Just An Average Day In the Film Blog-o-Sphere…..Oh Yeah Andrew Sarris Died
It was just another average day in the film blog-o-sphere. I was perusing the “popular” site slashfilm.com when I saw something that immediately grabbed my attention. Squeezed in-between two headlines; one for a new international trailer for “The Watch” and the other for a musical remixed version of “Pulp Fiction”….whatever that is, was the blurb:
“Andrew Sarris, One of the Defining American Film Critics, Dead at 83”
After the initial shock passed, I read the article and was even more upended at what I was reading. I wasn’t shocked in the usual way I am reading internet film blogs, where I am taken aback at the immaturity and low standards showcased in the writing, but more at how surprisingly mature the piece was. A concise clear portrait (rather thin actually…wikipedia is clearly at play) of the man, his muse and his influence over the culture of film criticism. Shocking to see such an article from a website whose daily articles usually only relate information regarding the most up to date news on upcoming super-hero sequels. Sad to see that only the death of a great man can bring about such mature writing. Is death what it takes for these film bloggers to step up and write stuff that actually matters and has weight. Either way, the article was a good one. Score one for low expectations.
Yes Andrew Sarris is dead. Prepare yourself for the obligatory, epk style obituaries and remeberances that will be dolled out en mass over the next few days, from collegue and admirer alike. The list is already large and growing by the minute:
However this is one film journalist who has no plans to join in on the festivities. No brief mythmaking bio will be served, no tweet worthy rememberences will be made and no milestones will be addressed. If you want to know who Andrew Sarris was, go look him up yourself (I would actually read some of his reviews instead of just making a trip to wikipedia). I however, plan to analyze this news event from a specific and important point of view, only drawing on my knowledge of Andrew Sarris to address what his death means to the continuing uphill efforts to legitimize film criticism as a essential artform. In light of this viewpoint, Sarris’ death takes on special significance, for if you are a fan of serious film criticism, and want to see movie discussed with intelligence and integrity by journalists who are have more on their minds than box office tallies, than the death of Andrew Sarris should be a major blow to your morale. For you see Sarris was one of the last great film critics from the post studio era, whose classy style, witty prose and controversial stances on the auteur theory, helped to make film criticism a respectable entity in the years following the death of old Hollywood. Through the pedigree of his work (and legendary debates with critic Pauline Kael), Sarris established himself as a pillar solid and reliable film criticism. As time passes and we lose more of and more people like Sarris and Kael, it becomes ever more apparent the deplorable state that film criticism/journalism has sunk too. Armond White in his controversial article Discourteous Discourse (http://nypress.com/discourteous-discourse/) correctly surmises the sad state film criticism has sunk to in today’s online society:
“Attacks from bloggers—crude interlopers of a once august profession— are not about diversity of opinion. What’s at root is an undisguised rivalry. Every moviegoer with a laptop claims equal—vengeful—standing with so-called professionals. This anti-intellectual backlash defies the purpose of the Circle’s founding in 1935. Professional dignity is the last thing Internetters respect. Their loudmouth enmity and lack of knowledge are so overwhelming that it is imperative to put this crisis in perspective.
These new social networks overturn the informed judgments and occupational decorum of journalist-critics, substituting the glib enthusiasms and non-discriminating devotion of apparently juvenile cliques. Worse yet, this schoolyard style of peer group fanaticism has devolved into all-out, ugly intimidation: Internet bullying. It has begun to sway the professional ranks already frightened by media transitions that have cost many of my colleagues their jobs.
The most important concern exceeds the critical profession; it’s the danger these changes pose to the culture in general. Ridiculing the need for mature thought and discriminating judgment diminishes film culture. Any opinion that challenges the blockbuster market gets punished. We never experience a healthy exchange of ideas. The social networking approach to criticism encourages anti-intellectual harassment and the excoriation of individual response; it may spell the end of critical habits altogether.”
After all the dust has settled and the condolences have been tweeted, ultimately what will be left is a major void in the film world, not to mention a person who held a strong connective tissue from the bright film criticism we had in the past to the dark state of film criticism in the present. I guess my main focus in this article was to implore my readers to remember Sarris not only from his death notices, but by reading and digesting some of his film reviews, which contain the true nature of his personality and artistry. At the least it will be more heady stuff than what you’ll find on wikipedia.