Armond White can be a difficult figure to reckon with in contemporary criticism. At his best he’s a remarkably erudite and thoughtful critic who’s simply working on a different wavelength than most. At his worst, he’s wasting time in his reviews misrepresenting the other side – see his “Boyhood” review, in which he claims that the Antoine Doinel or “Up” series aren’t mentioned in any of the film’s positive reviews, rather than almost every single damn one – or allegedly heckling Steve McQueen at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, an incident that got him expelled from the organization.
This week sees him at his best. Writing for Out Magazine, White discussed the new not-bad “Hercules” film starring Dwayne Johnson. White didn’t go over the moon for the film itself, saying that it was split between parody and full-blown adventure spectacle and that Brett Ratner’s workmanlike direction couldn’t compare to Renny Harlin’s superior work on this year’s earlier “The Legend of Hercules” (that’s the Armond we know!), but he praised Johnson’s performance and noted how Johnson represented “an advance in masculine sexual iconography by including multiracial features, skin tones, and subtle ethnic echoes.”
It is The Rock himself who, by taking on a role usually limited to European types, helps broaden awareness of gender icons and idealized figures of male sexuality. “Hercules” is a minor film but The Rock’s image recalls the breakthrough made by legendary Hollywood photographer Georges Hurrell who, in 1929, posed Mexican actor Ramon Navarro for a landmark series of mythological portraits: one as the Knight Percival shown contemplating his own sword and, another of Navarro, in the signature softly erotic Hurrell style, wearing a crown of laurel leaves. Hurrell titled it “The New Orpheus.”