Exclusive: Film Critic Armond White Dislikes Baumbach’s Movies


New York Press film critic Armond White wants to make one thing perfectly clear: it isn’t that he doesn’t like director Noah Baumbach. It’s Baumbach’s movies he dislikes.

“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.”


About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    It sounds like Armond White calls Baumbach’s mother a racist and he doesn’t like any of his movies and is probably going to bash it before he even sees the film…so why should he be allowed to go to anybody’s film?

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    Yeah I wouldn’t invite that guy for nothing, he is just putting negative energy into the world

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    It works both ways folks. Studios continuously weed out the critics they want at their films in order to spread the best buzz. Unless you’re a critic in the upper pantheons, like Ebert and Roeper, those with the highest visibility, the critic himself will be judged based solely on previous writings.

    True, White may have a grudge of some-sort, but to suddenly revoke his invitation for something he said 20 plus years ago is ridiculous. The same holds true to the studios that pander to lesser-known writers by treating them like gods in order to get a positive quote for their advertisements.

    Or worse yet, studios purposefully not holding press screenings before the film is released. They’ll claim its because they want everyone to be “equally pleased” or whatever, but it’s Hollywood-speak for “this movie stinks, so lets prevent word from getting out until it’s released”.

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    No doubt White hates the Baumbachs. He should recuse himself from criticizing the film.

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    Why is everybody so afraid of film critics? they are like dinosaurs…extinct…they are irrelevant nowadays. Also, regarding bloggers opinions, who cares…a bunch of fat ugly people operating out of a basement or a one bedroom apartment, and giving their baseless stupid opinions. If I was the studios I would not advertise with them. After all most of the bloggers have 30 to 40 thousand monthly viewers, if that much, and most of those viewers don’t even go to films or have any say so in the film industry.

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    did anyone speak with RJ Millard at Focus Features to verify if Wgite is telling the truth? just curious.

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    Welcome to America. Any person or business has the right to invite ONLY those that they want to come to their events/screenings. It is not an obligation to invite everyone. It is up to your discretion. Just because someone is a film critic doesn’t give him/her an automatic entree to everything. Also this guy White is a hater. If I was Focus Features I would not want him there either.

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    Armond White get another job. What about cab driver? Who needs your vindictive and bias criticism. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    So, let me get this right. This guy admits that he dislikes all of Baumbach’s films, so why should he be invited to this one? We already know the result so what’s the point?

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    Good for Leslie, I would have done the same thing. I mean this guy doesn’t even give Baumbach a chance. He says, “Her son continues to make movies that I think are living ugly.” So it’s obvious that he goes into the film with a biased mindset to hate it rather than giving the movie a fair chance. That’s the whole role of the film critic, to base it on the movie and not the person….this sounds like he wants to act more like a people critic than a film one.

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    He called Baumbach an “asshole” in an interview he gave, saying he didn’t even need to meet him to know he was an asshole. Sounds personal to me, maybe just a little. Anyway, White’s problem always has been twofold: 1) his need to have his opinion stand out has resulted in his taste being thoroughly corrupted by his own contrarian nature, best exemplified by his turnaround on The Hurt Locker, which was an unknown quantity and presumed to be overlooked upon release when he gave it a rave review, but as soon as others started praising it he started dissing it in his reviews. 2) his taste sucks.

  • March 11, 2010 | Permalink |

    What continually irks, far beyond any issues one may have with the substance of White’s writings on a filmic level, is his continual hypocrisy, short-memory or whatever one would like to label it. Armond White says here:

    ““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.”

    It is his own blindness to his own past words and thoughts that really rankles. He has said, in 2007, that “You look at Noah Baumbach’s work, and you see he’s an asshole. I would say it to his face.” Now he is welcome to his opinion, critically and personally, but it is the disingenuous claims in this article that he has nothing against Noah Baumbach and it isn’t personal. It is a continual tactic of White’s to deny claims he has made in the past when he is called on them. Please, he should at least have the gumption to stand by his statements and not claim he is the victim when someone calls him on his own published remarks. This is a pattern that has shown itself routinely over the years. It is similar to his claim that his first ammendment rights are being violated, a gross overreaction in which he can only be the correct party, and a misreading of the truth (this is not a first amendment issue).

  • March 12, 2010 | Permalink |

    The most offensive aspect of this article is referring to Armond White as a ‘Critic’. He’s not even qualified to be called a hack. Check out his past reviews and you’ll see the man has absolutely no feel for what makes a good movie. He should be barred from every screening because he’s no more a film critic than you or I.

  • March 12, 2010 | Permalink |

    The usual asshole internet comments above, Armond NEVER said Georgia Brown should have aborted her baby. Read the review of Mr. Jealousy again. J. Hobeman & the rest of these anti-White fanatics either cannot read of grasp the English language. Go get em Armond!

  • March 15, 2010 | Permalink |

    Oy. For the benefit of non-native-English speakers like “RH” above, I guess we’ll have to walk slowly through the offending paragraph…

    …But first, it really should be noted that this controversy had been “stalled” after a few days, because AW claimed that the “abortion” comment was an urban legend, and had challenged his critics to produce his “nonexistent” review. Other chroniclers of this contretemps had allowed that no such comment had been found in searches, so the concession was made that AW’s “abortion” line was a misremembered grudge against him.

    Then, lo & behold, Hoberman does some actual shoe-leather research, which involved getting off one’s ass and actually *physically searching* through the microfilmed PRINT reviews which PREDATED the all-encompassing Internet… and he easily confirmed the quote. So much for Armond’s challenge.

    As ‘RH’ would have you believe, the line remains a ‘cryptic, miscommunicated, easily-misunderstood’ type of line. Now that it’s been found and republished in bits and bytes – so that it truly “exists” in this age of the web – Armond is rocked back on his heels and grasps at this new logic-challenged *explanation* “Reading the English language, I am not calling for him to be aborted.”

    With a typically condescending qualifier – as if any other reader is not utilizing or capable of comprehending “the English language” – Armond is being breathtakingly, brazenly disingenuous. “Who do you believe?” he asks, “Me or your own lying eyes?”

    OK, RH.

    “I won’t comment on Baumbach’s deliberate, onscreen references to his former film-reviewer mother…”

    Only as an informative aside, Armond was moved to write about a single on-a-marquee bg shot containing a marquee’d ‘quote’ attributed to “G. Brown” – as opposed to “references”, which implies plural occurrences. Not very classy, but it does tip his hand to reveal the roots of AW’s ‘issues’…

    “except to note how her colleagues now shamelessly bestow reviews as belated nursery presents. ”

    RH, in plain English this means that AW believes that any and all positive reviews Baumbach receives from critics must in fact all be ‘shameless’ and late-coming gifts for Ms. Brown vicariously given to her son.

    No, it doesn’t make any sense and it fails under the tiniest scrutiny. Brown isn’t known for any number of acolytes, nor do critics take it any easier on their competitors’ relatives, or even ex-critics, should an ex-critic or a relative of one go into filmmaking. But it certainly shines a light on which minor, petty elements of the film were most notable to AW and motivated his opinion.

    “To others Mr. Jealousy might suggest retroactive abortion.”

    RW, the “others” AW refers to in this smugly-constructed third-person sentence IS ARMOND HIMSELF. If you had any familiarity with English critical writing you would grasp this. Its placement in context of the previous sentence connotes that “retroactive abortion” is the correct course of action that the film calls for, RATHER THAN BELATED BIRTH GIFTS.

    This sentence is correctly paraphrased as “The film suggests to me that Baumbach should have been aborted by his mother rather than allowed to live to produce this film and receive unjustified positive reviews as gifts to his mother on the occasion of his birth.”

    Again – classy!

    The only ‘wiggle room’ AW has is that there is no such thing as a “retroactive abortion”. That is a black-humor term for, simply, ‘murder’. So, fine – AW could just have easily called for the infanticide or adult-killing of Baumbach by his mother. But he did not. He consciously and cheekily roped in the language of “abortion”, and all the baggage that the word entails.

    I’ll bet he thought it was a *really, really* clever idea at the time… and he certainly didn’t know from “internet search engines” at the time of publication.

    But it really seems that AW should just fall on his sword here and use the exact same resigned – but appropriate – “excuse” that he ruefully uses today to write off that on-air baseless accusation against Brown that continues to fuel his personal venom against her son:

    “I was just being too clever.”

    Thinking you can parse “retroactive abortion” and come out looking inoffensive is just being too clever by half.

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