I’m sure I am hardly alone in the devastation I’m feeling in hearing of the death of Andrew Sarris. I grew up reading his reviews in the Village Voice, and he was one of the major influences in my love of film.When I was a young aspiring cinephile, the much hyped feud between Sarris and Pauline Kael was in full throttle. Personally, I found myself more frequently in Kael’s corner. Her more emotional response to films seemed more in line with my youthful spirit, while Sarris seemed both more orthodox and more academic than I was ready to accept at the time. In spite of this, his early embrace of auteurism was the kindling that lit my fire for many filmmakers that otherwise would never have been on my radar screen.
As my own career began to blossom, my appreciation for the contributions of the many collaborators on a film increased, so I began to reject auteurism. But Sarris’ reviews were still always compelling and his influence undeniable.
It was through my teaching at Columbia and a few mutual friends that I eventually got to know Andy (now I could honestly call him Andy). Talking to him in person added an unexpected dimension to the writing I had known all those many years. He was friendly, funny, contrary and always enthusiastic. He was so in love with movies that it was infectious. He was willing to listen to anything you had to say on the subject, and to take it seriously. He questioned auteurism for the same reasons that I did, and mildly regreted his own role in popularizing it. His honesty and integrity were inspiring.
When Andy was dismissed from the Village Voice, I stopped reading it. I subscribed to the New York Observer just to continue to read his reviews. And when they also let him go, so went my subscription.
The last time I saw him was at the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Columbia University Film Festival on May 4th. We had the pleasure to pay tribute to him in front of the packed house at Alice Tully Hall. He had influenced literally generations of filmmakers and scholars in his many years at Columbia, and generations of filmgoers in his career as a critic. Our annual award for a distinguished alum is named after him, making it certain that we will never forget what a respected figure he had been in all of our lives.
I miss him so much.