Update: Okay, Andrew Sarris will continue reviewing for the New York Observer as a freelancer, according to Dave Kehr. Great! I don’t know why Sarris didn’t point this out when we spoke last night but whatever. At least the berth continues.
Posted this morning: Hearing yesterday that Andrew Sarris had been jettisoned by the N.Y. Observer resulted in one of those pit-of-the-stomach thud feelings. Sarris, 81, is getting on (who isn’t?) and maybe slowing down a tad but he’s way too important, too influential and too legendary to just be cut from the payroll. We all know about the cultural shiftings going on (“The age of the singular critical voice is ending — people prefer the wisdom of a community”) but this still ain’t right.
In other words the man has been at this racket for way too long and writing too insightfully and has been too much of a steady trooper for too many decades for some editor to just say “okay, see ya.” (Sarris’s first film review focused on Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho.) In my head he’s earned the stripes to just keep on rolling until he wants to stop. He personifies hallowed ground.
So I called Sarris last night and said it was personally upsetting to hear what happened, etc. I asked if he’d given any thought to writing for a reputable website. He seemed open to the idea (we talked about a possible option or two) but said he was also enjoying the downtime for the first time in 19 years. And he said thanks very much for the condolences and words of support.
Except too much downtime is bad for the spirit. Writing is brutal or difficult or at least a slog for most of us, but not writing is a death sentence. Writing keeps you in the game, sharpens your mind, makes you inquisitive, feeds the engine, keeps you on your toes, etc. All writers need to keep on chooglin’ until they drop. There is no spoon and there is no retirement.
In the fall of ’77 Sarris agreed to talk about movies in front of a crowd at the Westport Country Playhouse Cinema, where I was working at the time. I was told to pick him up at his Upper East Side apartment and drive him up to Westport, and then drive him back a couple of hours later. We obviously enjoyed some chat time, but what I primarily remember was his energy and spirit — a genuine inspiration for me. He seemed indefatigable.
A year or two later I was a struggling New York freelancer, doubtful of my talent and unsure of my footing. I was at a black-tie New York Film Festival party, and I remember suddenly putting on a pair of jet-black Ray-Bans as I joined a group of five or six that included Sarris. He made me feel very much part-of-the-gang when he remarked a few seconds later that I looked “like a Roman pimp in a Fellini film.”
One of my all-time favorite Sarris lines is that “the bottom has fallen out of badness in movies.” He wrote this in the early ’80s….hah!
From the Film Snob’s Dictionary: “Sarris, Andrew. Brooklyn-born film critic and theorist known for popularizing the Auteur Theory, and for arousing the ire of Pauline Kael with his totemic 1968 book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929 — 1968, in which he categorized directors by preference, prompting Kael to deride him, to his face, as a ‘list queen.’
“His gentlemanly, hypeless prose has remained consistent since 1960, when he began writing for the Village Voice. Married to the fellow film-critster Molly Haskell, Sarris now plies his trade for the New York Observer and as a trainee Snob-admired lecturer at Columbia University.”