Andrew Sarris

Critic, Author, Professor
Film critic Andrew Sarris rose to prominence during his long tenure with The Village Voice as America's leading proponent of the auteur theory of film analysis. Inspired by the ideas expressed in Francois ... Read more »
Born: 10/30/1928 in Brooklyn, New York, USA

Biography

Film critic Andrew Sarris rose to prominence during his long tenure with The Village Voice as America's leading proponent of the auteur theory of film analysis. Inspired by the ideas expressed in Francois Truffaut's landmark 1954 essay "Une Certaine tendance du cinema francais," he introduced to American readers the notion that film, ideally, was a medium of personal expression for the director, who deserved recognition as an "auteur" in his 1962 essay called "Notes on the Auteur Theory." Almost immediately, he found a virulent opponent in Pauline Kael who engaged in a decades-long debate with Sarris over the theory, which she deemed immature, vague and derivative. Sarris' best known book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (1968), expanded his "notes" to full-fledged theory, and Kael responded with Raising Kane (1971), her repudiation of Sarris citing "Citizen Kane" (1940), supposedly the quintessential auteur film, as a collective achievement for which the contributions of scenarist Herman J. Mankiewicz and cameraman Gregg Toland had been severely underestimated. As the decades passed, Sarris and his theory remained relevant to generations of new writers and filmmakers, while Kael had fallen from her lofty perch over allegations of kowtowing to Hollywood. Throughout it all, Sarris was among the key figures in American film criticism, and his collected body of work wielded considerable influence on film studies, as well as Hollywood's concept of the director's role in the conception of a film.

Relationships

Molly Haskell

Wife
Met in 1966 at a screening of Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising" Married May 31, 1969 She wrote "From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies" and "Love and Other Infectious Diseases" (1990), about Sarris' battle with cytomegalovirus-associated encephalitis; artistic director of the Sarasota Film Festival

George Sarris

Father
Greek immigrant; described by his son as "very grandiose...very Victor Hugo"; ran a boat rental business (row boats) in Howard Beach, NY c. 1946; prior to its loss in 1931, owned a lot of real estate

Themis Sarris

Mother
Greek immigrant

EDUCATION

Columbia College, Columbia University

New York , New York 1951

Milestones

1998

Published You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet: The American Talking Film, History and Memory 1927-1949

1989

Wrote film critiques for The New York Observer

1986

Wrote the liner notes for "The Voice: The Columbia Years 1943-1952," a collection of recordings of Frank Sinatra

1980

Was a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival

1970

Wrote Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955/1969

1969

Did uncredited work on screenplay of Jules Dassin's "Promise at Dawn"

1968

Reportedly made uncredited contributions to the screenplay of "Justine," directed by George Cukor

1968

Began lectureship at Columbia University School of the Arts as assistant professor; became associate professor in 1972; appointed full professor in 1980

1968

Wrote the highly influential book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968

1962

Named Editor-in-Chief of Cahiers du Cinéma (English-language edition); coined the term Auteur Theory in his 1962 essay "Notes on the Auteur Theory"

1960

Wrote film reviews for The Village Voice

1955

Worked as an associate editor of Film Culture

1955

Served as story consultant at 20th Century-Fox

1952

Served in U.S. Army Signal Corps

1948

Reportedly hit by a truck crossing the street c. 1948 "after seeing 'That Hamilton Woman' (1941) for the 37th time or something"; during convalescence (on crutches for about a year), he started going to movies all the time

Worked for a time in the early 1960s as a case worker in NYC social services and city government

Hired as film instructor at School of Visual Arts, New York

Worked as assistant professor at NYU School of the Arts

Bonus Trivia

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Sarris was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1969.

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In 1982, he was made Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres, Centre National de la Cinematographie in Paris, France.

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In 1986, Sarris was one of the runners-up for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism.

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Sarris was incapacitated for more than a year in the late 1980s with a mystifying disease which was most likely cytomegalovirus-associated encephalitis.

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In 1989, Sarris was named officer in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres, Centre National de la Cinematographie in Paris, France.

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"With very little money I took off in 1961 to the Cannes Film Festival. I had three letters from The Saturday Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and the Village Voice. I didn't write a word about the festival, I got writer's block. I spent six or seven months in Paris, you know, went to the Cinematheque. When I came back from Paris I just walked into the Village Voice, I hadn't given them anything, I right away resumed doing my column. I was lazy, disorganized and very casual about the whole thing. When Pauline Kael attacked me I was amazed that I was considered so important. I didn't react very quickly. I didn't realize what had happened. I had just been plodding along." – Sarris quoted to David Walsh at the World Socialist web site (www.wsws.org), July 1, 1998

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