Andrew Sarris, the man responsible for championing the “auteur theory” and a pioneer of the annual Top 10 films list, has passed away due to complications from an infection. He was 83.
Inspired by his love of film, Sarris made a name for himself writing reviews for The Village Voice — his first write-up was for the Alfred Hitchcock film “Psycho” — and was one of the earliest supporters of foreign cinema during the 60’s and 70’s. In addition to singing the praises of then-obscure filmmakers who would go on to be heralded by their peers, Sarris was one of the earliest adopters of the “auteur theory”, which, in short, is the belief that a director’s voice is the driving force behind any motion picture. Although some chose to disagree with his stance — fellow critic Pauline Kael famously denounced the auteur theory — it’s hard to argue with Sarris’ contribution to the world of cinema.
Through his reviews and observations, movies stopped being disposable entertainment. They were discussed, debated, and critiqued with a passion usually reserved for the art and literary worlds. Directors became filmmakers, and movies ultimately became cinema. His love of the medium helped introduce such names as Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman to American audiences, who were slowly gravitating towards art house theaters to see foreign pictures that were previously unavailable. Without Sarris’ contributions, the cinematic landscape, for both filmmakers and critics, would be quite different than it currently is today.
After leaving the Village Voice in 1989, Sarris wrote for The New York Observer until he was laid off in 2009. In addition to duties as a film reviewer, Sarris also wrote two screenplays, served as a story consultant for 20th Century Fox, and helped form the National Society of Film Critics. In order to spread his knowledge of cinema with the younger generation, Sarris also taught at Columbia University, New York University, and Yale University.
“The terms of the battles he fought for the films he loved have receded into the past — the rivalry with Pauline Kael that we saw as epic at the time, the campaigns on behalf of the auteur theory,” film critic Joe Morgenstern said Wednesday. “Yet Andrew’s passion for films — and for his beloved Molly — remained undiminished, despite declining health. Indeed, in recent years his film love seemed to intensify as it grew ever more inclusive.”