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Andrew Sarris

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Also Known As: Andrew George Sarris Died: June 20, 2012
Born: October 31, 1928 Cause of Death: Complications from a Stomach Virus
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA Profession: critic, professor, author, case worker in New York City government

Biography CLOSE THE FULL 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...

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.

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Milestones close milestones

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
1952:
Served in U.S. Army Signal Corps
1955:
Worked as an associate editor of <i>Film Culture</i>
1955:
Served as story consultant at 20th Century-Fox
:
Worked for a time in the early 1960s as a case worker in NYC social services and city government
1960:
Wrote film reviews for <i>The Village Voice</i>
1962:
Named Editor-in-Chief of <i>Cahiers du Cinéma</i> (English-language edition); coined the term Auteur Theory in his 1962 essay "Notes on the Auteur Theory"
:
Hired as film instructor at School of Visual Arts, New York
:
Worked as assistant professor at NYU School of the Arts
1968:
Wrote the highly influential book <i>The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968</i>
1969:
Began lectureship at Columbia University School of the Arts as assistant professor; became associate professor in 1972; appointed full professor in 1980
1969:
Reportedly made uncredited contributions to the screenplay of "Justine," directed by George Cukor
1970:
Did uncredited work on screenplay of Jules Dassin's "Promise at Dawn"
1971:
Wrote <i>Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955/1969</i>
1980:
Was a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival
1986:
Wrote the liner notes for "The Voice: The Columbia Years 1943-1952," a collection of recordings of Frank Sinatra
1989:
Wrote film critiques for <i>The New York Observer</i>
1998:
Published <i>You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet: The American Talking Film, History and Memory 1927-1949</i>
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Columbia College, Columbia University: New York , New York - 1951

Notes

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

Named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1969

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

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

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

"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." --Andrew Sarris, from July 1, 1998 interview with David Walsh at the World Socialist Website (www.wsws.org)

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Molly Clark Haskell. Critic. Married on May 31, 1969; author of "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.

Family close complete family listing

father:
George Andrew Sarris. Described by Sarris 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, father had owned a lot of real estate.
mother:
Themis Sarris.

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Films of Josef von Sternberg" Museum of Modern Art
"Interviews with Film Directors" Bobbs-Merrill
"The Film" Bobbs-Merrill
"The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968" Dutton
"Film 68/69" Simon & Schuster
"Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema 1955-1969" Simon & Schuster
"The Primal Screen: Essays on Film and Related Subjects"
"The Films of John Ford"
"The John Ford Movie Mystery"
"Politics and Cinema"
"The American Sound Film"
"Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies"
"You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet: The American Talking Film, History and Memory, 1927-1949" Oxford University Press
"The St James Film Directors Encyclopedia" Visible Ink Press
"Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic: Essays in Honor of Andrew Sarris" Scarecrow Press
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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