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The Passenger or the search for identity (FW31)

From Film Culture to Film Quarterly. A history of film magazines (part 3)
From Film Culture to Film Quarterly. A history of film magazines (part 3). By Richard Armstrong
Unlike in Europe with its long intellectual traditions, theory of any sort is often regarded with suspicion in the United States. Amid a culture inured to practical demonstration, Americans have traditionally been hostile towards academic rationale and airy obfuscation. The translation of the French ‘politique des auteurs’ into what became known as the ‘auteur theory’ led to the most notorious, and far-reaching, debate ever to take place in American film literature.
In 1955 Andrew Sarris was studying English at Columbia University when he landed the job of reviewer and editor at the New York-based quarterly Film Culture. Founded in January of that year, ‘ America’s Independent Motion Picture Magazine’ was intended as a forum for serious writing about film, and responded to the postwar surge in experimental and underground cinema. The Winter 1962-63 issue in which Sarris would make history also carried an interview with the avant-garde filmmaker Robert Breer and photographs of the independent Shirley Clarke shooting her feature The Cool World (1963). Sarris’ colleagues at Film Culture included P. Adams Sitney, future author of a major work on the American avant-garde. For the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Jonas Mekas, the ‘New American Cinema’ possessed a “spirit that is akin to that which guides the young British filmmakers centred around Free Cinema, a spirit which is being felt among the French newcomers.” The link with developments in Europe emerging out of Sequence and Cahiers du cinma, and the emphasis upon the director, foresaw a revolution in American film writing, and eventually American cinema itself. That the revolution began in such an avant-garde context made its impact on mainstream critical opinion seem more acute.