Andrew Sarris
Andrew Sarris is an American film critic
Film criticism
Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of films, individually and collectively. In general, this can be divided into journalistic criticism that appears regularly in newspapers, and other popular, mass-media outlets and academic criticism by film scholars that is informed by film theory and...

 and a leading proponent of the auteur theory
Auteur theory
In film criticism, auteur theory holds that a director's film reflects the director's personal creative vision, as if they were the primary "auteur"...

 of criticism.


Sarris is generally credited with popularizing the auteur theory in the U.S. and coining the term itself in his 1962 essay, "Notes on the Auteur Theory," which was inspired by critics writing in Cahiers du Cinéma
Cahiers du cinéma
Cahiers du Cinéma is an influential French film magazine founded in 1951 by André Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Joseph-Marie Lo Duca. It developed from the earlier magazine Revue du Cinéma involving members of two Paris film clubs — Objectif 49 and...


Sarris wrote the highly influential book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (1968), an opinionated assessment of films of the sound era, organized by director. The book was to influence many other critics and helped raise an awareness of the role of the film director and, in particular, of the auteur theory. In The American Cinema, Sarris lists what he terms the 'pantheon' of the fourteen greatest film directors who had worked in the United States. The list includes the Americans Robert Flaherty, John Ford
John Ford
John Ford was an American film director. He was famous for both his westerns such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and adaptations of such classic 20th-century American novels as The Grapes of Wrath...

, D. W. Griffith
D. W. Griffith
David Llewelyn Wark Griffith was a premier pioneering American film director. He is best known as the director of the controversial and groundbreaking 1915 film The Birth of a Nation and the subsequent film Intolerance .Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation made pioneering use of advanced camera...

, Howard Hawks
Howard Hawks
Howard Winchester Hawks was an American film director, producer and screenwriter of the classic Hollywood era...

, Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton
Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton was an American comic actor, filmmaker, producer and writer. He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname "The Great Stone Face".Keaton was recognized as the...

, and Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

; the Germans Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

, Ernst Lubitsch
Ernst Lubitsch
Ernst Lubitsch was a German-born film director. His urbane comedies of manners gave him the reputation of being Hollywood's most elegant and sophisticated director; as his prestige grew, his films were promoted as having "the Lubitsch touch."In 1947 he received an Honorary Academy Award for his...

, F. W. Murnau, Max Ophuls
Max Ophüls
Maximillian Oppenheimer — known as Max Ophüls — was an influential German-born film director who worked in Germany , France , the United States , and France again...

, and Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg — born Jonas Sternberg — was an Austrian-American film director. He is particularly noted for his distinctive mise en scène, use of lighting and soft lens, and seven-film collaboration with actress Marlene Dietrich.-Youth:Von Sternberg was born Jonas Sternberg to a Jewish...

; the British Charles Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

; and the French Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir was a French film director, screenwriter, actor, producer and author. As a film director and actor, he made more than forty films from the silent era to the end of the 1960s...

. He also created second and third tiers of directors, downplaying the work of some such as Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder was an Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist, whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age...

, David Lean
David Lean
Sir David Lean CBE was an English film director, producer, screenwriter, and editor best remembered for big-screen epics such as The Bridge on the River Kwai , Lawrence of Arabia ,...

, and Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...

. In his 1998 book You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet: The American Talking Film, History and Memory 1927-1949, Sarris upgraded the status of Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder was an Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist, whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age...

 to pantheon level and apologized for his earlier harsh opinion of the director in The American Cinema.

For many years he wrote for NY Film Bulletin and The Village Voice
The Village Voice
The Village Voice is a free weekly newspaper and news and features website in New York City that features investigative articles, analysis of current affairs and culture, arts and music coverage, and events listings for New York City...

. It was during this part of his career that he was often seen as a rival to Pauline Kael
Pauline Kael
Pauline Kael was an American film critic who wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1968 to 1991. Earlier in her career, her work appeared in City Lights, McCall's and The New Republic....

, who had originally attacked the auteur theory in her essay, "Circles and Squares".

The career of Andrew Sarris is discussed at length in For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism
For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism
For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism is a 2009 documentary film dramatizing a hundred years of American film criticism through film clips, historic photographs, and on-camera interviews with many of today’s important reviewers, mostly print but also Internet...

, first by other critics about how he brought the auteur theory from France
French New Wave
The New Wave was a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s, influenced by Italian Neorealism and classical Hollywood cinema. Although never a formally organized movement, the New Wave filmmakers were linked by their self-conscious rejection of...

, and then by Sarris himself explaining how he applied the auteur theory to his original review of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho
Psycho (1960 film)
Psycho is a 1960 American suspense/psychological horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. The film is based on the screenplay by Joseph Stefano, who adapted it from the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch...

. Speaking of his long-time critical feuds with Kael, Sarris says that, oddly, "We made each other. We established a dialectic."

He continued to write film criticism regularly until 2009 for The New York Observer, and was a professor of film at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, his alma mater, teaching courses in international film history, American cinema, and Alfred Hitchcock, until his retirement in 2011. Sarris was a co-founder of the National Society of Film Critics
National Society of Film Critics
The National Society of Film Critics is an American film critic organization. As of December 2007 the NSFC had approximately 60 members who wrote for a variety of weekly and daily newspapers.-History:...

. Film critics such as J. Hoberman
J. Hoberman
James Lewis Hoberman , also known as J. Hoberman, is an American film critic. He is currently the senior film critic for The Village Voice, a post he has held since 1988.-Education:...

, Kenneth Turan
Kenneth Turan
Kenneth Turan is an American film critic and Lecturer in the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California.-Background:...

, Armond White
Armond White
Armond White is a New York-based film and music critic known for his provocative and idiosyncratic film criticism, which some have characterized as contrarian. He is currently the editor of City Arts, for which he also writes articles and reviews...

, Michael Phillips
Michael Phillips
Michael Phillips is the name of:*Michael Phillips *Michael Phillips *Michael Phillips *Michael Phillips *Michael Phillips , figure skater and ice dancer...

, and AO Scott have cited him as an influence.

Sarris is married to fellow film critic, Molly Haskell
Molly Haskell
Molly Haskell is an American feminist film critic and author. Her most influential book is From Reverence to Rape: the Treatment of Women in the Movies...


History and Criticism

Sarris' method of ranking directors in The American Cinema has been criticized as elitist and subjective. Those who do not make the cut of the Pantheon category are dismissed under categorical headings listed in the table of contents that descend as follows: The Far Side of Paradise, Fringe Benefits, Less Than Meets The Eye, Lightly Likable, Strained Seriousness, Oddities, One-Shots, and Newcomers, Subjects for Further Research, Make Way for the Clowns!, and Miscellany.

Criticism of the Auteur theory often stems from a misunderstanding of its "dogmatic" nature. Famously a revisionist, Sarris defends his original article "Notes on Auteur Theory" in The Amercan Cinema stating: “the article was written in what I thought was a modest, tentative, experimental manner, it was certainly not intended as the last word on the subject” ). He further has stated that the Auteur theory should not be considered a theory at all but rather "a collection of facts, a reminder of movies to be resurrected, of genres to be redeemed, of directors to be rediscovered."

In popular culture

In the film Galaxy Quest
Galaxy Quest
Galaxy Quest is a 1999 science-fiction comedy parody about a troupe of human actors who defend a group of aliens against an alien warlord. It was directed by Dean Parisot and written by David Howard and Robert Gordon. Mark Johnson and Charles Newirth produced the film for DreamWorks, and David...

, Sarris' name is given to the character of an evil warlord.

External links

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