About the end of yesterday word started to spread that New York Press film critic and New York Film Critics Circle chairman Armond White had been disinvited from a critics' screening of Noah Baumbach's forthcoming Greenberg. White sent an email to some colleagues (not to me), saying "I was told this rescinded invite was ordered by director Noah Baumbach, producer Scott Rudin and their publicist... 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."
Shortly after 11:30 last night I, along with many others, was sent this email—which has already been posted all over the place today—from one "John Doe," at the email address FilmCritic1138@yahoo.com:
You may not have heard that Armond White has been blackballed by Focus Features at the request of Noah Baumbach and his producer Scott Rudin from seeing Noah's latest "masterpiece" GREENBERG. [Noah, maybe you should make better films. Scott, go throw a cellphone at some PA you thin-skinned pussy.]
Some of you may think that Armond is a pretentious pompous fool who has no idea what he's talking about, but he is still a fellow film critic. [Hail Todd McCarthy, fired by Variety today so they can save some shekels.]
Publicists are akin to Nazis. Remember what Hitler said, "Who remembers the Armenians?" As publicists blacklist each of us one by one we will be left with the Paul Wunders of the 21st Century aka blogger hacks who can't spell or write a comprehensive sentence.
I suggest we all do three things:
1. DO NOT review Greenberg, if you are ordered to by your superior make a reference to the Gestapo tactics of the distributor, filmmaker and producer.
2. Complain directly to the President of Focus Features, James Schamus who prides himself on being a writer and supporter of the written word. This is his email address: [redacted, sorry]
3. Write directly to Scott Rudin and tell him you will not review any of his upcoming films.
Scott Rudin Productions
120 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036-4041
Maureen Battaglia - Internship Coordinator
[redacted again, sorry again]/p>
Upcoming Films: Margaret (Fox Searchlight), The Social Network (Columbia - 10/15)
Hail the First Amendment. Fuck the talentless hacks.
Film Critic 1138
(Confidential to John Doe: I'm pretty sure Scott Rudin's assistant won't be forwarding her boss those emails.)
Now then. This contretemps, much-discussed by many of my starved-for-controversy colleagues, has since been resolved: White's seeing it this week. The identity of the emailer remains unknown, with some speculating, given the assault on bloggers and shout-out to X's John Doe, that it was White himself (he does have my email address. So do a lot of other people).
For some background, there's this excellent post at IFC's Indie Eye blog, in which Vadim Rizov breaks down White's career of reviewing Baumbach. Armond White is a critic uniquely loyal or dismissive of specific filmmakers, and his slaggings of Baumbach's films are quite personal in nature. (He also said, in an informal 2007 interview, "You look at Noah Baumbach's work, and you see he's an asshole. I would say it to his face.") This in fact appears to go back to a long-ago feud between White and Baumbach's mother, the former Village Voice critic Georgia Brown—during a joint radio appearance, White accused Brown (falsely, it would seem) of making racist statements in her reviews.
So it might be argued that as White's beef with Baumbach is of a personal nature—is in fact a family feud—that Baumbach's people are within their rights. I don't know about that. The L's Benjamin Strong and I were discussing this today; he suggests that it's a dangerous precedent, culture jamming in reverse, if studios can blackball unfriendly critics: "Anyone who defers to publicists sort of makes the point Armond himself is often trying to make when he derides his colleagues for their industry complicity."
Given the implications, it's jarring that most critics seem to be siding with Baumbach rather than with one of their own, judging from the tone on most insider-y comments sections. Perhaps they're recoiling from the hyperbole of the anonymous email. Or perhaps they are standing with one of their own—Georgia Brown.
In any case, nobody comes out of this well (except for the New York Press, who'll see a spike in traffic for next week's issue). Baumbach and Rudin's PR person walked back considerably, letting White into Friday's screening. Their rep Leslee Dart attempted to clarify the story, to S. T. VanAirsdale at Movieline:
We never ever banned Armond White from seeing Greenberg. 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.
1. This would not be the first time that an overzealous publicist has tried to outmaneuver a critical pan—in fact, with review embargoes and late screenings it's increasingly, sneakingly, the norm. Nor, however, would this be the first time a publicist has fallen on the sword for her client.
2. This thing, about Armond White saying Georgia Brown should have had an abortion, comes up not infrequently (in other discussions linked to in this piece too). But unlike the rest of this whole mess, it's not true. The earliest trace of this story I can find is on an unsourced comment from a three-year-old blog post, and it's dusted off every couple of years, when we have long comments-section discussions about Armond. But it's apocryphal, until somebody proves otherwise.
Anyway, film criticism was briefly exciting today, and I thought you all should know about it.UPDATE, the next day:
It's been suggested to me, by someone with a longer memory, that the abortion remark or something like it may indeed have been made, in White's review of one of Baumbach's 90s films. (The online New York Press archives don't go back that far.) A new comment on the Indie Eye post gives some background on the accusation of racism, and suggests a specific source for the abortion comment.
FURTHER UPDATE: Just go here.