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Andrew Sarris R.I.P.

ANDREW SARRIS, 83, an American film scholar/author/critic and Columbia University professor who popularized the French reverence for directors with his celebrated “auteur” theory, died today after complications from a stomach virus, according to wife, fellow film critic Molly Haskell.  Sarris was best known for his work with the Village Voice, and his debates with fellow scribe Pauline Kael and her followers. Sarris started with the Voice in 1960 and established himself as a major voice in 1962 with the essay "Notes on the Auteur Theory,” where he argued for the primacy of directors and called the "ultimate glory" of movies "the tension between a director's personality and his material." His 1968 book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, was a hugely influential study, which he described as "a collection of facts, a reminder of movies to be resurrected, of genres to be redeemed, of directors to be rediscovered." Among his favorites: Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Max Ophuls and Fritz Lang, while categorizing John Huston, David Lean, Elia Kazan and Fred Zinnemann as "Less Than Meets the Eye.”  His critical arguments sought to redeem previously overlooked commercial directors like Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford as true artists. Sarris left the Voice in 1989 to write for the New York Observer, where he remained until he was laid off in 2009. In 2000, Sarris was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for criticism and a founding member of the National Society of Film Critics, wrote screenplays for the films A Promise at Dawn and Justine and worked as a story consultant for 20th Century Fox from 1955-65. He was a longtime professor of film criticism at Columbia University, where his students once included HITS’ own then-fledgling rock/film pundit geek, Roy Trakin. (6/20p)

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