Exclusive: Film Critic Armond White Dislikes Baumbach’s Movies
BY ROBERT W. WELKOS
“I have no more against Noah Baumbach than I do against Michael Mann,” White told HollywoodNews.com. “I never met either of them. It’s not personal. I just don’t like their movies.”
White’s comments came after he had been disinvited, some would say “banned,” from an early press screening of Baumbach’s new film, “Greenberg.” His invitation was later restored but the controversy still swirls.
Leslee Dart, the film’s publicist, said she made the decision to keep White from the early screening with “100 percent” support from Focus Features, which is releasing the movie.
She said White’s previous writings and statements prove that the reviewer crossed a line, letting his personal animosity for Baumbach cloud his journalistic responsibility to judge Baumbach’s work fairly.
“I don’t care whether he has it in for Baumbach’s films,” Dart, the head honcho at 42 West, said in a phone interview. She believes that White’s attacks had become “personal.” One example she cited was a review in which White suggested that Baumbach’s mother should have undergone a “retroactive abortion.”
Village Voice critic J. Hoberman dug up a 1998 review of Baumbach’s film, “Mr. Jealousy,” in which White wrote:
“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.”
White denies ever saying that Baumbach’s mother should have aborted him. “Reading the English language, I am not calling for him to be aborted,” White told HollywoodNews.com. “But (Hoberman) decides I am calling for Noah’s abortion. He sides with the mob. What a jerk.”
“That’s splitting hairs,” Dart responded, when told White’s comments. She said if something gets in the way of a journalist’s objectivity he should recuse himself.
The current dispute began, White recalled, when he received a phone call last Thursday from RJ Millard, a publicist for Focus Features, informing him that Baumbach and producer Scott Rudin didn’t want White to attend this Friday’s press screening because of his previous reviews of Baumbach’s films, “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot at the Wedding.”
White said Millard went on to say: “I see your name is on the RSVP list of names for the press screening, I’ve been instructed to tell you not to come to the screening by Noah Baumbach, Scott Rudin and Leslee Dart.”
“Then I asked him why and he said, ‘Because of the things you said about Noah Baumbach,'” White added. “I said, RJ, how dare you come to me with bullshit”
White said he shouldn’t be held responsible for statements he supposedly made that appear on Internet blogs. White said he told Millard: “I’m not responsible for what people say about me in a blog. I’m responsible for what I write under my byline.” White said he then told Millard that Focus Features was “infringing on my First Amendment rights as a critic and as a journalist and I will not be held responsible for what is attributed to me on a blog. A blog is not a legitimate media source.” Millard said, “You are responding to this in a mean-spirited manner.” I said, “No, I’m not. I’m responding with anger.”
“So, the blackballing held until Monday afternoon,” White continued. “I wrote a few friends about what happened and they put it on the Internet. That’s when (Focus Features) backed off.”
“He’s seeing the movie tomorrow (Friday),” Dart said today (Thursday). “It was always the decision that he could see the movie in time to review it.”
Some bloggers contend that the dispute is rooted in White’s professional relationship with Baumbach’s mother, Georgia Brown, who was a film critic at the Village Voice back in the 1980’s. White recalled that during an appearance with Brown on a local radio show, he took objection to what she had written about a 1989 film called “Chameleon Street.”
“She’d written things about “Chameleon Street” that I felt were racist,” he said. When she replied, “Like what,” White told her, “I’m not going to tell you what. You should know your own things.”
Today, White regrets not answering her more fully. “I was just being too clever,” he said.
“He called her a racist and didn’t substantiate his reasons why until many, many days, maybe months, later,” Dart noted.
White is up front when asked his opinion of Baumbach’s films. “I can point to dialogue, scenes and characters in his films that I find offensive,” White said. “I haven’t thought about (his mother). Her son continues to make movies that I think are living ugly.”
Despite his negative view of Baumbach’s films, White points out that he is a “huge admirer” of the director’s wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.
“I think Jennifer Jason Leigh is the best actress in America,” White said. “He thinks I hate his mother, but I really love his wife. That seems not to matter. I’m on record calling her the best actress in the ’90s, but that seems not to matter. So, where is the grudge? You look at my reviews of Jennifer Jason Leigh and I’m praising her to the skies.”