Here are a few words in respect of Andrew Sarris, who passed away this morning.
For those unfamiliar Sarris was a film critic, a writer on film, and he’s generally credited as the person responsible for bringing the Auteur Theory, the film theory that I unashamadly subscribe to, to the English speaking world. His ‘The American Cinema’ is one of the books on film that I hold most closely to my heart.
In the early days of Hope Lies a statement ran alongside the top of the site, an “about us” of sorts that has since evolved in to the text that can be seen in the “Welcome To Hope Lies” block of text. The original note made mention of a screening of À bout de souffle at an early age (actually 16 years of age), and while the noting of the screening was accurate, details of the accompanying materials at that faithful screening weren’t. Amongst the programme notes that day was an article written by Sarris on that films director Jean-Luc Godard. Soon after I purchased a copy of ‘The American Cinema’, which was in turn my first “real” book on film (text driven, no pictures!).
In the years that have followed I’d hasten to estimate that not a month has gone by without my well thumbed copy of ‘The American Cinema’ being resorted to for citation or summary, on a filmmaker I’m discovering, or one that I’m hoping to introduce a new audience to. It’s the closest thing I have to a dictionary, and, in appropriate fashion, when I went to my bookcase to pick out The American Cinema to write this piece my marker was fixed firmly in the chapter on F.W. Murnau, as per my last perusal of the book just a few weeks ago when compiling information for our screening of the director’s Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans.
When a greater writer passes it’s usually tradition to quote from their work when closing one of these types of articles, but instead I’ll cite a writer on Sarris instead, that captures the essence and the magnitude of Sarris’ most important work. It only seems write to quote a critic on a critic, especially when the praise is this stirringly brilliant.
“The American Cinema is the Citizen Kane of film criticism, a brilliant book that elevated American directors from craftsmen to artists, launched the careers of numerous film critics, and shaped the aesthetics of a whole generation of viewers by providing new ways of looking at movies. The publication of Andrew Sarris’ monumental book in 1968 not only recorded the best achievements in classic Hollywood cinema, it was also a major event in film history.” Emanuel Levy
So, it is with great sadness that I note the passing of Mr. Sarris, and pass on my condolences to his wife Molly Haskell, and to those who knew him personally.A thorough obituary can be found here at the New York Times.