By Eric Kohn | Criticwire October 26, 2012 at 11:14AM
A lot was said during Wednesday's ceremony, but here are a few highlights:
- Kent Jones read a statement from Martin Scorsese, unable to attend because he's shooting a movie. The director recalled meeting Sarris early in their careers. When Scorsese started making movies, "the nature of our relationship changed," but the chemistry between them remained stable. "It didn't matter whether you agreed with him," Scorsese wrote. "Andrew, you gave me a great and lasting gift."
- Jones also noted several personal connections to Sarris: Buying "The American Cinema" as a 14-year-old, interning for Sarris at the Village Voice in the early eighties, watching "Gone with the Wind" with him and Sarris' wife Molly Haskell at the couple's apartment shortly before he died. But he also quoted Sarris' own work: "Beware of generalities, especially this one," Jones said, quoting Sarris with a chuckle. He concluded by saying, "New pathways in his work always inspired me."
- Wendy Keys read an excerpt from a letter that Meryl Streep wrote to Haskell upon Sarris' death. The critic had initially panned Streep's acting style during an early stage of her career, but she won a New York Film Critics Circle prize anyway. "It was a tough night for her," Keys said, recalling that she had referred to the critic as "Andysauras." But several years later the critic presented Streep with another acting prize and recanted his perspective. "He was never too grand to reconsider his positions," Streep wrote. "I never thought I would cry for a critic."
- Haskell was present at the ceremony but did not speak. She had asked the guests not to delve into discussion of her and Sarris' marriage, but many did anyway. "You can't speak about Andrew without speaking Molly," said screenwriter Robert Benton. Time critic Richard Schickel recalled playing tennis with the couple over the years. "All I know is we were in a situation of constant pleasurable communication," he said.
- David Thomson delivered the penultimate speech. A characteristically expressive piece defined by Thomson's lively prose, it contained high praise for his longtime colleague. Sarris, Thomson said, "defined the job we've tried to keep alive." He closed with an evocative and witty bit imagining Sarris in a screening room in heaven watching a pristine 35mm print of Max Ophuls' "The Earrings of Madame de..." from "the best cinema seat he had ever known." The magical experience is ruined when Pauline Kael enters the room and starts scribbling notes in the front row. "He wonders if he should take notes too," Thomson read, "But he cannot. Molly is holding his hand."
- Filmmaker Jonathan Demme recalled moving to New York in the sixties and working in film publicity. He knew Sarris would attend a screening because he saw the critic's name on a list. "It wasn't like meeting a deity," Demme said. "It was meeting a deity... His writing helped me understand why I loved the films I did."
Here's the full list of speakers from the event in order of appearance:
Watch two clips from the ceremony below: