Sarris, Andrew

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1928-10-31
Death 2012-06-20
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Andrew Sarris was a prominent American film critic, perhaps known best for giving credence to the European auteur theory in the United States. Born October 31, 1928 to Greek immigrant parents, he was raised in Ozone Park, Queens. Sarris graduated from Columbia University in 1951, and subsequently served in the United States Army Signal Corps from 1952 to 1954. Though his zeal for film developed at an early age, Sarris’ career in film criticism formally began in 1955 when he met Jonas Mekas, co-editor of the fledgling journal Film Culture, who enlisted Sarris to contribute to the publication.

Sarris wrote for Film Culture for several years. In 1960, Mekas, at that time a film reviewer for The Village Voice, asked Sarris to substitute for him. Sarris’ first article, a controversial piece on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, appeared in the Voice on August 11, 1960. The article became the first of many, and Sarris continued to write for the Voice for nearly thirty years. It was also around this time that Sarris developed a deep interest in French cinema; in particular, he was drawn to the New Wave movement and the critical approaches to film that were concomitant with its emergence.

Inspired by French critic François Truffaut and other contributors to the journal Cahiers du Cinema, he wrote "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962," which appeared in Film Culture . In this contentious essay, Sarris espoused the concept that a film directly reflects the director’s creative vision; essentially, film is a director’s artistic medium, and should be critically analyzed and appreciated as such. His essay aroused considerable dissension from other critics, and sparked the notorious dispute between himself and Pauline Kael.

Though controversial, Sarris managed to propagate the auteur theory, and it became a fixture in the dialect of American film criticism. In his 1968 book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, Sarris expanded on the auteurist approach, and the work became a seminal opus in the canon of film literature. He later contributed a number of other influential books, such as Confessions of a Cultist (1970), The Primal Screen (1972), and Politics and Cinema (1978).

In addition to journalism, Sarris held a professorship at Columbia for many years. He also taught courses at Yale, NYU, The School of the Visual Arts, and Juilliard. He received a number of awards and accolades including the Rockefeller Fellowship at Bellagio (1991), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1969), Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1982), the Special Award from the L.A. Critics Circle (1985), the Maurice Bessy Award, Montreal (1995), and was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism (2000).

Sarris married feminist film critic Molly Haskell in 1969. The two met when Haskell worked at the French Film Office in New York. They remained married until his death on June 20, 2012.

From the guide to the Andrew Sarris Papers, 1948-1988, [Bulk dates: 1965-1985], (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

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12241943

Subjects:

  • Auteur theory (Motion pictures)

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