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The American Cinema: Directors And Directions 1929-1968 Paperback – August 22, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press ed edition (August 22, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306807289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306807282
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Since its publication in 1968, The American Cinema has been the manifesto of the auteur theory. Written by Andrew Sarris, the theory's chief advocate, the book traces the history of movies by examining the careers of more than 200 film directors. Covering everyone from D.W. Griffith to Francis Coppola, Orson Welles to Roman Polanski, Sarris argues that directorial greatness is marked by a personal style and consistency of excellence that can be traced throughout a career. Sarris's commentary is sometimes worshipful, sometimes acrid, but almost always quotable. Alfred Hitchcock is "the supreme technician of the American cinema." John Huston coasted "on his reputation as a wronged individualist with an alibi for every bad movie." Stanley Kubrick holds "a naive faith in the power of images to transcend fuzzy feelings and vague ideas." Michelangelo Antonioni makes films so pessimistic and alienating that Sarris dubs him "Antoniennui."

You may not agree with all of Sarris's assessments, but this book provides the best possible opportunity to consider auteurism, an approach to cinema that, in an age that reveres Scorsese, Spielberg, and Tarantino, seems more relevant than ever. The book closes with an essay called "The Auteur Theory Revised," Sarris's attempt at a definitive theoretical statement. --Raphael Shargel

From Library Journal

This 1968 volume is probably the bible of the auteur theory of filmmaking, i.e., that the director's vision is what shapes film history. Though LJ's reviewer found some of Sarris's conclusions "furiously debatable," this nonetheless is an "invaluable reference book and a major contribution to film literature" (LJ 12/15/68).
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Sarris approached his analysis by ranking directors by his view of their worth.
Mark D. Burgh
To any serious student of film this book is perhaps the only book that you will refer to as long as you watch films.
Bert Weedemeyer
Since 1973, when I bought the book for a college course, the book is a permanent part of my library.
David Cisek

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Iconophoric on May 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
This volume parses the good guys from the bad guys, tells you whom you should love and why, and summarily dismisses the ones not worth taking seriously. In other words, for good or bad, it arms you, as will no other film book ever written, with a set of eloquently-stated prejudices that may seal off certain directors from your serious consideration for all time. (It would be too glib to say that this is the books best and worst point.) Suffice to say, it has taken years for me to tear down the wall Sarris built between me, as a budding cinephile, and William Wyler, Billy Wilder, John Huston and even John Frankenheimer, for that matter. (These are just a few of the ones I think he was, or may have been, wrong about.)
But I love this book and always find it worth picking up to reread a few entries, for two or three reasons that never grow old:
1) Sarris IS an absolutely remarkable writer. His prose bristles with alternately apt and acid phrases and insights. The parallel between Ambrose Bierce and Sarris has grown on me through the years. (I think it was Sarris who brought currency to the word "pretentious"-- possibly THE serious put-down word from the 70s to the 90s, possibly to the present-- by the way. He used it with unerring surgical delicacy, as a bludgeon.)
2) He is hard to argue with in his negative evaluation of certain other respected directors. Thirty-five years ago, Sarris renounced Kubrick, noting, in typical form, that the very fact that he made one film every 5 years seemed to be all the proof his advocates needed of his integrity. Ouch! And he said that Kubrick is the director of the best coming attractions in the business.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Cisek on January 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
Since 1973, when I bought the book for a college course, the book is a permanent part of my library. I should have replaced the original by now, but I owe to it my appetite and appreciation for movies. Even when I don't agree with Mr. Sarris (as with his estimation of John Huston) I know why; his erudition is so clear I am forced to explain myself. Reading him has taught me how to watch, explore, compare and contrast films and directors at least. I credit him with having deepend my entire experience of movie going.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Extolling the virtues of The American Cinema would be too hard. Beside being an invaluable reference for cinema between 1929-1968, it also contains wonderful peices of film theory. Because of this The American Cinema can be read a few pages at a time or you can completely dwelve into the material. No matter the method, Sarris will engage you in a meaningful dialogue of film. Film literature is rarely able to be this give and take. Those with an above average inclination toward cinema should purchase.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 28, 1998
Format: Paperback
In brief, beautifully written essays, Andrew Sarris summarizes the careers of perhaps 80 to 100 American directors. Each essay is preceded by a filmography, with the films Sarris judges to be the director's most important in italics. (An appendix gives the author's lists of most important American films by year.)
Sarris groups directors into categories including "Pantheon Directors," "The Far Side of Paradise," "Lightly Likeable," "Expressive Esoterica" and "Less Than Meets the Eye." Sarris is an avowed auteurist, meaning that he considers that in the great majority of films, the director's contribution is decisive.
I have used the book as a guide for my movie and video viewing for the past 20 years, and the rewards have been vast.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
When it first appeared in the late '60s, Sarris' book was literally memorized by critics, students and teachers. It provided a root approach to discussing film, quickly absorbed, and readily shaped to one's personal tastes. A beautiful combination of reference and aesthetic, it ushered in the era of "the director as superstar," and was completely absorbed by everyone in film. Unfortunately, its absorption was so complete, the author, Mr. Sarris, was for the most part uncredited and unrewarded.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
Auteur criticism is, in my opinion, a profoundly flawed theory of cinema that nonetheless was instrumental in emphasising the important role the director. Anyone not in the grip of a theory and aware of the myriad of factors that goes into the making of a good film has to realize that a vast array of factors goes into the final product. Only in rare instances can a film be said to be the expression of the will of the director and treated as such. Frequently a film can be carried not by the director, but by the cinematographer, the editor, the actors, or the screenwriter (anyone who has read the original screenplay of CITIZEN KANE can enjoy a graphic instance of the role a good screenplay can play in the production of a masterpiece).
Having pointed that out, Sarris did help America take directors more seriously than they had ever been taken before, and for that he must be applauded. That took many took the director to be the only game in town doesn't undercut the value of this book
Stepping off my soapbox, let me just say how much fun this book is. It is great fun to argue with Sarris about which directors he places in the Pantheon (the best of the best of the directors to have worked in the U.S.) and which he leaves out. It would be wonderful if he were to turn his attention to producing an updated version of the book, extending into the current decade. I would be interested to see to what extent he revised the Pantheon, to see where he placed Coppola, Scorsese, Sayles, and Spielberg.
Recommended to anyone with a more-than-casual interest in American cinema.
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