Leading film critic Andrew Sarris dies at 83

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Sarris was born in Brooklyn in 1928, the son of a real estate investor who lost much of his fortune during the Great Depression. (Always broke but never poor, was how Sarris remembered his childhood.)

According to a family story, young Andrew was being pushed in a standing stroller when he dashed into a nearby movie house and had to be dragged out, screaming. “Womblike,” was how Sarris later described his bond to the screen. As an undergraduate at Columbia University, he found himself edging away from campus and “ever deeper into the darkness of movie houses, not so much in search of a vocation as in flight from the laborious realities of careerism.”

He called himself a “middle-class cultural guerrilla,” an arsenal of ideas and emotions. “Novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poems slithered off my typewriter in haphazard spasms of abortive creation,” he later wrote.

By the mid-1950s, he was absorbing the writings of the influential French journal Cahiers du Cinema, where contributors included such future directors as Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer. In 1960, he became the Village Voice’s film critic, starting with a review of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” which he praised for “making previous horror films look like variations of `Pollyanna.’”

Sarris left the Voice in 1989 to write for the New York Observer, where he remained until he was laid off in 2009. In 2000, Sarris was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for criticism and in 2012 received a $10,000 prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for “progressive, original, and experimental” criticism. He was also a founding member of the National Society of Film Critics, wrote screenplays for the films “A Promise at Dawn” and “Justine” and worked as a story consultant for 20th Century Fox from 1955-65.

He was a longtime professor of film at Columbia University, and also taught at New York University and Yale University. His other books included “Politics and Cinema” and “The Primal Screen.”

In 1969, Sarris married Haskell, a union Kael predicted wouldn’t last. Haskell, who hopes to arrange a public memorial in the fall, said Wednesday that “he had a wonderful life” and that it was fitting he died near Columbia.

“He was never unhappy,” she said. “He wanted to go on living as long as he could _ watching movies and talking about movies and being with me.”

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AP Film Critic Christy Lemire in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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