjoy learning about his views on Communists, subversives, pacifists, pinkos and effete European degenerates in general.

    25. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 11:00 pm

      Well, that’s probably just as well, Kyle. Mr. Wayne thought all critics were loathsome reptiles with the exception of his favourite, Roger Ebert.

      Naturally, You did not know that Wayne, like Robert Mitchum, were great friends with Ebert. This is because you know nothing about the movie industry. Tell me again, Kyle, exactly what qualified you to write movie reviews for the Post?

      You are, without a shadow of a doubt, the most ill-informed, ignorant and clueless individual ever to write for a major publication. Stick to books, Kyle; you know nothing about movies.

    26. LtCol W Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 11:26 pm

      Point of pedantic order against Mr. Tremayne; Ethan Edwards is not the character famous for that quote. It was Capt. Nathan Brittles, in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

    27. Christian Toto Says:
      August 23rd, 2010 at 11:34 pm

      Hunter – you spend an awful lot of time visiting the site of “the most ill-informed, ignorant and clueless individual ever to write for a major publication.”

    28. Kevin W. Says:
      August 24th, 2010 at 9:38 am

      Hunter IS Kyle. Haven’t you seen “Fight Club”?

    29. blackhawk12151 Says:
      August 24th, 2010 at 10:00 am

      @ Kevin W.

      That’s been my theory for quite some time.

    30. JimmyC Says:
      August 24th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

      @Kevin: I am Jack’s pretentious English playwright.

    31. Patrick Wahl Says:
      August 24th, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      Hunter seems prone to becoming somewhat excitable every few months. (and you know, I’m not sure that knowing Wayne and Mitchum were friends with Ebert would really aid someone in reviewing movies in 2010)

    32. Sam Fragoso Says:
      December 26th, 2010 at 3:49 am

      Please let this conversation stand as a living testament that Roger Ebert is the better and more informed critic. And honestly a better person. He would never get in a fight with random posters on the internet. Oh and if you truly believe Ebert knows nothing about movies, may I suggest reading his ten + book about them? Or maybe his commentary on the greats’? I’m not saying Mr. Smith is a bad critic. His writing is superb, pity for the lack-there-of understanding for them.

    33. kishke Says:
      December 26th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      pity for the lack-there-of understanding for them.

      An inventive phrase, but not quite English. Where are you from, Azerbaijan?

    34. Hugh Says:
      December 27th, 2010 at 7:07 pm

      While I have never been all that impressed by Ebert as a critic, he is much more readable and human than Armond White, who is just a self-important windbag. He is taking the p*ss out of people. half his reviews are just to get a rise out of people. He loathes 90% of the movie-going public, which means he basically loathes 90% of the human race. He writes in completely fake academic gobblegook style, like a Derrida of Cinema with a capital C. He is contrarian for its own sake. He is sometimes astute about critical and political consensus and has a deep knowledge of movie history. But if I want to read someone with a jaundiced view of critical and academic or political consensus I’d rather read Kyle, without the ridiculous, incomprehensible jargon. BTW, some of Ebert’s recent writings since his surgery, aside from cinema, which I was referred to unexpectedly, is moving. Armond White? He’s just a serious annoyance. And no, he hasn’t particularly skewered any favorites of mine. You just can’t read him without thinking wow, what a load of bs signifying bs.