Sunday, July 12, 2009

Andrew Sarris profile on The New York Times

O'Hara, in a less than cheerful pose

I remember my first interview of Filipino filmmaker Mario O'Hara was in this tiny dim sum shop on the third floor of Glorietta Mall in Makati City and just after a few minutes of talking, of what I thought of his work and the fact that he hasn't made a picture in two years, he laughed out loud and exclaimed (in Tagalog): "you're treating me as if I were already dead! I'm still alive, you know."

That was some fifteen years (has it been so long?!) and six films ago; far as I can tell O'Hara is alive and well, but living in his habitual mode, under the radar. Last I heard was through a niece, who passed on to me his recognition that his filmmaking days are probably over, and the young Turks with their digital cameras have taken over the filmmaking scene.

I'd love to pull him aside and yell in his ear "are you kidding? With that box full of scripts you haven't directed?" but I'm stuck here on the other side of the Pacific with no realistic way of getting in contact with him (he doesn't even have a telephone, much less Twitter). So I'm thinking violent thoughts, in the hopes of getting him off his ass and maybe working again, in any capacity (aside from directing he's a noted writer and actor, in theater, television and radio). I'm not writing him off just yet.

So it's probably premature to write off Andrew Sarris, even if in a recent New York Times profile article he's pretty much made it clear that he won't be writing for a major newspaper any time soon (though articles for Film Comment have not been ruled out). Why such a profile, now? Would like to think such people--institutions established after decades of struggle--are always newsworthy, though beneath the bravado one hears the whisper: this is a salute in honor of the man while he's still alive, and we can still do him some measure of justice.

I've never been so complacent as to think The Grim Reaper's clammy grasp would never find my neck, but there are moments--now more often than ever--when I feel those bony fingers brushing past my shoulders, reminding me that he'll be back. Nothing stops, nothing lasts, nothing remains the same; we survive, after a fashion.


rico said...

Noel, Andrew Sarris had a great, great influence on me growing up. His THE AMERICAN CINEMA might be my all-time fave film book. Have it with me to this day and reread it still from time to time. I guess it depends on whom you ask, but to me, personally, I think his influence and contribution to "modern" film criticism is indelible and lasting and obvious. Just the titles alone of the chapters in that book are way ahead of its time in wit and spunk. BTW I think direk Mario lives with his twin nieces somewhere in Makati. And both girls write scripts for ABS-CBN, he, he.

Noel Vera said...

I mention his influence on you in my upcoming article. What do you think of Kael?

Thanks for the info, re: Mario O.

rico said...

Noel, thanks. I wasn't too familiar with Kael except for the fact that she was rallying against Siegel's DIRTY HARRY as the worst piece of fascist propaganda ever made for the cinema (a movie I loved). I wonder if she has had a reassessment of that picture now, much like Sarris has rethought his stance on Kubrick's work? Kael might be the most influential of all (if you're to believe the Biskind book) because, apparently, filmmakers like Towne, Beatty, etc consulted her constantly throughout their careers. And the 70's had all those incredible films.

Noel Vera said...

Officially Kael never sees a movie more than once--something she's been criticized and ridiculed for. Unofficially--well, it's possible she's reseen movies--what about a beloved film by Renoir, say?

I agree with her, Dirty Harry's a fascist propaganda, but I don't agree it's absolutely a bad thing, or at least that there's room in my shelf for fascist propaganda. And Seigel to my mind's the master from which Eastwood cribs much of his filmmaking (him and Leone, both).

She's not much into film analysis, and some of her conclusions can be (to qauote her) looney tunes. But her prose is fun, and she's more auteurist than she might admit (she should have had a clue, though, as to the effect her article lampponing Sarris would have on him).

Anonymous said...

Actually, Kael called Dirty Harry an expert fascist thriller (around the same time she crowned Straw Dogs as the first American fascist masterpiece). The astonishing thing about Kael was that her sensibilities, and their bases, were so transparent, that you could tell from the warp and woof of her review whether you would like the movie in question regardless of her bottom-line verdict. That says something about her talent as an essayist. It’s a rare and valuable trait. She was a much more alluring stylist than her contemporaries, including Sarris. She insufficiently appreciated the great Hollywood directors, especially Ford and Hitchcock and Capra, not so much Hawks, Lubitsch, and Sturges, perhaps, but it isn’t overstating the case that she generally appreciated the foreign “serious” directors like Renoir, Bunuel, Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Truffault, etc., compared to the Americans (designation used broadly). She once said something to the effect that Hollywood made her fall in love with movies, but she wouldn’t have stayed in love if that’s all there was. It’s been a while since I’ve perused her oeuvre, but I remember her at being at lost to appreciate why Truffault so venerated Hitchcock, since T. was such a superior artist compared to H. Can you imagine?

Part of her repulsion against the auteurists was instinctive, if not reflexive, since they, in her view, greatly inflated the Hollywood directors. She could never grok that. There was something of the English Schoolmarm Snob about her. She never wrote at serious length on either Hitchcock or Ford, and, really, that in itself says almost all that needs to be said about her shortcomings. She was up to speed on screwball comedy, though, and that makes up for a lot. She loved Grant and Bogart and Cagney, but not so much Stewart and Wayne and Cooper, although she could praise them highly in specific instances. Despite her hatchet job on Welles wrt Citizen Kane, she really was a big booster of him. She loved Falstaff/Chimes At Midnight. That her tastes and appraisals were uneven, and ultimately erratic and always unsystematic, is to put the obvious mildly, and these limitations were noted by her detractors (like Dwight MacDonald) from the beginning of when she first made herself noted. But she did have a remarkable facility for conveying an infectious enthusiasm. It was always obvious that she loved movies on a visceral level.


Noel Vera said...

I wouldn't say I could decide for myself on the basis of what she wrote whether or not I'd like the movie, but she definitely aroused interest in whatever she wrote, that much I'd agree with.

And yes, she was a fan of Welles, considering; even that infamous essay was really her way of praising Welles (by cutting him down to her idea of his proper size).

Dr. Tom Snyder said...

Never liked Kael. Sarris was right in 1968, but I find his later work misses out on the great popular American cinema that came after the over-rated 1970s. And, tho I love some of Billy Wilder's movies, one of his most praised movies THE APARTMENT, leaves me cold, and THE FORTUNE COOKIE no longer plays as well as some later movies, such as THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.

Noel Vera said...

I think The Apartment is preposterous; trying to strike a tragic note and still have a feelgood ending (having your cake and eating it, in effect). Sunset is harder to knock--it's genuinely tragic, only I prefer Vidor's In a Lonely Place much more.

Aside from Private Life, I think one of my favorite Wilders, though, is Avanti.