RIP Andrew Sarris

Film criticAndrew Sarris, best known as a major champion of the auteur theory of filmmaking died yesterday.

His book The American Cinema was a landmark of film criticism. He not only articulated the auteur theory (and most people misunderstand what that means), but rated American directors and put them in categories, depending on how well they achieved a personal vision in their films. The book created reputations for a lot of directors who were previously considered hacks (e.g., Edward G. Ullmer) and pointed out weaknesses in some top names.* It’s my go-to guide to find the best work of the directors.

The book changed the way film critics looked at movies. Even when they specifically rejected auteurism, you can see his influence. He was one of the giants of film criticism.

*The book was published in 1969, so it only covers those working up to that point.

Boy, I guess he really didn’t know the other ship was dragging mines.

(Woo, two movie jokes in obit-related threads in a row. I’m on a roll now. :P)

Very sad. His book American Cinema was my bible for may years; actually, it’s still my bible when it comes to older movies.

Sarris and the other auteur critics helped film analysis and film studies to gain acceptance; prior, most major universities considered cinema a lower “popular” medium rather than an art-form, and didn’t stoop to offer classes. Auteur theory has been denigrated in the last decade or two, because most films nowadays are more co-operative efforts than can be explained by simply director-as-controller. I still find it a useful tool in many cases: especially when the works of a single director has consistent themes, techniques, etc. The trick is also not to downplay the role of cinematographers, actors, etc but simply to be able to view the film as a coherent whole rather than a simple sum of parts.