POSTED June 20 2012

Andrew Sarris, Auteur without Hauteur

Andrew Sarris (c) Robin Holland/

Andrew Sarris (Robin Holland)

I can hear my heart crack. Andrew Sarris, cinephile, essayist, controversialist, popularizer of the auteur theory and beloved spouse of Molly Haskell, passed away this morning. Along with Otis Ferguson, Pauline Kael and Manny Farber, Sarris was one of the four pillars of American film culture.

In 1968  he published the seminal The American Cinema, waking up a generation of sleeping movie lovers with the words, “The cinema is by any definition still very young, but it is old enough to claim not only its own history but its own archeology as well.” He made useful distinctions between “forest” critics and “tree” critics and marched the reader out of the forest and into the trees, eloquently discussing the works of American directors of the sound era and hierarchically ranking the good, the bad and the forgettable. He placed the best in his “pantheon,” the overrated in “less than meets the eye,” and the puffed-up in “strained seriousness.” I did not always agree with him, but always learned from him. He was my gateway drug into film criticism. And at Columbia he taught generations of film scholars and filmmakers.

He was also my colleague at the Village Voice, irascible, puckish and often querulous. But never haughty. I once ended an argument with him by telling Andrew he wasn’t condescending enough to pull off a certain gesture, that he was “an auteur sans hauteur.” Thrilled to hear his gruff laugh! I did not always agree with him, but I always learned from him there, too. My heart goes out to his wife and personal goddess, Molly Haskell. I will honor him by watching Max Ophuls’ The Earrings of Madame de…. 

Your Andrew Sarris thoughts? memories? Andy, you’ll always rank high in my pantheon.




  1. wwolfe says:

    “He was my gateway drug into film criticism.” Exactly the same for me, and many, many more. I’m sure my copy of The American Cinema is the most dog-eared book I own. Finding it in the bookstore at Kent State, and re-re-re-re-reading it was surely one of the reasons I moved to New York to be a film major – the all-time great major, easily, whatever effect it might have on one’s future employability. I still get a little smile of satisfaction when I can pull out my American Cinema and put a little asterisk next to another obscure old movie that I’ve finnaly managed to see – or, better yet, draw a line under a title that is not italicized to show that *I* thought it was one of that director’s interesting works, contrary to the opinion of the book’s author. If ever there was a film critic who would appreciate an enthusiastic difference of opinion about movies, it surely would be Andrew Sarris. Thanks for all the good movies I’ve seen because of your writing. (Somewhere I have a carboard box full of the one-paragraph reviews of old movies showing around Manhattan at all the long-gone revival theaters which used to be in each week’s Village Voice back around the run of the 1980s. A collection of those capsule reviews would make a fun book.) Thanks for the nice obituary, Carrie.

  2. Awsome blog! I am loving it!! Will be back later to read some more. I am bookmarking your feeds also.

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