: Sarris was known for considering film directors to be auteurs, engaged in a creative process when they made a movie analoguous to a painter or a novelist
. It is a dubious concept for several reasons, such as, for example, the perpetually evolving economics of the film industry and the large, variegated, talented group of people required to make a movie on both sides of the camera. Fassbinder was considered a classic example of an auteur, and yet those who worked with him, cinematographers, set designers, actors and costume designers all acknowledged the latitude he gave them. Usually, a general instruction was enough, as when he told the costume designer for Berlin Alexanderplatz
that the prostitute characters in late 1920s Berlin were middle class women trying to survive, and that their dress should reflect it. A commercial studio production is always the result of the accumulated efforts of many creative workers. Sarris' description of film directors as auteurs will probably be remembered more for facilitating the marketing of films, for branding them, than for its accuracy in explaining how films are made. In any event, none of this detracts from the fact that he had an acute sense of the the most artistically compelling films of his era.
INITIAL POST: Film critic Andrew Sarris died yesterday at the age of 83. Upon looking over his lists of best films going back to the late 1950s, I was stunned. When something new, dynamic and provocative was released, such as, for example, Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract, he recognized its importance immediately. For his selection of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz as the best release of the 1980s alone, he is entitled to enduring, unqualified posthumous respect. And, if he failed to perceive the brilliant, harsh diversity of 1960s Japanese film and experience the joys of the Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema of the 1990s beyond Wong Kar-wai (oddly enough, Sarris selected one of his lesser efforts, Fallen Angels, for a ten best list), well, nobody's perfect.
Labels: Film Notes, Obituaries