Anthology Film Archives


February 22 – March 31

With last June’s passing of Andrew Sarris, the global film community suffered a crushing loss. Possibly the most influential of all English-language film critics, Sarris began his career in the pages of FILM CULTURE (started by Anthology co-founder and Artistic Director Jonas Mekas) and later moved to the VILLAGE VOICE, where he developed the groundbreaking auteur theory – the notion that directors were the true authors of motion pictures. Modeled after the CAHIERS DU CINÉMA critics’ Politique des auteurs (Sarris had met Godard and Truffaut in Paris after WWII), Sarris later admitted the auteur theory was more “a reminder of movies to be resurrected, of genres to be redeemed, of directors to be rediscovered.”

In 1968, he published the authoritative “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968,” where he ranked and grouped filmmakers into categories – “Less Than Meets the Eye,” “Lightly Likable”, “Strained Seriousness” – that often still define (and, in some cases, haunt) them to this day. One of the most important sections proved to be “Expressive Esoterica” (coming right after “Pantheon Directors” and “The Far Side of Paradise”): “These are the unsung directors with difficult styles or unfashionable genres or both. Their deeper virtues are often obscured by irritating idiosyncrasies on the surface, but they are generally redeemed by their seriousness and grace.”

In grouping together the work of such marginalized or undervalued filmmakers as Joseph H. Lewis, John M. Stahl, Phil Karlson, and more, Sarris helped to solidify an alternate critical canon. The auteur theory allowed Hollywood’s disreputable genre craftsmen and studio journeymen to receive the critical attention they so richly deserved. In tribute to Sarris’s life and work as a writer and teacher, Anthology is pleased to present a small selection of Sarris-approved Expressive Esoterica. He anointed all these films with the coveted italics in “The American Cinema”, and they’re all worthy of resurrection, redemption, and rediscovery.

This series has been curated in collaboration with C. Mason Wells, who also wrote the introduction and all film descriptions.

Special thanks to Julian Antos (Northwest Chicago Film Society), Daniel Bish (George Eastman House), Brian Block (Criterion Pictures), Chris Chouinard (Park Circus), Steven Hill & Todd Wiener (UCLA), Christopher Lane (Sony), Tim Lanza (Cohen Media Group), Caitlin Robertson (20th Century-Fox), and Marilee Womack (Warner Bros).

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