Ever since I became seriously interested in film, it was for me, the director who was the driving force behind the film. It was always Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” “Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” or Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot.” This thought or attitude is easily attributable to the influence of Andrew Sarris and the auteur theory he championed. Sarris died today (June 20th) at the age of eighty-three. As the long time critic for The Village Voice and later, The New York Observer, Sarris was a unique voice championing film and filmmakers, ready to do battle and he did, most famously with Pauline Kael.
For years, I read Sarris’ Village Voice reviews each week. As a young cineaste I plowed through my well worn copy of “The American Cinema: Directors and Direction 1929-1968,” Sarris’ assessment and categorizing of some 200 hundred or so filmmakers. For me, he opened up doors and behind them were brilliant filmmakers and their films to be discovered and enjoyed.
Sarris and Kael ushered in the golden age of movie criticism. It was a time when movies meant something more than just how much they cost to make or how much they made at the box office over the weekend. Movies were argued about, discussed over dinner or coffee, film theories were praised and damned. They were art and treated as art.