Andrew Sarris, Critic Who Championed Film's New Wave, Dies at 83

Village Voice and NY Observer critic Andrew Sarris championed auteur directors and helped Americans view film as more than popular entertainment

Influential film critic Andrew Sarris, who helped introduce a generation of American moviegoers to Europe's new wave of directors in the 1960s and '70s, has died at the age of 83.

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Sarris died at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan after complications developed from a stomach virus, his wife, film critic Molly Haskell, said Wednesday.

Sarris was best known for his work with the Village Voice and New York Observer.

With contemporaries like Pauline Kael, with whom he famously feuded in print about a number of films, he helped Americans view filmmaking as more than popular entertainment. He championed directors Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, older works by American helmers like Howard Hawks and John Ford and newcomers Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese.

His works greatly heightened awareness of the role of the film director and a 1962 essay "Notes on the Auteur Theory," brought the term "auteur" into the American vernacular. His 1968 book, "The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968," is widely credited with raising the bar for American film criticism.

In that book and his reviews, he assessed the work of many of the leading American directors and actors of the day. Some examples:

Howard Hawks: "He stamped his remarkably bitter view of life on adventure, gangster and private eye melodramas, the kind of thing Americans do best and appreciate least."

Alfred Hitchcock: "His reputation has suffered from the fact that he has given audiences more pleasure than is permissible for serious cinema. No one who is so entertaining could possibly seem profound to the intellectual puritans."

Raquel Welch: "I still don't believe that Raquel Welch really exists. She has been manufactured by the media merely to preserve the sexless plasticity of sex objects for the masses."

John Cassavetes: "As a director, too much of the time he is groping when he should be gripping."

Roman Polanski: "His talent is as undeniable as his intentions are dubious."

Stanley Kramer: "He will never be a natural, but time has proved that he is not a fake."