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IN MEMORIAM - Andrew Sarris PDF Print E-mail
Written by CUE Editors   
Tuesday, 24 July 2012 02:01
On June 20th, legendary film critic Andrew Sarris passed away at St. Luke’s Hospital.  He was 83 years old.
 
Credited with coining the term “Auteur Theory” and bringing the concept to America, Sarris was film critic for The Village Voice and The New York Observer.  His book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 remains one of the most influential works of film criticism to this day.  
 
He was also a Columbia University fixture.  He graduated with a B.A. from Columbia College in  1951 and received a Masters in 1998.  He taught  in the School of the Arts for decades, inspiring hundreds of students and teaching assistants to think and write about film as deeply as possible.  His presence on Dodge Hall will be missed.

We have reprinted Film Division chair Ira Deutchman’s remembrance of Prof. Sarris, as well as those of a handful of alumni.  

If you would like to read more recollections from School of the Arts faculty, please visit: 

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.
 
It was through my teaching at Columbia and a few mutual friends that I eventually got to know Andy (now I could honestly call him Andy). Talking to him in person added an unexpected dimension to the writing I had known all those many years.  He was friendly, funny, contrary and always enthusiastic. He was so in love with movies that it was infectious. He was willing to listen to anything you had to say on the subject, and to take it seriously. He questioned auteurism for the same reasons that I did, and mildly regreted his own role in popularizing it. His honesty and integrity were inspiring.
 
When Andy was dismissed from the Village Voice, I stopped reading it. I subscribed to the New York Observer just to continue to read his reviews. And when they also let him go, so went my subscription.
 
The last time I saw him was at the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Columbia University Film Festival on May 4th. We had the pleasure to pay tribute to him in front of the packed house at Alice Tully Hall. He had influenced literally generations of filmmakers and scholars in his many years at Columbia, and generations of filmgoers in his career as a critic. Our annual award for a distinguished alum is named after him, making it certain that we will never forget what a respected figure he had been in all of our lives.
 
I miss him so much.
 
Ira Deutchman - Film Chair

The first time I met Andrew Sarris I was 18-years-old. I had just written a paper on BLOW-UP inspired by one of Sarris' essays, and accosted him at a party convinced he would want to read my brilliant indictment of Antonioni. He graciously gave me his home address and told me to send him a hard copy. A month later he called and said that the paper was not bad for a kid… before lecturing me for a half hour about how to think of film more critically–– The next day I became a film major–– Years later, I had the privilege of TAing for Prof. Sarris my last year at Columbia. It felt like the closing of a circle for a man who inspired a college freshman to realize that movies really do matter.
 
-Jonathon Roessler, Film ‘07

You were a master before I met you, and I enjoyed every hysterical tangent and bud of wisdom from working with you. You changed the face of film criticism, and will be sorely missed. RIP Andrew Sarris.
 
-CC Webster, Film ‘06

Andrew Sarris made film theory and film criticism --subjects that were thought to be distractions of the driest order by students wanting to get behind the camera--truly entertaining, to an extent that, in my case, they sometimes were more fun than my actual production classes.  When he talked to you about films from the 1940s, you didn’t just analyze them; you felt like you were seriously stepping into a time machine with him.  
 
A tangential remembrance from him--some anecdote about a director, a passing encounter with a star or starlet at the time--became eventful enough that they helped make you nearly as passionate for the black-and-white, sometimes unrestored print, as he was.  He didn’t always follow the strictest of lecture outlines, because he was a historian whose catalog of knowledge was so vast it shouldn’t be restricted by notes (some detail being more salient than another on one particular day), and it was this wild ride into his vast memory that kept you off-guard in a potentially “boring” theory and criticism course.  
 
As his love for the film, and the context for the making of that film, gave his lectures moments of improv, we were kept riveted, and we became as reverent as he was towards the work, many films which you might have immaturely written off as anachronistic and not have loved nearly as much without his illumination.  Later, I was working on a paper - I can’t remember if it was for his class or somebody else’s, but I remember going to the library and within the spate of my search for a certain film theory book, I came across not one, but three or four books, each one, dedicated to him.  I felt again that I had stepped back in time and into a secret society based around Andrew Sarris.  I also realized as I read through those books (one dedication to him coming from Howard Hawks) that Sarris’s influence was still clearly vital in the world of film that I was entering--that the films that he showed, many of which truly deserve to be eternal, owe so much to him.  He is as much an epitaph to them as they are to him.
 
-Scott Foster, Film ‘98