I'm Against Gay Marriage, But I Want to Marry Armond White
I'm one of those suckers that finally saw Crash after it won the Oscar. It was even worse than I'd expected. The only things keeping me going were Ryan Phillippe's lips and the fact that Matt Dillon's presence is always a reminder of his classic first film, Over the Edge. The redoubtable Richard Kim just wrote a provocative piece in The Nation arguing that Crash was the most odious movie of last year. As Kim wrote, "easy and self-congratulatory liberalizing is the epitome of the film ... The moral of Crash is: Don't worry, everyone's a little bit racist."
(more after the jump)
Funny, but also trenchant. Earlier, Kim derides "white critics" like Roger Ebert for loving the film. He was taken to task for this remark in the comments. First of all, saying "white film critics" is a bit redundant, isn't it? That's like saying "male film critics" or "bourgeois Nation writers." I can count the people of color among mainstream film critics on one hand (though they include two of my favorite contrarians -- Elvis Mitchell and Armond White). The fact is, white film critics also hated Crash. What Kim was probably getting at is that only white critics loved Crash. Professional and amateur critics of color (I really liked what Saurelia wrote in the early comments to his piece, for instance) consistently did not feel Crash. At all.
I was not feeling the Jeff Chang/Sylvia Chan roundtable Kim linked to (a few good, disjointed observations, but way too much jargon, too much oversimplification, too much lazy thinking in general), but I fell for Armond White all over again when I just read his Crash review. If I were not a proponent of civil unions for all rather than marriages for some, I'd want to marry White. Maybe we can at least date. His opening salvo:
Local critics praising Paul Haggis' Crash accidentally reveal racism so deeply hidden in their own privilege that they casually ignore it while expressing high-minded appreciation for this film's fake controversies. Nothing appeases a wounded culture more than a blanket condemnation of other people. Haggis' West Coast crazy quilt takes place so far away from reality that it has been greeted with an It-Couldn't-Happen-Here nonchalance.
Word. What really got me was the virtuosic way he later incorporates "Los Angeles" by X (a song I happen to have been listening to a lot the past week -- omg we're so meant for each other):
Crash appeals to the socially empowered—from The New Yorker to Entertainment Weekly—because its hackneyed melodrama doesn't demand imaginative self-examination. New Yorkers who mistake rudeness for honesty may also confuse insult for art. However, when the L.A. punk musicians X recorded "Los Angeles" in 1980, they looked at the tensions and prejudices from an upstart's position of social disgust. X got things right by admitting and undermining the twists of social and racial privilege. ("She started to hate every nigger and Jew/ Every Mexican who ever gave her a lot of shit/ Every homosexual and the idle rich/ It felt sad.")
In Haggis' dull perception, he blames Bullock's character for racial profiling but then demonstrates that her suspicions about black men are right. The Persian merchant's hysteria too closely recalls both Falling Down and the inane climax of The House of Sand and Fog (another shortcut to post-9/11 phobia). And the persistent reduction of the black male characters—Cheadle, Howard, Ludacris, Tate—to sputtering impotence reveals no personal empathy. Haggis' inability to humanize these types beyond sentimentalizing their confusion proves his exploitation impulse. It's the easy, comfortable route.
X notwithstanding (and perhaps I'm revealing my East Coast bias), I thought that many of Crash's problems were byproducts of Los Angeles myopia. Only in a pseudo-city like LA (a series of suburbs in search of a city) could white writers imagine that you have to accidentally crash into each other to notice one another. Could you imagine such a dumbass idea emerging from a real city where people interact with each other while walking on the streets every single day? (sorry, Emma, for hating on your adopted city, but I still consider you a New Yorker) Racism is epidemic in the U.S., but it looks and feels and sounds nothing like what's depicted in Crash.
For a good (though flawed) movie dealing with racism, check out Cache by Michael Haneke. Or, even better, his previous film Code Inconnu. CI's scene with Juliette Binoche getting harrassed by Franco-Arab teens on the Metro is like what Crash probably wanted to be, except depicted with complexity and believable characters and dialogue. Which completely changes the politics of the film.
Tags: culture, crash, oscars, movies, racism, Armond White