In Memoriam: Film Critic and Professor Emeritus Andrew Sarris

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From Ira Deutchman, Chair, Film Program

I’m sure I am hardly alone in the devastation I’m feeling in hearing of the death of Andrew Sarris. I grew up reading his reviews in The Village Voice, and he was one of the major influences in my love of film. When I was a young aspiring cinemaphile, the much hyped feud between Sarris and Pauline Kael was in full throttle. Personally, I found myself more frequently in Kael’s corner. Her more emotional response to films seemed more in line with my youthful spirit, while Sarris seemed both more orthodox and more academic than I was ready to accept at the time. In spite of this, his early embrace of auteurism was the kindling that lit my fire for many filmmakers that otherwise would never have been on my radar screen.

As my own career began to blossom, my appreciation for the contributions of the many collaborators on a film increased, so I began to reject auteurism. But Sarris’ reviews were still always compelling and his influence undeniable. read more

From Annette Insdorf, Professor, Film Program

As a Columbia University professor for decades, Andrew Sarris helped to establish the study of film history as a noble pursuit.  I was honored to be his colleague.

One cannot overestimate the importance of Andrew Sarris to movie criticism as well as film studies in the United States.  He was the first to transplant the "auteur theory" from France in the early 1960s, making a case for the director as the "author" of a film.  If we refer today to a "Hitchcock movie" or a "Hawks film," it is because Sarris provided the vocabulary and the methodology for this kind of approach.

His reviews and essays in The Village Voice inspired me to think seriously about movies in the 1970s.  He was most certainly a role model for my own teaching and writing about film, and an inspiration to thousands of Columbia University cinephiles as well as cineastes.
From James Schamus, Professor, Film Program
Andrew Sarris knewand embodieda fundamental fact about the cinema, and indeed about all things: there is no knowledge without love. Sarris taught us, in words and by example, that cinephilia and cine-knowledge are, at their core, one and the same thing; and if our individual movie pantheons may be populated by different gods, our pantheon of critics will always have Andrew Sarris sitting front row and center. My own small intersection with Andrew began early in my career; given Columbia University’s crazy space crunch, when I first arrived as a young assistant professor I ended up sharing an office and even a desk with him. It’s difficult to describe the nearly religious reverence with which I treatedand still treatthat desk, for being in proximity to Andrew and his constant flow of enthusiasm and genius was indeed movie heavena heaven which Andrew Sarris was, a heaven to which he now ascends.
From Henry Bean, Adjunct Professor, Film Program
For those of us who came of cinematic age in the '60s and '70s, Sarris's book, The American Cinema, was a sacred and indispensable text. Indeed, we referred to it as "the Bible," and we could quote numerous passages from memory. It instructed our critical faculties and guided our viewing. People would get in a car, drive two hours and check into a motel in a strange town simply because a local TV station happened to be playing an "italicized Borzage." That is, a film of Borzage's that The American Cinema had italicized, indicating that it was particularly worthwhile. Sarris told us what to think of everything, and if we didn't always agree, more often than not he turned out to be right in the end. When he wasn't (as with John Huston) he had the intellectual integrity to say so.
Like any great critic, he was much better on works he liked than the ones he didn't. Still, the last thing I remember reading of his was a putdown of a self-important Holocaust film that critics had accused of trivializing the Holocaust. Sarris disagreed; he wrote: "The movie doesn't trivialize the Holocaust. The Holocaust trivializes the movie."


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