One of the most influential film critics of the 20th century, the author Andrew Sarris, has died in Manhattan. His wife, fellow film critic Molly Haskell, said that his death was caused by complications following a fall.
A film critic at the Village Voice, and then at the New York Observer, Sarris rose to prominence for a tone that mixed courtesy and causticism and a robust, high-minded engagement with the artform. He took inspiration from Cahiers du Cinéma (he once edited an English-language edition) and his seminal 1962 essay, Notes on the Auteur Theory, helped alert many Americans to the European New Wave.
His other masterpiece was The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, which had praise for Orson Welles, John Ford and Howard Hawkes, as well as Alfred Hitchcock, whose 1960 horror Psycho Sarris was an early fan of.
Martin Scorsese, who once shared an office with Sarris, applauded his open-mindedness in a 2009 interview. "We were cowed into thinking that only European cinema mattered. What Andrew showed us is that art was all around us, and that our tradition, too, had much to offer; he was our guide to the world of cinema."
Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic – who also cheerled for Martin Scorsese but was scornful of auteurist theory – was dismissed by Sarris as preoccupied by style over substance. The two's feud was lapped up by readers, but also had a base in real life. The New York Times reports that when Sarris and Haskell married in 1969, Kael turned down an invite, saying: "That's OK. I'll go to Molly's next wedding."
Later in life, Sarris taught film at Columbia University and co-founded the National Society of Film Critics.
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