Andrew Sarris – “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962”


“Andrew Sarris, ‘who loved movies’ (as Roger Ebert described him), was long considered the ‘dean of American film critics.’ Reading the accounts and appreciations of him today, I was surprised to see how many people perpetuated the myth that Sarris and Pauline Kael were like the print era’s Siskel & Ebert who, instead of facing off with each other over new movies on TV week after week, carried on a robust public debate about auteurism and film theory for decades. That didn’t happen. And that mischaracterization does a disservice to Sarris, to Kael and to Siskel & Ebert, all of whom were taking their own distinctive and original approaches to movie reviewing and criticism. I think what’s most important on the occasion of Sarris’s passing is to acknowledge that his substantial critical legacy cannot be defined in terms of anything Pauline Kael wrote about him and the politique des auteurs in 1963 — and certainly not in the way his and the Cahiers du Cinema critics’ views were misrepresented in Kael’s famous snipe, ‘Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris.’ Let’s get this straight: Sarris, who had spent some time in France and acquainted himself with the Cahiers du Cinema critics (Andre Bazin, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, et al.), published an essay in Film Culture called ‘Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962‘ (download .pdf here). In it he set out to explain the French notion of what he called ‘auteurism’ for an American audience.* Kael responded with ‘Circles and Squares’ and thereafter Sarris panned her first collection, I Lost it at the Movies. (He also dismantled her slipshod ‘Raising Kane’ essay in 1971, as did many others.) There was no lengthy, ongoing public debate or exchange of ideas between Sarris and Kael themselves from then on. So, the false nostalgia for the great days of ‘Kael vs. Sarris’ is baffling. Yes, as many have said, some people sorted themselves into ‘camps’ — the so-called ‘Paulettes’ (as they were known primarily by those who saw them as Kael’s sycophants) and the auteurist-oriented ‘Sarristes’ — but in terms of aesthetics or theory or ideology, what did they really represent? Kael’s pals vs. auteurism? Visceral responses vs. hierarchical categorization? Dionysian vs. Apollonian criticism? Philistinism vs. academia? It was never that simple. …”
Andrew Sarris, auteurism, and his take on his own legacy
W – Auteur, W – Andrew Sarris, W – Pauline Kael
New Yorker: Andrew Sarris and the “A” Word – Richard Brody
Slate: Film Critic Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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