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Justin Alvarez: Armond White, You Need A Friend

July 20, 2011

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An open letter to New York Press film critic Armond White in response to his review of the latest installment of the Harry Potter film series.

By **Justin Alvarez**

Justin Alvarez_Large.jpgDear Mr. White,

I was not suprised that you slammed the final installment of the Harry Potter film series. You are the same guy who panned Toy Story 3 for celebrating consumerism, while praising Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for its visual style. However, as Chicago Sun-Times’s writer Jim Emerson had previously pointed out, you don’t “necessarily practice film criticism, although what [you write] is almost always based on [your] real or imagined characterization of what other critics have already written. The movie itself sometimes gets lost in [your] internal monologue as [you rage] against some chimerical critical consensus.”

Your review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is a perfect example of Emerson’s assessment. It only takes half a sentence before you attack the widespread critical consensus: “Now that the Harry Potter series is over, maybe the truth can be realized: This has been the dullest franchise in the history of movie franchises.” Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but I can’t help but step in and remind you of a few other movie franchises you’ve commented about in the past. Is Harry Potter truly duller than Twilight? Remember, you once remarked that Twilight’s producers are determined to “to make its dubious premise as a metaphor for adolescent sexual panic more unpersuasive with every new installment.” What about The Chronicles of Narnia, which you referred to as formulaic, or Angels & Demons, which you labeled as “overwrought” and “as banal as the genre comes.” Maybe The Dark Knight, “the sentinel of our cultural abyss,” or Lord of the Rings, which, according to you, set the precedent for “unintelligible fantasy epics that people went to out of consumerist habit and left unable to recount or fondly recall.”

Mr. White, you were a tad too quick to fire. You continue to attack the series’ “lack of excitement and ineffective use of special effects,” but where is the reasoning? You can’t just pawn this statement off as an evaluative appraisal without telling us why. Instead, you choose to aim your critical ammunition towards us, the audience, who are “so accustomed to TV banality that [we] no longer watch or read movies visually.” You once said in an interview that a good critic helps “the viewer to understand the film better, or to see more than they might have seen on their own.” Please tell me how your statement about banality helps me to understand any film better.

Your only coherent response to these questions appears in your last paragraph, when you explain that J.K Rowling “made sure the series would never be mistaken for a work of art that meant anything to anybody” is because she vetoed the choice of your beloved Steven Spielberg as the series’ director. The thing is, look at the franchise’s box office and book sales. Its worldwide gross blows any other movie franchise out of the water. The last four books of the series consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history. And the series’ final installment debuted to a record breaking estimate of $168.6 million domestically and a staggering $476 million box office worldwide. Granted, most of the audience this weekend already knew what would happen in the final battle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort—good always triumphing over evil, even if the hero must sacrifice himself for the greater good—but that was never the point. The series’ single most achievement is that even through forty-two hundred pages and twenty hours of screen time readers and moviegoers have remained so closely connected with Harry. From flying over the Thames to hundreds of messenger owls whooshing through a suburban household to Harry walking to his death as the ghosts of the ones he has lost resurrect around him, genuine magic and wonder broke through into the ordinary world. And as you walk out of the theater for the last time, there is a sense of conclusion but also a slight pang of heartache as you realize that you will miss these characters you’ve grown so fond of the past decade. However, you won’t have to wait long for another fantasy series to come your way. The Potter series (along with The Lord of the Rings trilogy) helped to not only re-establish the fantasy genre as a profitable business model but also reshape contemporary culture. Without Potter, there wouldn’t be Games of Thrones on HBO or the films Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and Pirates of the Caribbean. Without the series, there would be a little less magic and wonder in our lives.

Clearly, Mr. White, these films mean something to somebody—me included. And looking at the film’s critical and cultural consensus, from both critics and fans, you’re one of the few left out.

Sincerely,

Justin Alvarez

Copyright 2011 Justin Alvarez

________________________________________________________________________

Justin Alvarez is an editorial assistant at Guernica. Read more about him here.

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