Andrew Sarris served as film critic for the Village Voice for almost 30 years and as the editor of the English-language version of the influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, but he is best known as the primary spokesman for... [more]
Andrew Sarris served as film critic for the Village Voice for almost 30 years and as the editor of the English-language version of the influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, but he is best known as the primary spokesman for the "politique des auteurs" -- or auteur theory.
Prior to the emergence of this theory in France, the idea of filmmaker-as-author was applied strictly to certain European directors who considered themselves independent artists and exercised complete
control over all aspects of their films. This model created the distinction between art films and popular cinema.
In France, however, the critics who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema were convinced that American cinema, and even, or especially, Hollywood cinema, was worthy of close examination. They proposed the radical idea that masterpieces were not the exclusive domain of a
cultural elite of directors, and that cinematic authors previously dismissed as merely commercial had in fact made significant personal statements in their work. The assertion that the auteur's distinctive style is only revealed through a thorough examination of
his whole body of work caused a shift in critical perception and a re-evaluation of directors on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sarris created an enormous furor when he introduced this theory in his Village Voice column, and his book "The American Cinema," which ranked American directors in various categories of importance and relevance, escalated the controversy. While the theory had many
opponents, even its supporters did not always agree, and two main schools of critics emerged. One group stressed the directors' recurring thematic motifs, the core meanings in their works, as the true measure of unique vision, while the other stressed form, or the
individual styles of directors. Later, most critics accepted that some combination of the two defined the true "auteur."
With his introduction of auteur theory into the cultural dialogue, Sarris helped to define the role of the film critic. By arguing that there was indeed an artist at work in film, he set the course toward a standard of film criticism that went beyond issues of personal taste.