Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The 2006 Armond Year in Review: "Final Destination 3"

Sometimes it's almost too easy.
Never have we spotted a more perplexing case of critical schizophrenia than Armond White's lauding of Final Destination 3. Six years earlier White panned the first Final Destination in the following terms:

Sadly, I realize there is consensus for this type of flippancy. Conversely, the consensus blindness regarding Mission to Mars indicates a cultural crisis. The new teen thriller Final Destination gets flip about death, as Mission to Mars does not. Director James Wong uses the new shock f/x of Super Real Catastrophe seen in the car accidents of Meet Joe Black and Erin Brockovich to jolt rather than insinuate fear or reveal squeamishness. The plot of a psychic teen Alex (Devon Sawa) trying to outwit fate becomes a series of Rube Goldberg death rallies, staged bluntly, not cleverly. When Alex's classmate (Ali Larter) recalls her father's death, it's a bland recitation without being strange or evocative like Phoebe Cates' in Gremlins. And though minor characters all have the names of movies figures associated with horror films -- Lewton, Browning, Wiene, Schreck, Hitchcock, Chaney, Murnau, Dreyer -- it's fake sophistication, disgracing a grave, poetic tradition.

Yet regarding FD mark three:

Director James Wong displays genuine cinematic inventiveness. Having obviously studied DePalma [sic], Wong makes good use of screen space and split compositions, and times the chain-reaction, fatal-accident relays with snap and gallows humor. The Final Destination series is all about spectacle—the only thing we know this side of death—which means its violence is stylized, where so many other youth-targeted movies . . . present it with tactless brutality. Final Destination 3's unexpected visual wit—it is a live-action Road Runner cartoon—distinguishes it from those grind-house flicks, making it fascinating and defensible as pop entertainment.

If this isn't an about-face . . . Even were one to defend this bizarro self-contradiction by pointing out distinctions between the first FD and the third (of which there are practically none) that our man remains brilliantly sensitive to, well, that wouldn't help because AW now seems to approve of the entire series. Not only that, he's favorably comparing the third to his immortal De Palma, whereas before he contrasted Final Destination's "flippancy" about death with Mission to Mars' "emotionalism." Did director James Wong spend countless sessions between FD installments studiously viewing MtM (a la Orson Welles obsessively watching Stagecoach while making Citizen Kane) in order to properly infuse the franchise with De Palma's moral gravity?
Consciously perpetrated or not, what Armond's flip-flop tells us is that the man might want to have it both ways. When Mission to Mars gets unfairly bashed he runs to the rescue by chiding the culture and media at large for ignoring its humanism in favor of titillating exploitation like Final Destination; when the FD series fades (relatively) into the cultural background he backs it so as to offer a "surprising" reading of its b-movie subversiveness to combat high brow critiques like A History of Violence and Match Point, as well as real titillating exploitation like Saw and House of Wax. But Armond's switcharoo is also a moralistic move:

And here's where Final Destination 3 takes one by surprise. It rejects cool for comic horror. That may sound like the flip of Munich, but it's still essentially humane because it recognizes dismay as an honest response to death. Sensitivity comes through in the reflective moments when teens Kevin and Wendy (Ryan Merriman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) plot to cheat death. These innocent-looking highschool seniors have witnessed the decimation of their classmates at an amusement park and then await—and attempt to outwit—their own fates. One clever scene announces the presence of the Grim Reaper with the image of a Ramones bobblehead doll. This connects with a student's brave boast that "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, man," which is made prior to boarding a rollercoaster (the film's first scary set-piece). Pop-Nietzche [sic -- is AW or the Press to blame for these embarrassing typos?] and pop-nihilism have been swallowed whole without real comprehension by the characters. In permitting audiences to see the irony of its protagonists' youthful flippancy being expressed moments before they die, Final Destination 3 offers a message.

According to Armond, FD 3 warns its audience and its audience's on-screen surrogates not to be so damn flip about death. It's almost as if Armond offers FD 3 as a corrective to the first two films' lack of self-reflexivity, except that he doesn't explicate any change in the direction of the series from film to film. He also seems to like his moral instruction served cruel and unusual:

Despite its domino-effect game quality, the film startles us into awareness about modern culture. It'll be hard to top the comment on sexist consumerism and teenage narcissism made in the sequence where a tanning salon bed becomes a sarcophagus. Its climactic image—a phosphorescent close-up of a nude hottie in eyeshades, her mouth open to scream and her tongue pierced with a sex stud—is like a Polaroid snapshot capturing contemporary degeneracy. It's eerily fatal and fantastic—a death-fixated version of a Warhol silkscreen.

So now we know: "contemporary degeneracy" equals tanning. And the lurid punishment of female sexuality so essential to the reactionary strand of the horror genre in which FD 3 thoughtlessly (but extremely effectively) participates equals an "awareness about modern culture." What's sad is that Armond connects FD 3 to Munich via their similar goals of "preserv[ing] human values" and "want[ing] audiences to be appalled at violence." Munich's complex (although often problematic) (re)presentations of violence as spectacle might warrant such words, but given FD 3's simplistic moralism we're not as willing as AW to twist ourselves into critical knots in order to give this film such heft. Especially after we felt the exact opposite about its nearly indistinguishable predecessor.

49 comments:

Mark Asch said...

You say:

"Consciously perpetrated or not, what Armond's flip-flop tells us is that the man might want to have it both ways. When Mission to Mars gets unfairly bashed he runs to the rescue by chiding the culture and media at large for ignoring its humanism in favor of titillating exploitation like Final Destination; when the FD series fades (relatively) into the cultural background he backs it so as to offer a "surprising" reading of its b-movie subversiveness to combat high brow critiques like A History of Violence and Match Point, as well as real titillating exploitation like Saw and House of Wax. But Armond's switcharoo is also a moralistic move..."

But I'd argue that it's already a moralistic switcheroo. When Armond is on, which is to say, when he's one of the most challenging and important critics working (and even I'll admit that he occasionally is), it's because he has few peers when it comes to analyzing the experience of the Other, in all its pathos and nuance. I'm thinking particularly of his writings on racial otherness (the politics of the black experience as represented in Hollywood and hip-hop) and sexual otherness (manifestations of homosexuality, say, in Hollywood and the persona of Morrissey); even if I disagree with his conclusions and cringe at his gratuitous, dismissive asides, it's impossible to write this stuff off. (As you discuss in your assessment of his Pursuit of Happyness review.)

I think (and this is veering very close to psychoanalysis so I'll specify that I'm talking about "Armond White" the byline and nothing else) that he also writes from the perspective of the Moral Other, as a religious conservative — so I'm I would say safely assuming — in a critical environment that either is or is perceived as largely secular and left-wing. And as an Artistic Other, an aesthetic purist in an increasingly shallow market-driven and uninformed movie marketplace. Hence, the relatively unheralded FD 3 is lauded a la De Palma's film maudits, while the presumably more popular — especially among (ghost) hipsters — original is panned.

And, now that I've gotten myself going: one of the really mind-boggling things about the guy is figuring out where he stands on things like the ever-ephemeral but oft-alluded-to "pop culture." The Senses of Cinema interview is really interesting, in that he contrasts the apparent "morality" of the French New Wave with the (hipster) amorality of Quentin Tarantino. (It's a point he repeats, and elaborates on, in this quite illuminating-for-our-purposes review of The Matador: http://www.nypress.com/19/1/film/ArmondWhite.cfm.)

We can argue, of course, that in the course of pursuing this crusade against one straw-template of popular culture (in favor of another straw-template) he's distorting both present and past, and bending both to the whims of his ideological frame, in which quotation ranks as the First Deadly Sin. But let's hold off on that, at least, for a little longer. (As for why quotation, pastiche, postmodernism, whatever, is seen as immoral, perhaps it has something to do with mainstream popular culture's long-standing tradition of appropriating the Other. Check this Slate piece on "the crimes of Stepin Fetchit": http://www.slate.com/id/2131457/. Of course this is a suggestion that reduces this post to the level of pop psychology; if he does bear the wounds of the Other, it's as a forceful critic assessing the culture from the vantage point of his own moral center, not as some wounded member.)

So, to reference another recent review of his in relation to this half-baked thesis that I'm making up as I type, We Are Marshall, a movie about heartland conservatism directed by a music video director, is right in his wheelhouse: a pop form expressing compassion for the ideological Other. Or, if you prefer, the Resistance.

Sheesh, I went on, there. And I bet it only takes one counterexample to shred it completely. Which I would welcome, obviously.

Anyway, I love your site. And I really hope you're Eric Kohn. Or Jennifer Merin.

John Demetry said...

"the lurid punishment of female sexuality so essential to the reactionary strand of the horror"

The non sequiturs are blinding. tanning = female sexuality???reactionary = lurid punishment of female sexuality? So when you refer to Armond White's "conservative" film readings - since that "concept" was never defined (despite your assurance that you will define your terms) - you mean to say his film readings participate in "the lurid punishment of female sexuality so essential to the reactionary strand. . . "?

Armond White's "readings" of "FD3" and "The Black Dahlia" are predicated on a senstivity to the exploitation of female sexuality. His reading of this sequence in FD3 provides equations that DO make sense, which amount to: Flippancy towards death = exploitation of teenage narcissism by sexist consumerism = contemporary degeneracy. Mouth open to scream = evidence of the humanity that is exploited.

Show me one sequence in the first two Final Destination movies (both of which I like, but not as much and not at all for the same reasons that I love Final Destination 3) that accomplishes a similar level of moral vision. Just saying: "nearly indistinguishable predecessor" does not make it so.

Ben Kessler said...

Sometimes it's too easy...when you rely on half-baked ideology to make critical distinctions for you.

Even in the excerpts you quote, it's easy to see why Armond liked FD3 and dissed its predecessor. He used the word "clever" to describe what the first film was not. Then, six years later, he describes an FD3 image (fried girl in a tanning booth) that is, um, CLEVER (or, as you would describe it, "extremely effective").

Why do you ignore such obvious points? Because, to you, all "reactionary horror films" are indistiguishable--y'know, like Cronenberg movies. You're relying on knee-jerk political responses rather than sincere engagement.

Armond says in the excerpt that "spectacle...is all we know this side of death." You might do well to think a bit about what that means, for Armond's writing and for yours.

Anonymous said...

Armond White did a similar thing with Saving Private Ryan. He wrote a positive but reserved review of Saving Private Ryan. Then, after he gauged the other critics, he wrote a review the following week, giving it much more praise. He seems to need to define himself against "the establishment" and doesn't really have a sense of his own identity.

The Resistance said...

Mr. Demetry,

The scene in question from Final Destination 3 contains two teenage girls undressing and climbing into separate tanning booths. After the revelation of their nude bodies, and while the camera surveys them from head to toe while they are inside the booths, the visitation of death takes effect. As in Psycho, Halloween, and countless other horror films, the arousing sight of young female flesh is followed up by its gruesome destruction. So do not put words in our mouths. We absolutely did not say that Armond White's film readings participate in "the lurid punishment of female sexuality" -- we said the movie does. AW merely supports the film's tactics, violent reactions to "excessive" female sexuality that they are.
That's why we'll have to disagree with you that "Armond White's 'readings' of FD 3 and The Black Dahlia are predicated on a senstivity to the exploitation of female sexuality." We're also confused by your summarizing equation of White's review: "Flippancy towards death = exploitation of teenage narcissism by sexist consumerism = contemporary degeneracy. Mouth open to scream = evidence of the humanity that is exploited." Who's being flippant toward death here? In his review of the first Final Destination White names as "flip" in their attitude toward death 1) American culture at large 2) Final Destination and 3) the characters of Final Destination. In his FD 3 review White singles out the film's characters as flip. If we take "flippancy" to refer to the characters' attitudes, what does this mean, that these young men and women are therefore exploiting "teenage narcissism by sexist consumerism"? That doesn't seem to make sense, so we'll work backward to the second possibility. But if the movie itself exploits teenage narcissism, then that would go against White's objective to herald the film's "awareness about modern culture" and your own claims for White's "senstivity to the exploitation of female sexuality." Working around both White and your vague terms, that leaves the first possibility: flippancy decribes the attitude of American culture toward death. This to us seems plausible -- American cultural does often reveal an extreme disregard for the gravity of mortality. Perhaps that's what White means by the statement we quoted starting with the line "Despite its domino-effect game quality . . ." But the equation seems cheap to us. The two female conflagration victims are portrayed as shallow, oblivious bimbos -- their vacuous superficiality is supposed to symbolize "cultural degeneracy," a problematic linking not only because it either ignores or tries to sneakily validate the film's violent reaction to female sexuality (explicated above), but also because it sells such punishment as a moral lesson. The "evidence of the humanity that is exploited" in the form of the mouth open to a scream might impart an awareness of fatal horror (as surely the screaming character is now no longer oblivious to the reality of death), but it's a stretch to think this image imparts an "awareness about modern culture": The girls' nude bodies are exploited by nobody but the filmmakers.

The Resistance said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Resistance said...

Mr. Kessler,

We're glad you've posted a comment on Armond Dangerous -- Mr. Demetry wanted an example of another Armond acolyte, and here you are.
The fact of the matter is that Armond White doesn't just approve the third FD but now seems to have given his thumbs up to the entire series, whereas six years ago (almost seven now) he derided the first installment:

The Final Destination series is all about spectacle—the only thing we know this side of death—which means its violence is stylized.

Funny you excised the first seven words of that sentence in your comment.
Anyway, we never said "all 'reactionary horror films' are indistiguishable" -- we said each FD film is practically so from one another, and that a particular scene from the third FD uses (very cleverly, extremely effectively, and so on -- it's a good film for what it's aiming to do) classic generic methods. So here's the deal: while we make sense of Armond's ideas about death and spectacle, as you suggested, you dwell on what it means to take someone's words out of context, 'kay?

Ben Kessler said...

Read the sentence again. What Armond is doing is merely describing the series' concept, which requires "visual wit" in order to work, as all film style does. In the very next sentence, White associates wit only with the third installment.

Visual wit is also what distinguishes FD3 from "classic" genre films like Halloween. Your lack of sensitivity to that quality results in your reliance on facile political binaries: "progressive/reactionary," etc.

This genre-man business of segmenting film culture into discrete categories is all about political convenience, keeping the ideological perpetual-motion machine spinning. The same people who balk at Armond mentioning Match Point and Hostel in the same review have no problem comparing The Passion of the Christ to snuff-porn. Seeing past genre into Truth should be the mission of any self-respecting critic.

Which leads me to my next point: Human beings don't come in genres. You label me a White acolyte before even responding to my argument. I'm not an Armond White follower, I don't even call myself a film critic, but your pre-emptive finger-pointing serves to discredit my arguments in the eyes of those who consider Armond dangerous.

You began this blog by saying, "Let's crack this nut. No pun intended." That's where you lost me. Question: Have you ever said something sincerely to someone, only to have that person laugh in your face? If you can remember how that felt at the time, maybe you can understand what it means to dismiss Armond's dissent with a craven implication of insanity. Of course, you don't say it outright; you count on established figures like Lisa Schwartzbaum to do that. You'll even praise Armond when he sticks to writing about African-Americans. More than the mandate of a film critic, your job description resembles Morrissey's lines about police practice: "They say 'to protect and to serve'/But what they really mean to say is, 'get back to the ghetto.'"

Genres are just ghettos for art.

Anonymous said...

Why would you dismiss a blog for calling Armond White a "nut" and then defend Armond White who calls people far worse. Another commenter criticized the writers of Armond Dangerous by saying that it's facile to criticize a work of art by appealing to speculations about the creator's psychology. How does he respond to these gems from the legend himself?

"IS MIKE NICHOLS evil? What else would explain his going from the dismayingly unfelt HBO version of Tony Kushner's Angels in America to a chic freak show like Closer?"
http://www.nypress.com/17/48/film/ArmondWhite.cfm

"Godard's instincts are profound. He understands what filmmakers from Todd Haynes to Michael Mann, Lars Von Trier to Guy Maddin—as well as their ticket-buying minions and fawning critical supporters—are too cowardly to admit:"
http://www.nypress.com/17/48/news&columns/feature.cfm

"I WANT TO banalize you," Lars Von Trier tells filmmaker Jorgen Leth in The Five Obstructions. It's a confession he could also be making to his own audience. Von Trier wants to destroy cinema;"
http://newyorkpress.com/17/21/film/ArmondWhite.cfm

"Directors Eytan Fox, Michael Winterbottom and Peter Hedges approach movies as amateurs and barbarians; they’re among today’s trendy video brigade who have helped sway the visual art of cinema away from movies and toward craven career-moves."
http://www.nypress.com/print.cfm?content_id=9130

"These figures exist in brilliant contrast to the virtually faceless indigent types of Michael Winterbottom’s In This World, which focused on the chic subject of Middle Eastern turmoil. Using the even more chic style of digital-video recording, director Winterbottom affected a theatrical version of tv’s Survivor or The Great Race, merely to show off his hipness and liberal bona fides."
http://www.nypress.com/17/8/film/film2.cfm

Anyone who stops reading this blog because it refers to Armond White as a "nut" should have stopped reading Armond White years ago. His arrogance, contempt, omniscience, self-righteousness are plain for all to see in his reviews quoted above (just the tip of the iceberg). He does more than speculate about the psychology and motives of these artists, he claims to have privileged access to their secret inner schemes to "destroy," to perpetuate "evil," to "show off hipness," etc etc etc etc.

The final word goes to another reader who wrote an amazing critique of the sloppiness and inattention that has become Armond's hallmark, from which I take this excerpt: "Why does Armond have to keep condemning anyone who likes the movies that he doesn’t like?"
http://www.nypress.com/16/46/mail/mail.cfm

Ben Kessler said...

Anonymous,

Judging by your reference to Armond's "omniscience," I'd say you think far more highly of him than I do. Omniscience is how gods, not human beings, perceive the world. Since you impute godlike qualities to Armond (though the context calls for a phrase like "presumption of his own omniscience"), it's fair to say that you, not I, are the Armond acolyte. To me, Armond White is just a writer.

If using rough words to describe someone other than yourself were a crime for writers, I doubt there'd be a scribe left walking the streets. The question to ask is: What's behind the words? In Armond's case, I know. He displays it: Erudition, compassion, intelligence, not to mention a consciousness supple enough to absorb the visions of such contrasting artists as Mel Gibson and avowed atheist Marco Bellocchio.

Because I'm not an acolyte, I feel no need to defend every single sentence Armond's written, though I'm sure someone could. But my instinct is to defend a man who possesses the precious attributes listed above. If the name on this blog belonged to a writer I knew and respected, my attitude might be different, though my objections would not. The salient fact here, though, is that "Armond Dangerous," whoever he/they is/are, calls Armond a bad writer when he/she/it can barely compose a coherent sentence him/herself.

But anyway, I haven't dismissed this blog at all. I'm reading carefully and carefully planning my responses. Feel free to label me a kook and write me off if you choose to.

Anonymous said...

"You began this blog by saying, 'Let's crack this nut. No pun intended.' That's where you lost me."

"But anyway, I haven't dismissed this blog at all. I'm reading carefully and carefully planning my responses."

* * *

"The question to ask is: What's behind the words? In Armond's case, I know. He displays it: Erudition, compassion, intelligence"

compassion: "Using the Tipton Three’s smugness to discredit the Bush administration"

"The Tipton Three remain arrogantly defiant throughout. Their political nonchalance and insolence in the face of alleged torture"
http://www.nypress.com/19/25/film/ArmondWhite2.cfm

intelligence/erudition:

"Mel Gibson’s press whipping for The Passion of the Christ was like no other movie vilification seen in my lifetime... The unfairness of the attack on Gibson was brought to light when Quentin Tarantino—of all people, God bless him—in an L.A. Weekly interview with John Powers, stood up...Gibson has made a direct allegory about the decline of the West, but he audaciously sets it 600 years back to the decline of the Mayans. Is that distanced enough from the political platform of the Christian Right to spare Gibson the ire of liberal editorial boards?... Only viciously, politically-biased, anti-art pundits can deny that lately, with these two films, Gibson has been thinking in visual terms and putting most American movie directors to shame."
http://www.nypress.com/19/49/film/ArmondWhite.cfm

etc etc etc etc

Anonymous said...

"The salient fact here, though, is that "Armond Dangerous," whoever he/they is/are, calls Armond a bad writer when he/she/it can barely compose a coherent sentence him/herself."

1) Dehumanize writer of Armond Dangerous ("he/she/it");

2) Unleash demonstrably untrue, hyperbolic attack ("can barely compose a coherent sentence");

3) Apply dehumanizing, hyperbolic attack to avoid grappling with reality and truth...

Armond White's acolytes seem less interested in furthering his ideas than in furthering his embarrassing methods of attacking those who question his thought.

Anonymous said...

As a close conspirator with, if not member of, the Resistance, I would like to thank White's “acolytes" (argue all you want-- that moniker's going to stick). It's difficult and frustrating to contribute in a forum where your views are unpopular. While I disagree with many of your opinions about this blog, you keep the Resistance on its toes and force it to clarify its ideas and arguments. Speaking to that, I think that the Resistance has been consistently coherent in its postings and erudite in its responses, clarifying its use of different terms and its reasoning for applying binaries that can be stifling to real interpretation if used thoughtlessly.

“Because I'm not an acolyte, I feel no need to defend every single sentence Armond's written, though I'm sure someone could.”—Sorry BK, thinking everything that someone says could be defended makes you an acolyte. While you criticize another commenter for using the word omniscient (though, in that case it was an obvious misuse, and what they were referring to was clear in the context of their comment), the basic principle you put for with that sentence implies that Armond is always right, or at least always true to some logical or moral compass that our puny human consciousness can’t fathom. Sounds pretty god-like to me. Half kidding.

Thanks again!
Marg

The Resistance said...

Mr. Kessler,

Read the whole paragraph again. One more time:

The Final Destination series is all about spectacle -- the only thing we know this side of death -- which means its violence is stylized, where so many other youth-targeted movies (from the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and House of Wax remakes to Saw, Hostel and Wolf Creek) present it with tactless brutality. Final Destination 3’s unexpected visual wit -- it is a live-action Road Runner cartoon -- distinguishes it from those grind-house flicks, making it fascinating and defensible as pop entertainment.

White compares FD 3's "visual wit" to the "tactless brutality" of "grind-house flicks," not the first two films of the FD series.
As for what constitutes "visual wit," well, that's a matter of opinion. We happen to think the opening pov shot from Halloween is also "visually witty." But like FD, that film's effective methods express a violent reaction against female sexuality. One can be "sensitiv[e] to that quality" of film aesthetics and still question the social, cultural, and political messages of the movies. Not to open a can of worms, but in examining The Birth of a Nation one can easily claim -- as has been stated time and again -- that it is a film at the pinnacle of cinematic art carrying a horrible racist message. No?
You say: "This genre-man business of segmenting film culture into discrete categories is all about political convenience, keeping the ideological perpetual-motion machine spinning." Actually, one thing we love about Armond White's work is the way he makes galvanizing connections across genres, filmmakers, periods, artforms, etc. But we will call him out when he makes connections only to guilt a film by association, as in the case of his linking Match Point to Hostel (at least we assume "[t]he same people" was a reference to us -- if so we absolutely never spoke of The Passion of the Christ as "snuff-porn.")
You also say: "Human beings don't come in genres." Did we ever say they did? You seem to be using a slippery slope argument in order to associate our questions about Armond White's ideas about genre and particular film genres, our own ideas about genre and particular film genres, and our supposed dismissal of Armond by ghettoizing him, or something. If we categorize Armond White's writing and ideas (trying not to pigeon-hole them, of course), that's because it's a good way to, you know, speak about and understand them. Same goes for movies. When you write "Genres are just ghettos for art" we wonder if you really believe in this impoverished idea. Critics speak about genres in terms of trends, historical movements, individual directors' relationships to them, etc., etc. In other words, genres are often useful concepts with which to speak about and understand film.
Lastly, we were entirely sincere in our statement of intent when we wrote "No pun intended," by way of joke. The joke was that a lot of people we know do believe Armond White is insane. But we do not, and expressed our disagreement with this notion by making a corny pun (we love 'em!) against a relatively common opinion, at least one in the critical community. We take Armond White's criticism seriously and have never called him insane or crazy. Although we have and will continue to respond sarcastically and/or irreverently to his criticism when his writing calls for such a response, all the while not doing so for the sake of doing so, but in order to forcefully make our points.
Now that we've killed an admittedly silly throw-away line by over-explaining it, we'd also like to ask you to please not make inflammatory charges like the one that we count on Lisa Schwarzbaum (minus the "t") -- or anybody, for that matter -- to do our critical dirty work for us. We do not read Schwarzbaum's criticism nor rely on anybody but ourselves to say or do anything we mean.

jeffmcm said...

This is fascinating, as someone just arriving to this blog. My major problem with Mr. White's criticism isn't his readily obvious inconsistency, or his often lazy viewing/writing habits, but his stridency. I consider film criticism to essentially be a dialogue between informed viewers, and the highest calling should be to enlighten and illuminate. My problem with Mr. White has been that his writing style leans too often towards declamatory posturing and vicious attacks on dissenters, and to make all of this worse, Mr. White apparently is not interested in any blogs or any form of interactive discourse that might allow him to clarify his often very sharp ideas, to modulate them or defend them.

And now it appears that some of his defenders are using the exact same shrill, lamentable tactics.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. In my opinion, AW was right the second time on the Final Destination series; the tanning salon scene is FD3's highlight, but remove it and you have a carbon copy of FD1, but less emotional and original. The qualities AW praises - the emotional adolescent questing for answers in the face of death - are stronger in the first movie, and more wittily developed. And while I love the tanning salon scene, I have to point out that "Mouth open to scream = evidence of the humanity that is exploited" is nonsense. If this were true, virtually every horror movie death scene could be construed as compassionate in the same way, which is flatly incorrect. The tanning salon scene works because it combines multiple disparate emotions into a satisfying whole: desire to view the naked female bodies is combined with the knowledge that they are about to be obliterated; which is itself another form of pleasure, joined with resentment over the airheadedness of these characters. It's a queasy push-pull relationship that could be taken for mere smug spectacle, but is only warmly humanistic in a bleakly satirical way.

The Resistance said...

Mr. Asch,

Sorry it's taken so long to reply to your posting. What you have to say seems to make sense to us, and we're going to use this blog (at other times when it isn't after one o'clock in the morning) to follow some of the threads you articulately laid out. For the moment we only wonder, in terms of what you said, at AW's conspicuous disregard at times of the chokehold "the silent majority," as Moral Other as they may be in a city like New York, has over a good portion of mainstream entertainment and culture.

r4 dsi said...

It's more dead teenagers and lunatic determinism in this grim third installment of the enjoyably preposterous Final Destination franchise.

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