Today in Armond White: Why Crystal Skull is better than Raiders of the Lost Ark

Senior Editor
09.27.12 36 Comments

I’ve often said that it’s unfair to call Armond White, the venerefficent curmudgeonarianist and three-time chair of the Bull Moose Moving Picture Appreciation Society of the 1934 World’s Fair, a contrarian. But that’s not quite true. He is a contrarian, it’s just that he’s a born contrarian, not an opportunist. A black, gay (I think?) republican, he’s a paradox wrapped in a contradiction wearing a monogrammed ascot standing on a thesaurus. He’s strange and confusing and wonderful, like a verbose platypus laying truth-eggs, and hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t enrich my life in some way. Today I was drawn first by an old Twitter exchange in which he chastised a fellow premiere goer who called him out for falling asleep halfway through Wuthering Heights (Armond: “Instead of spying, introduce yourself. Why not drop the monicker, be adult, professional, courteous?“). This in turn led me to Armond’s most recent review, of the recently re-released Raiders of the Lost Ark. Armond adores Steven Spielberg, it’s one way in which he’s actually a conformist (kissing Spielberg’s ass being practically a cottage industry), but it seems that even when he’s agreeing, Armond finds a way to do it his own way. Behold:

Despite the historical impact that Raiders of the Lost Ark made in 1981, each succeeding sequel has surpassed it.


Now it can [be] said: Raiders is the least of the quartet, despite its early 80s novelty, coming at the tail-end of the ‘70s American Renaissance when filmmakers brought modernist revisionism to Hollywood genre. Raiders is preferred by those who refuse to take Spielberg (and pop culture) seriously. It’s actually less elegant than the widely disliked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which is, in fact, far richer. […] Crystal Skull builds on Raider’s ideas and complicates them. Arriving two decades later, it is the series’ true sequel–refined and elegant.

Wait, what was the elegant part, Shia Labeouf leading an army of monkeys through the trees or the frequent cutaways to a family of CGI gophers? And the sequence of waterfalls, was that refinement? DON’T ASK QUESTIONS, BITCH, I JUST ADJECTIVE’D THAT SH*T!
The rest of the piece is less contrarian, with Armond doing his signature thing, posing interesting questions sparked by wild, overreads of a film’s minutiae, mixed with an obtuse word soup of dizzying allusions. Here’s one of my favorite:

As teenage Indy goes from horse to train (a semiotic condensation of John Ford’s The Iron Horse and Buster Keaton’s The General in the guise of Barnum and Bailey circus transport), Spielberg achieved one of the most cinematically resonant sequences in modern movies (until Joseph Kahn paid homage to it in the train/motorcycle/gun race of Torque).

WAITER! Can I get a new caviar fork, please? This one’s got water spots from all the semiotic condensation. Don’t you cover these at night?

Elsewhere, he actually flirts with making interesting points:

Consider Raiders’ confrontation with a black-garbed Arab swinging a scimitar and Indy’s very American response (reversing the axiom about “bringing a knife to a gun fight”). In ’81 it felt cool—shocking and so Wild West American—but three decades later, especially now in the era of international trepidation and foreign policy appeasement, Indy’s gunplay feels embarrassingly over drawn.  Raiders’ concept of American fun and might went around the globe, entertaining audiences everywhere, but Al Qaeda’s payback on 9/11 haunts it now.

Indy’s moment of retaliation has come to seem futile or ill-considered—far different from the American awakening from isolationism depicted in Casablanca. That gun violates the symbolism of Indy’s whip and fedora (his prowess and his mind). It also connects to what’s problematic in the series–Temple of Doom’s insensitive, tacit racism that turned the Otherness of Indian cults into bloodthirsty villainy. [CityArts]

But of course, Armond is much more fun for us when he’s raging against the machine, razing pompousaurine white elephants whilst espouselytizing promotiotarian patronicity for patina’d effervesticals, such as Adam Sandler’s wry Grown Ups movies. Therefore, we’ve compiled, on the following pages, some of Armond’s other critical pronouncements, from today and throughout the ages.
(Thanks, Danger Guerrero)
(thanks, Burnsy)
(Danger again)
(thanks, Frotcast Brendan)
(thanks, Laremy)
(Frotcast Brendan)
[Original picture source: DeathandTaxes]

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