Below filmmaker/writer Peter Bogdanovich (who heads his own blog on Indiewire) reflects on the passing of Andrew Sarris, the famed film critic responsible for introducing the auteur theory to America. Sarris died June 20 in New York.
The passing of Andrew Sarris brings to a close an entire era in film culture. It was largely through his efforts and writings that the French New Wave viewpoint on American directors came to our shores. Mistranslated as “the auteur theory,” the position of the French was hardly a theory, it was a political statement. And when Andy came out with his first blast, the famous Spring 1963 “American Directors” issue of Film Culture magazine, it had a tremendous impact on picture criticism in the United States. Even though Pauline Kael in The New Yorker attacked Sarris and his opinions, the resulting controversy only intensified the debate. Then, in 1968, Sarris published an expanded, amended and definitive version of his position: “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968,” and this encyclopedic work became our country’s most influential piece of picture criticism: eventually, all film critics essentially embraced the so-called “auteur theory,” and pretty soon everyone was an auteur. Through his extensive writings in The Village Voice, and later, The New York Observer, as well as in other books he published, and his teaching at Columbia University and other notable institutions, Sarris’ influence continued to hold its primary place in U.S. film criticism.
I first met Andy in 1960, at which time he was hanging around a great deal with Eugene Archer, then the fourth-string film critic for The New York Times; both passionate auteurists, they would come over to my apartment in Manhattan and talk movies into the wee hours. I learned a great deal from both of them. This was about three years before he met the love of his life, Molly Haskell, whom he eventually married; they shared a deeply lasting and devoted relationship. They came to Los Angeles a couple of times and I arranged for some screenings of hard-to- see classics. Once I started directing pictures in the mid-60s, Andy and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the great critic-filmmaker divide. Some of my movies he was less than keen on, and some of his reviews irritated me. Nevertheless, somehow we remained reasonably friendly, though we saw very little of each other, occasionally speaking on the phone. But I was very sad to hear of his passing.
He was a man of true dedication, and an honest, civilized person, for whom I had the greatest esteem. He loved pictures and wrote about them with a rare passion and true integrity. There was no one like him in the ranks of film criticism and he will be sorely missed by anybody who really cares about good movies.