Andrew Sarris (October 31, 1928 – June 20, 2012) was an American film critic, a leading proponent of the auteur theory of film criticism.
Sarris was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Greek immigrant parents, Themis (née Katavolos) and George Andrew Sarris, and grew up in Ozone Park, Queens. After attending John Adams High School in South Ozone Park (where he overlapped with Jimmy Breslin), he graduated from Columbia University in 1951 and then served for three years in the Army Signal Corps before moving to Paris for a year, where he befriended Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Upon returning to New York's Lower East Side, Sarris briefly pursued graduate studies at his alma mater and Teachers College, Columbia University before turning to film criticism as a vocation.
After initially writing for Film Culture, he moved to The Village Voice where his first piece—a laudatory review of Psycho—was published in 1960. Later he remembered, "The Voice had all these readers—little old ladies who lived on the West Side, guys who had fought in the Spanish Civil War—and this seemed so regressive to them, to say that Hitchcock was a great artist". Around this time, he returned to Paris where he was present at the premiere of such French New Wave films such as Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (1960) and Godard's A Woman Is a Woman (1961). The experience expanded his view of film criticism: "To show you the dividing line in my thinking, when I did a Top Ten list for the Voice in 1958, I had a Stanley Kramer film on the list and I left off both Vertigo and Touch of Evil". He continued to write film criticism regularly until 2009 for The New York Observer, and was a professor of film at Columbia University (where he earned an M.A. in English in 1998), teaching courses in international film history, American cinema, and Alfred Hitchcock until his retirement in 2011. Sarris was a co-founder of the National Society of Film Critics.
Notes on the Auteur Theory
Sarris generally is credited with popularizing the auteur theory in the United States and coining the term in his 1962 essay "Notes on the Auteur Theory," which critics writing in Cahiers du Cinéma had inspired. Sarris wrote the highly influential book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929–1968 (1968), an opinionated assessment of films of the sound era, organized by director. The book influenced many other critics and helped raise awareness of the role of the film director, and in particular, of the auteur theory. In The American Cinema, Sarris lists what he termed the "pantheon" of the 14 greatest film directors who had worked in the United States: the Americans Robert Flaherty, John Ford, D.W. Griffith, Howard Hawks, Buster Keaton, and Orson Welles; the Germans/Austrians Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Max Ophüls, and Josef von Sternberg; the British Charles Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock; and the French Jean Renoir. He also identified second—and third—tier directors, downplaying the work of Billy Wilder, David Lean, and Stanley Kubrick. In his 1998 book You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet: The American Talking Film, History and Memory 1927–1949, Sarris upgraded the status of Billy Wilder to pantheon level and apologized for his earlier harsh assessment in The American Cinema.
For many years, he wrote for both NY Film Bulletin and The Village Voice. During this part of his career, he often was seen as a rival to The New Yorker's Pauline Kael, who originally attacked the auteur theory in her essay "Circles and Squares." Speaking of his long-time critical feuds with Kael, Sarris says that, oddly, "We made each other. We established a dialectic."
In 2001, the film scholar and critic Emanuel Levy published "Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic: Essays in Honor of Andrew Sarris", a collection of 39 essays by notable critics (Dave Kehr, Todd McCarthy, Gerald Perry) and filmmakers (Martin Scorsese, John Sayles, Peter Bogdanovich, Curtis Hanson) alongside fans of Sarris' works.
Film critics such as J. Hoberman, Kenneth Turan, Armond White,
Michael Phillips, and A.O. Scott have cited him as an influence. His career is discussed in For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, first with other critics discussing how he brought the auteur theory from France, and then by Sarris himself explaining how he applied that theory to his original review of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. In 1997, Camille Paglia described Sarris as her third favorite critic, praising "his acute columns during the high period of The Village Voice."
Sarris married fellow film critic Molly Haskell in 1969; they lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He died at St. Luke's Hospital in Manhattan on June 20, 2012, from an infection developed after a fall.
Sarris' method of ranking directors in The American Cinema has been criticized as elitist and subjective. Those who do not make the cut of his 1968 Pantheon category were dismissed under categorical headings listed in the table of contents that descend as follows: The Far Side of Paradise, Fringe Benefits, Less Than Meets The Eye, Lightly Likable, Strained Seriousness, Oddities, One-Shots, and Newcomers, Subjects for Further Research, Make Way for the Clowns!, and Miscellany.
Criticism of the auteur theory often stems from a misunderstanding of its "dogmatic" nature. Endlessly reviewing and revising his opinions, Sarris defended his original article "Notes on Auteur Theory" in The American Cinema stating: "the article was written in what I thought was a modest, tentative, experimental manner, it was certainly not intended as the last word on the subject". He further stated that the auteur theory should not be considered a theory at all but rather "a collection of facts", and "a reminder of movies to be resurrected, of genres to be redeemed, of directors to be rediscovered."
- The Films of Josef Von Sternberg
- The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929–1968
- Confessions of a Cultist
- The Primal Screen
- Politics and Cinema
- The John Ford Movie Mystery
- You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet: The American Talking Film – History and Memory, 1927–1949
- Cahiers du Cinéma in English (editor) New York: Cahiers Publishing Co., Inc., 1966-
- Citizen Sarris: Essays in Honor of Andrew Sarris. Baltimore: Scarecrow Press, 2000.
- ^ a b c Powell, Michael (June 20, 2012). "Andrew Sarris, Film Critic, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
- ^ Who's who in Writers, Editors & Poets, United States & Canada. December Press. May 2, 1995. ISBN 9780913204306 – via Google Books.
- ^ Brody, Richard, Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, Henry Holt & Co., 2008, pgs. 212-213
- ^ Sarris, Andrew (Winter 1962–1963). "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962". Film Culture. 27: 1–8.
- ^ Andrew Sarris You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet: The American Talking Film, History and Memory 1927–1949, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, p.324-34, 328
- ^ Kael, Pauline (Spring 1963). "Circles and Squares". Film Quarterly. 16 (3): 12–26. doi:10.2307/1210726. JSTOR 1210726.
- ^ For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism at the TCM Movie Database
- ^ Uhlich, Keith. "Personal Memories: A Review of Citizen Sarris – Senses of Cinema".
- ^ J. Hoberman (October 18, 2005). "Get Reel". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
- ^ "Sight & Sound; Critics On Critics". BFI. March 25, 2010. Archived from the original on April 6, 2011. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
- ^ "THE CRITIC- Filmmaker Magazine – Winter 2004". Filmmaker Magazine. Archived from the original on May 25, 2011. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
- ^ Paglia, Camille (2018). "The Decline of Film Criticism". Provocations: Collected Essays. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 103. ISBN 978-1-5247-4689-6.
- ^ a b Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema. New York: Dutton, 1968.
- ^ Sarris, Andrew. Quoted in Kent Jones "Hail the Conquering Hero: Andrew Sarris Profiled." Film Comment Magazine Online <"Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 5, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)> Accessed October 25, 2011.