The Life of Andrew Sarris

Three weeks ago, cinephiles everywhere lost one of their greatest voices when Andrew Sarris died at the age of 83. He was one of the earliest and most prominent American film critics. He is most known for popularizing the idea known as “auteur theory” in the mid-1950s, which claims that the film director is the ostensible “author” of a film, providing its guiding vision. Furthermore, the greatest films bear the imprint of the strongest auteurs. Sarris, as a result, became one of the first film critics in America to champion directors such as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Samuel Fuller. The auteur idea became a popular one, and film critics to this day will describe young, up-and-coming directors with a distinct style as one. However, several notable critics disagreed with Sarris on this point, most notably Pauline Kael, with whom he had a famous feud during the 1960s and 1970s. At the height of his career, Sarris was a reviewer for the Village Voice, and he continued publishing until 2009. He also wrote several books about cinema, and later in his life, he became a film professor at Columbia University.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library has several books by and about Andrew Sarris, including the highly influential The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 (1968), which established an early canon of American movies and directors. We have five books about auteur theory in our collection at the Literature and Languages Library if you are interested in exploring this subject further.

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