32 years ago, in 1978 when I was the the chairman of The Cinema Guild at a New England College, we received a grant from the Johnson-Mellon foundation for $10,000 to bring important artistic speakers to our campus for a day of interaction with students.
Early in our talks with the University "committee" for the event, my thoughts were focused like a laser beam on one person: ORSON WELLES!
A year earlier, Welles' latest picture, F FOR FAKE had astonished me when I went to see it the weekend it opened in Manhattan at the D.W. Griffith Theater.
Unfortunately, the heads of the Cinema Dept. never were able to prevail on the "money" men in bringing Orson Welles to campus as a speaker. Instead, the sponsors of the lecture series seemed intent for some unknown reason on getting Otto Preminger.
Well, thankfully, that was a choice we could at the least, live with. If they wanted to bring Richard Fleischer or Robert Wise on campus, I'm sure I would have, to quote Waldo Lydecker, "Run amuck."
However, we did get our say in which critic would be accompanying Mr. Preminger on campus. We certainly didn't want someone like Pauline Kael! Instead, we asked for, and thankfully we got, Andrew Sarris.
So in February of 1978, I met Mr. Sarris for the first time. I still remember talking to him while Otto Preminger was trying to get Sarris's attention. I was asking Sarris about why Touch of Evil and Vertigo were not mentioned on his ten best films list of 1958. Sarris was very contrite about the lapse, and admitted it was a critical failure on his part, due mostly to his inexperience at the time.
The day Preminger and Sarris came to speak, I ended up speaking much more to Mr. Preminger than to Mr. Sarris. Luckily, my good friend, James Hurley was far more interested in talking with Sarris, and he also wrote a wonderful piece on Andrew Sarris for our program book.
So here is an excerpt from the introduction James Hurley wrote about the critical writings of Andrew Sarris:
It's too bad Andrew Sarris is such an important movie critic, because it tends to obscure the fact that he is such a good critic. Sarris's revolutionary auteur theory has created such controversy that its American founder is too often seen as a mere polemicist, a potent critical force rather than a brilliant critical intelligence. But though the slavishly faithful auteurists he has spawned pay him frequent and impassioned homage, Sarris is much more closely related to the great American tradition of iconoclastic film criticism: Otis Ferguson, James Agee, Manny Farber, Robert Warshow, men who have, as critic and film-maker Paul Schrader has said, "come out of the wilderness... spouting some sort of doctrine which they have half-cocked in their own heads."
This is not to say that Sarris's great influence should be downplayed; indeed, it cannot be over-stressed. The best of the younger critics working today have been formed greatly in his mold: Molly Haskell, Richard Corliss, Joseph McBride, Stuart Byron, Roger Greenspun and John Belton, to name but a few. Peter Bogdanovich, critic before film-maker, cites Sarris as one of his "main influences." The auteur theory has not only become the predominant critical and academic outlook, it has acted, for better or worse, as breeding ground for such recent trends in film scholarship as structuralism, semiology, genre criticism and Cahierist Marxism. It has also unfortunately created a school of jabbering parrots, "Sarrisites", who have, in Sams's own words, "embraced the auteur theory as a shortcut to film scholarship." Sarris, however, cannot be blamed for the sins of his bastard offspring.
---James Hurley, 1978
This is a rather long introduction to Andrew Sarris's very cogent and, I think, quite amazing rebuttal to Pauline Kael's badly researched article in The New Yorker, "Raising Kane." Kael's article, was naturally, well written, but many of the facts seem to have somehow eluded her.
So it was very nice to see how well Andrew Sarris's rebuttal to Kael's article holds up. I was also astonished to find out that Sarris revealed, for the first time I am aware of, that Herman J. Mankiewicz based "Rosebud" on his childhood bicycle!
CITIZEN KAEL VS. CITIZEN KANE
By ANDREW SARRIS
The Village Voice - April 29, 1971
“Citizen Kane, American Baroque" is the pretentious title of a solemn, pedantic, humorless revaluation of “Citizen Kane" written on the occasion of its revival in 1956. The piece first appeared in the ninth issue of Film Culture (1956) and did not cause too much stir one way or another. The reviewer (or rather re-reviewer) was a 28-year old New York freelancer (more free than lance) with a severely limited education in film history. He had just started reviewing movies in the mid-'50s, first under the name of Andrew George Sarris and then merely Andrew Sarris, and by 1956 he had decided that the three greatest films of all times were "Odd Man Out," "Citizen Kane," and "Sullivan's Travels." Then from 1961 through 1969, he held that the three greatest films of all time were "Lola Montez," "Ugetsu," and "The Rules of the Game," and now in 1970 he has replaced "Lola Montez" at the top with "Madame de" He still likes "Citizen Kane," "Odd Man Out," and "Sullivan's Travels," but not as much these days as "The Magnificent Ambersons," "The Third Man" and 'The Miracle of Morgan's Creek," "Hail the Conquering Hero" and "The Palm Beach Story," not to mention "Sunrise," "Liebelei," "La Ronde," "Day of Wrath," "Ordet," "Flowers of St. Francis," "French CanCan." "The Golden Coach," "Psycho," "Vertigo," "The Searchers," "Diary of a Country Priest," "Au Hasard Balthazar," "Brink of Life," "Oharu," "Seven Chances," "Sherlock, Jr.," "Steamboat Bill Jr.," and "Shop Around the Corner."