Last week’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards, as had become annual tradition, wrapped up another year of film with the sound of Armond White heckling someone—in this case, 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen, whom numerous other critics claim was called “an embarrassing door man and garbage man” by White. But as with so many things his fellow critics agree they saw and heard, White had a different take: As Boxing Day follows Christmas, he followed the ceremony by lodging his annual complaint that he was being unfairly “maligned” by his colleagues and a “petty” press, calling it “a shameless attempt to squelch the strongest voice that exists in contemporary criticism" as part of his denial that he would try to make himself the center of attention. “I guess the awards themselves don’t matter,” said the man who overshadows the ceremony every year with his behavior, lamenting the way the awards were being overshadowed by his behavior.
Well, that won’t be a factor next year: Following an “emergency meeting” by the NYFCC, White has been expelled from the organization of which he’s served as a three-time chairman and at least four-time heckler. (The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick, whose report on the details of Circle’s voting tallies also landed him in hot water, was expelled for a year.) Entertainment Weekly reviewer and NYFCC member Owen Glieberman offers an insider’s perspective on why he ultimately voted to kick White out, even as he offers a rather glowing defense of White as a writer.
“He’s an embattled critic, but one who is often at war with the lockstep tendencies in our culture, and that’s a noble crusade,” Glieberman says in a piece that calls White “an heir to Lester Bangs.” Still, Glieberman ultimately concludes that White’s pattern of public behavior “suggests that he’s a critic who’s now getting high on hate, and bringing that impulse out into the open,” rather than simply to the pages of Rotten Tomatoes.
White has yet to respond to the NYFCC’s decision, though in his original statement to THR, he shrugged away their complaints and flatly denied he’d ever said any of the quotes attributed to him. “Did I make sotto voce comments to entertain my five guests? Sure, but nothing intended for others to hear and none correctly ‘reported,’” wrote the man whose rudeness was unfairly “reported” as being at a slightly louder volume, and with different wording. “I don't even know what it means to call Steve McQueen a ‘garbage man’ or ‘doorman’ even though the racist implications are obvious.”
Nevertheless, Glieberman backs up his fellow critics’ earlier assertions that, whatever was said, it was enough to cause everyone at his table to turn toward White, looking for the source of the “loud, jeering, disruptive comments” they definitely heard. For White to characterize his outburst as “sotto voce,” Glieberman concludes, he is either “lying or lying to himself, or perhaps both.” Again, it wouldn’t be the first time that White offered a wildly different, possibly self-aggrandizing opinion from his colleagues—but in the case of the NYFCC Awards night, at least, it will be the last. We’ll just have to find some other new way to commemorate a new year in movies.