Getting to the Bottom of the Great Armond White/Greenberg Meltdown of 2010

Get ready for White vs. Baumbach III: Word got out Monday night that famously irascible NY Press critic Armond White was barred from seeing a press screening of the forthcoming Ben Stiller/Noah Baumbach collaboration Greenberg, and that Baumbach himself joined Scott Rudin in issuing the lockdown."I was told this rescinded invite was ordered by director Noah Baumbach, producer Scott Rudin and their publicist," White wrote in an e-mail to his peers, citing distributor Focus Features' initial call on Monday. "They objected to my previous reviews of The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding. I objected that they were infringing upon my First Amendment rights as a journalist."

While neither Baumbach nor Rudin are commenting, their representative Leslee Dart begged to differ this morning -- sort of -- when she spoke with Movieline.

"We never ever banned Armond White from seeing Greenberg," Dart told me. "That was never implied or said. All we did was that I made a decision based on some heinous things that Armond has written and said in interviews with other people that are not related to his review of Noah's movies. He's entitled to not like Noah's movies or not think Noah's talented or any of that -- as every critic is. But he's gone on blogs and in interviews and said his parents should have aborted him. And that he's an 'asshole,' even though he's never met him. So needless to say it's a personal attack by Armond against a filmmaker he's never even had a conversation with. So I single-handedly -- not Noah, not Scott Rudin, but I, Leslee Dart -- called up Focus and said, 'I don't want this guy to be one of the first people to see this movie.' He'll see the movie; he'll make it in time to write his review about it. But there's no reason and there's no rule that says he has to be one of the first people to see this film. Focus supported my decision 100 percent, and that's the story." (Focus representatives declined to comment this morning.)

And what about that whole First Amendment thing? "It's just wrong," Dart said. "It's just not true. His First Amendment rights have not been violated. Like every film, there's a strategy on who sees a movie and when they see it, and this one has a strategy, too. It's not unusual."


On the one hand I get it, at least from a conservative PR perspective. To hear a few others familiar with the "strategy" tell it, they simply don't want White -- who does pretty openly loathe Baumbach and his movies -- poisoning a room full of critics at New York's first review screening Wednesday. On the other hand, I don't get it at all, because few if any mainstream critics are less ideologically influential among their own ranks than Armond White. That's not to say he's not "influential"; he's the current president of the New York Film Critics Circle, and when he gets on a tear (as he did last year when dismantling Precious, or shrugging off Mo'Nique's no-show at this year's NYFCC Awards), it really is something to behold. At its best, his brand of willful contrarianism has reach.

Dart might disagree ("Well, I think that the New York Press is the New York Press," she told me. "I don't think that audience is going to expand because of this"), but of course readers are going to flock to White's review once he finally gets a look at the film -- which he told me he will now see on Friday.

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  • Alison says:

    Well, he's not "one of the first people to see this film," right? They did premiere it at a major film festival, like, last month?

  • Gideon says:

    "I give every film I see a fair viewing."
    Forgive me if I remain skeptical of White's unbiased opinion of films made by someone he wishes to see aborted. Dearest Armond, you're 100% entitled to think Baumbach is an asshole, and he's 100% entitled to not invite you to the first ever screening of 'Greenberg'. Move along.

  • tldrkhnsm says:

    Love him or hate him, at least he has an opinion. I'm so tired of the drivel and pablum that substitutes as film criticism that most critics write in exchange for studio swag or trips or gifts. I mean for crying out load, when you see critics proclaiming Transformers as the "best action film of the year", ya gotta know they ain't doin it for nothin'!

  • unique666 says:

    You obviously never read Armond White's love letter to "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen." The opening paragraph of his review: "WHY WASTE SPLEEN on Michael Bay? He’s a real visionary—perhaps mindless in some ways (he’s never bothered filming a good script), but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is more proof he has a great eye for scale and a gift for visceral amazement. Bay’s ability to shoot spectacle makes the Ridley-Tony-Jake Scott family look like cavemen."

  • Martini Shark says:

    I swear, White seems to write all of his reviews based on what will give the most coverage not to the film or the review, but to himself. Stu nailed it, he is a contrarian. While every critic was getting scoliosis trying to bend over backwards for "Preciious" he dumped on it. And that "Transformers" review clinches it; it was universally loathed by critics so he becomes distinguished from the crowd by finding it worthwhile.
    The result is you cannot give his reviews any credence because it needs to be filtered through the prism of what grants him better PR.

  • J says:

    Can Dart point out any specific instance in an interview or on a blog where Armond White directly said Baumbach's parents should abort him? Because it's not in the interview you linked to (though the "asshole" comments are). When Googling around, I can only find it regurgitated as hearsay in blog comment sections.

  • G_Money says:

    The abortion comment, apparently from a 1998 review of "Mr. Jealousy":
    "I won't comment on Baumbach's deliberate, onscreen references to his former film-reviewer mother except to note how her colleagues now shamelessly bestow reviews as belated nursery presents. To others, Mr. Jealousy might suggest retroactive abortion."
    I don't blame the publicist for witholding an invite to the screening from a guy who actively hates and maligns her client.
    Note to Mr. White: first amendment rights protect you from governmental censorship, not from private censorship. In fact, the same first amendment guarantees the right to freedom of association (per Supreme Court interpretation) which means, "I can put together any group of folks I desire and am granted that right BY the government." So technically Ms. Dart is exercising HER first amendment rights.
    Go find something else to be bitter about.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek says:

    The focus on whether or not Armond White seriously called for Baumbach's abortion is beside the point: he clearly has a personal animus against the director and his family:
    Now, he may honestly think Noah Baumbach's films are terrible, but that's beside the point: standard journalistic practice is that when you have a conflict of interests like this in any situation, you step down and let someone else deal with it. By continuing to review Baumbach's films and pretending he's the victim when he gets barred from a film screening for this unprofessional behaviour, White is tacitly admitting that he's not a journalist any more but is in fact some sort of internet lightning rod designed to attract people to his columns by posting obviously indefensible stuff.
    I have a lot of sympathy for the beleaguered critical fraternity these days, but it's not worth going to bat for White on this issue because he is so clearly in the wrong. And nobody has a First Amendment right to catch a preview screening of a film, for god's sake.