Andrew Sarris' Criterion

by Kent Jones

Created 07/20/12

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Ten corners from Andrew's "alternate universe" of cinema. The order is chronological.

I sense that he didn't care for ELVIRA MADIGAN…

  • “On October 17, 1947, I was hit by a truck on my way back from a screening of THAT HAMILTON WOMAN in a Greenwich Village theater. I was laid up in St. Vincent’s Hospital for three months, and when I got out I had my own battle scars from the Battle of Trafalgar. I kept seeing THAT HAMILTON WOMAN even after the accident.…I have seen THAT HAMILTON WOMAN some eighty-three times at last count, and that doesn’t include free television viewings. That is to say that on eighty-three separate occasions I plunked down coin of the realm for the privilege of watching Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier impersonate Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson in history, Emma and Horatio biographically, Viv and Larry iconographically. By any reasonably objective standard of aesthetic worth, this admission should come under the heading of Confessions of a Misspent Youth.”

  • “When people have asked me to name the greatest film of all time—in my humble opinion, of course—my instant answer has been unvarying for the past 30 years or so: Max Ophüls’ MADAME DE … (1953). It was released in the United States under the somewhat misleading title, THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE …. I say ‘misleading’ because the American title makes the narrative seem more gimmicky than it really is. Yes, the shifting destinations and ownership of a pair of earrings tie the strands of the story together. But what the earrings signify, primarily, is the transformation and transfiguration of an initially frivolous and flirtatious society woman into a tragic victim of romantic rapture.”

  • “Martine Carol’s performance as Lola is more appropriate for the role than most of us imagined at the outset. She is not a great actress, heaven knows, but for this role I can no longer see Danielle Darrieux, Odette Joyeux or Sophia Loren as having been more effective a half-century ago than Carol, who suffered much the same martyrdom in her brief life as Lola did in hers. Actually, the overriding subtext of LOLA MONTES emerges more strongly in our own time, besotted as we are with celebrities, now more accessible than ever through all the technological advances in personality magnification and projection. As the ever menacing Sarah Palin proves once again that mere mediocrity is no obstacle to gaining a frightening degree of power, the Ophüls vision is timelier than ever. As I watch Ms. Palin in fearful rapport with hordes of hockey moms, I am reminded not so much of Lola Montès herself as of the larger numbers of celebrity-worshippers with proudly limited intellects in our own time threatening to plunge us irrevocably into the abyss. In his own cultivated way, Ophüls proved to be something of a prophet. It is not pleasant to be reminded that things can only get worse, but I recommend LOLA MONTES wholeheartedly nonetheless both for its sensuous delights and its ever exquisite artistry.”

  • “Truffaut, like Renoir, loves his audience, but some audiences do not want to be loved. They would rather be tortured by Antonioni, bored by Satyajit Ray, or preached to by Stanley Kramer. Nevertheless, it is in the tension between self-expression and pleasurable communication that the cinema achieves authentic greatness. SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER may disturb the hobgoblins of consistency as it oscillates between comedy and tragedy, realism and fantasy, improvisation and stylization, but the final image of Aznavour’s resignation in front of a tinkling piano will linger in the mind long after the sounding brass of more pretentious cinema has been forgotten.”

  • “Far from assuming a responsible tone, Fuller’s surface plot bears the earmarks of the transparent trashiness that characterizes the last Hollywood films of Orson Welles (TOUCH OF EVIL) and Fritz Lang (BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT). Fuller would have us believe, or at least not disbelieve, that an ace reporter bucking for the Pulitzer Prize would have himself committed to a mental institution in order to solve a murder. To accomplish this he persuades his sweetheart, a stripper, to pretend that she is his sister and that he has been molesting her. The girl is opposed to the project because it is morbid, cynical, and senseless. After all, she argues, Shakespeare and Dickens didn’t need Freud to create great art. At this point one has the heady feeling of hearing flowery silent film titles verbalized for the first time. The dialogue is so intense, so compressed, so lacking in all the shadings of wit and verisimilitude that it is impossible to escape the impression of a primitive artist at work.”

  • “As a genuinely lyrical expression of love, PIERROT LE FOU is worth a thousand anemically academic ELVIRA MADIGANS and a million mendaciously swirling and swishing ROMEO AND JULIETS. Nevertheless I’d hate to imagine PIERROT LE FOU without Belmondo, if only because Belmondo magnifies Godard’s soul on the screen, much as Mastroianni magnified Fellini’s in 8 1/2, and Chaplin the inspired actor always magnified Chaplin the ignoble self-pitier. The cinema is, as always, a director’s art, and feelings are expressed through actors rather than by them, but the point is still to see what is felt rather than to figure out what is meant, and in this respect the bleary-eyed Belmondo undoubtedly looks the way Godard felt when Godard was making PIERROT LE FOU, and the resultant unity of features and feelings is beautiful to behold.”

  • “AU HASARD BALTHAZAR plucks out the roots of existence and presents us with a very morbidly beautiful flower of cinematic art. Bresson’s vision of life and his cinematic style may seem too bleak, too restrictive, too pessimistic for some, perhaps for many. Indeed, I cannot in all candor consider myself the most devoted Bressonian, and I have long ago renounced any ambition to do a definitive analysis of anything to which my entire sensibility does not respond, and there are large gaps in my psyche Bresson leaves untouched. And yet, all in all, no film I have ever seen has come so close to convulsing my entire being as AU HASARD BALTHAZAR. I’m not sure what kind of movie it is, and indeed it may be more pleasingly vulgar than I suggest, but it stands by itself on one of the loftiest pinnacles of artistically realized emotional experiences.”

  • “Describing a film as beautiful is unfortunately too often a device to end discussion, particularly nowadays when irrationality and hysteria have become institutionalized as life styles. ELVIRA MADIGAN is beautiful in the way flowery poems are poetical, not through functional expressiveness but through lyrical excessiveness. BONNIE AND CLYDE is beautiful when its concluding slow-motion ballet of death and transfiguration takes the audience off the hook by distancing the characters into legend and fantasy…I would argue that BELLE DE JOUR is indeed a beautiful film, but not because of any anesthetizing aesthetic of benevolently mindless lyricism. Nor is it beautiful because its director’s visual style transcends its sordid subject. The beauty of BELLE DE JOUR is the beauty of artistic rigor and adaptable intelligence. Given what Buñuel is at sixty-seven, and what he has done in forty years and twenty-seven projects of film-making, and what and whom he had to work with and for, BELLE DE JOUR reverberates with the cruel logic of formal necessity.”

  • “FACES emerges for me as the revelation of 1968, not the best movie to be sure but certainly the most surprising…After its somewhat strained beginning, FACES not only works, it soars. The turning point is the first desperately domestic conversation between John Marley and Lynn Carlin, a conversation swept along on its banal course by gales of nervous laughter, a conversation accompanied by physical withdrawl behind the luxurious barriers of space, walls, doors, and furniture, a conversation that in its lack of topical details and symbolic overtones is perhaps closer to aimless soap opera than to deliberate drama. But it works in ways that are mysterious to behold, as if for once a soap opera was allowed to unfold out of its own limited logic for two hours without interruption for commercials or station identification. What we have in FACES, therefore, is not only a failure to communicate but a reluctance to terminate, and this reluctance is one of the reasons FACES achieves an otherwise inexplicable intensity of feeling that transcends the all too easily satirized milieu of affluently superficial Southern California. Although it is concerned almost exclusively with the lecherous delusions of pick-ups and pick-me-ups, FACES is never sordid or squalid. Cassavetes stays with his tormented, alienated characters until they break through the other side of slice-of-life naturalism into emotional and artistic truth.”

  • “Two universal fears run through ROSEMARY'S BABY, the fear of pregnancy, particularly as it consumes personality, and the fear of a deformed offspring with all the attendant moral and emotional complications. Almost any film that dealt directly with these two fears would be unbearable to watch because of the matter-of-fact clinical horror involved. By dealing obliquely with these fears, the book and the movie penetrate deeper into the subconscious of the audience. It is when we least expect to identify with fictional characters that we identify most deeply. If Levin had been fully aware of the implications of what he had been writing, he would have been too self-conscious to write it. Conversely, Polanski who is too aware of implications and overtones could never have invented the plot of ROSEMARY'S BABY. Hence, the fruitful collaboration of instinct and intellect on this occasion.”

  • “Millie is exposed again and again as a social leper. All her dates have ended in degradation, all her one-night stands have ended in oblivion, all her parties have ended in ridicule. It is not that Millie is surrounded by monsters. The people who mock her are shown doing so quietly and subtly and unostentatiously. They simply want to be rid of her, but she refuses to be rebuffed. Millie could be written off as a nerd were it not for something magical in Shelley Duvall's performance. Not since Katharine Hepburn's Alice Adams has a female character displayed as much wrong-headed generosity and courage as does Shelley Duvall's Millie. As I write these words I become aware that I am describing Millie as if she were a character on a printed page. But if I want to convey what 3 WOMEN really is as opposed to what it merely means, I could do worse than try to evoke Shelley Duvall's stride as she walks from one social Calvary to another. There is so much spiritual grace in that stride, and so much wisdom in Altman's decision to follow that stride to the ends of his scenario, that one is ennobled simply by witnessing the bonds of compassion between the director and his actress.”


  • By Bobby Wise
    July 25, 2012
    04:20 PM

    Nice list. We share "Belle de jour" in our Top 10. I agree that "Shock Corridor" is probably the best Fuller. It is impossible to disagree with "Pierrot le fou" as a brilliant piece of cinema. And if Truffaut didn't make "The Soft Skin" (and since it is not a Criterion edition) his "Shoot the Piano Player" would probably be my favorite unsung film of his that is not celebrated nearly as much as it should be.
  • By David M.
    July 25, 2012
    06:50 PM

    Although we graduated from the same high school (twenty years apart), I was never a fan of his. And this selection of pretentious bores reminds why. Who could sit through Lola Montes? Just my opinion ( where is the likes of heartfelt films like La Strada and Room at the Top, or City Lights?). A list with a lack of emotional connections.
  • By brianoblivion
    July 27, 2012
    08:59 PM

    tortured by antonioni,bored by satyajit ray or preached to by stanley kaufman ehhh? how about being preached to by this pretentious,torturous windbag... "...but the point is still to see what is felt rather than to figure out what is meant, and in this respect the bleary-eyed Belmondo undoubtedly looks the way Godard felt when Godard was making PIERROT LE FOU..." yeah,right on....
    • By Celine-Julie
      July 30, 2012
      09:01 AM

      Thank you! A critic can be biased, but by doing so, they shouldn't straight-out blaspheme the director, especially if they have nothing interesting or relevant to say. And the idea of Sarris, the pretentious critic, writing about Godard, the pretentious director(no offense, cause I love Godard), is utterly ridiculous
  • By Carodgers_123
    July 27, 2012
    11:12 PM

    I love 3 Women
  • By VseslavBotkin
    July 28, 2012
    11:24 PM

    Surprised Heaven Can Wait wasn't on here
  • By heliogabalus
    October 16, 2012
    07:44 PM

    Sarris and his wife Molly Haskell always made sense to me, but I think he was taken in by the faux, smarmy sophistication of Manhattan, which he praised unreservedly. Well, that's only one film. Sarris was an auteur theorist but he did not apply it slavishly, it enhanced his appreciation of cinema and made his readers do the same by making it his own and using it with discretion. Some of his brief pieces on films that were currently showing in New York art houses contained some of his best writing, I can still quote from memory one he wrote about The Magnificent Ambersons, so warm and colorfully written was it. I have to mention his set-to with J. Hoberman, played out in the pages of the Village Voice for all to read with (in my case) guilty pleasure. Sarris clearly prevailed, and my opinion of Hoberman has always been affected for the worse in consequence.
  • By batchainfuller
    January 29, 2016
    10:29 AM

    Sarris might seem a tad pretentious if you never read/used the American Cinema Directors and Directions-easily the greatest film guide ever written.
  • By ScorpioVelvet
    June 30, 2016
    10:50 PM

    Good reviews. Always love Godard, Polanski, Altman, Bresson, Fuller, & Truffaut.