A lot of people knew Andrew Sarris as the longtime film critic at The Village Voice, and just about anyone who's studied film in a serious way is familiar with his influential book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968. But when Andrew Sarris died yesterday at 83 from complications suffered after a fall, he left behind a legacy unmatched by his peers. It was Sarris who coined the phrase "auteur theory" in 1963 to describe an idea that seems self-evident today: Films are essentially the work of film directors.
Just as important, the generally acerbic Sarris championed American filmmakers at a time (the 1960s) when cinephiles regarded European directors as vastly superior. Sarris argued that Howard Hawks and Orson Welles — and later Martin Scorsese, among others — deserved a place alongside Jean Renoir and Fritz Lang in the pantheon of all-time great directors. Sarris was right.