Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Andrew Sarris

Andrew Sarris has died. I am not alone in considering this to be holy writ:

I read that devotedly, especially in the early days of my full scale cinephilia, generally taking Sarris' judgments as starting points for my own, though coming to an understanding of my own tastes and ideas about films quite often by way of arguing with him. He wrote in a way that invited argument, I think - stating a position, but in a way that left of room for counter positions, that were, themselves, easier to state because of the clarity with which he made his case. It felt that way to me. I always found his opinions generous and open, and grounded in curiosity and joy in watching films - he was a perfect guide. It helped that his tastes and mine ran together - but like I say, even when they didn't (and I doubted from the start his assessment of people like Frank Capra, John Huston, Billy Wilder - especially Capra, who I believed then and now was the greatest American filmmaker of them all), I found his case against them necessary to consider. And so it goes.

That's just me - but I know enough people who could probably say something close to the same (my long time internet friend Joseph B, for example...). Whether The American Cinema, or his reviews, or the sum total of his writing - he has been as influential as critics come.

And one more thing - that book: that is a cover for the ages. Everyone seems to be posting a scan or picture or something of their copy - that's what you see above. They all seem to be similar - a bit battered, discolored, a book likely to have spent a fair amount of time stuck in back pockets and such (it's the perfect size). Most of the pictures are straight on, like mine, which perhaps obscures the condition of the pages - downturned and stained and stuck through with bookmarks (there's a stub from Kenneth Brannagh's Hamlet, 10:00 AM show, 1/26/97, $4.75 (matinee price), marking the Preston Sturges entry, in mine)... It is a thing of beauty, and one as much used as any book I own.

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