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Auteur theory

Related: author - director - director's cut - film - writer

Contrast: genre film

They can keep their Bressons and their Cocteaus. The cinematic, modern marvelous is popular, and the best and most exciting films are, beginning with Méliès and Fantômas, the films shown in local fleapits, films which seem to have no place in the history of cinema. --Kyrou, Ado

Notes on the auteur theory

Auteur is French for author. Since the 1950s, when the term auteur was first used by the critics of French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma to praise certain film directors, the term auteur has acquired the meaning of directors whose personal vision on a movie is strongly felt.

In the early 1960s, when American film critics picked up on these ideas, the term was interpreted as a theory, a way of making films in the Nouvelle Vague vein, hence the phrase auteur theory.

In fact, any writer director - as in one who both writes and directs a film - could be labeled an auteur, since both writing and directing a film, is likely to produce a film with the personal imprint of the director. See the entry director's cut elsewhere.

In recent years, the auteur theory has been contrasted with genre theory, arguing that the auteur theory is a manifestation of the cult of personality theory of the great man theory which tends to exclude the work of directors such as David Cronenberg, Radley Metzger or Roger Corman to name but a few, who produce highly personal movies but are mainly active in what has been labeled genre films, the cinematic equivalent of escapist fiction. This exclusion could hardly have been the original intention of the Cahiers writers, as they were the first to re-appraise - against established film critical currents - the works of "genre directors" such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Corman.

As quoted from Greencine.com:

[the Cahiers writers] embraced directors - both French and American - whose personal signature could be read in their films. The French directors the Cahiers critics endorsed included Jean Vigo, Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson and Marcel Ophüls; while the Americans on their list of favorites included John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray and Orson Welles, indisputed masters, all. There were also a few surprising, even head-scratching favorites, including Jerry Lewis (where the whole "France loves Jerry Lewis" stereotype began) and Roger Corman. (Greencine.com, early 2000s)
[Aug 2005]

Note: the search string "writer director" turns up 350 results in Wikipedia. [Aug 2005]

See also: http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auteur_theory

See also: film - director - author

Early theory: André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc

(Antoine De Becque : Histoire des Cahiers du Cinéma)

La politique des auteurs a un père, François Truffaut, une date de naissance, le mois de février 1955, et repose sur un manifeste, l'article des cahiers du Cinéma défendant le film de Jacques Becker, "Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs", article portant ce titre explicite: "Ali baba et la Politique des Auteurs".

Certes, l'on pourrait remonter plus loin dans le temps, jusqu'à la "caméra stylo" d'Alexandre Astruc par exemple, dans L'Ecran français du 30 mars 1948, où le jeune critique compare la subtilité nouvelle du cinéma à une écriture et le réalisateur de films à un auteur à part entière composant son œuvre avec la toute puissance d'un écrivain.

D'autres sources peuvent être citées, notamment André Bazin défendant Welles. Mais si ce que l'on définit alors ressemble bien à un auteur, cela n'a pas la cohérence d'une politique. -- Alexandre Astruc, L’Écran Français, 30 mars 1948 : Naissance d’une nouvelle avant-garde : la caméra-stylo, http://site.voila.fr/cineclub/analyse/politiquedesauteurs.htm [Dec 2004]

Auteur theory has a father, François Truffaut, a birthday, February 1955, and is based on a manifesto, the article in Cahiers du Cinéma defending the Jacques Becker film "Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs", an article which was entitled "Ali baba et la Politique des Auteurs".

One could even go further back in time, to the "caméra stylo" (camera pen) of Alexandre Astruc for example, in L'Ecran français of March 30 1948, in which the young critic compares the subtlety of new cinema to writing; and the film director to composing a work of written fiction.

Other sources merit citation, most notably André Bazin defending Welles. But if what is then defined resembles an auteur, this does not have the coherence of an auteur theory. [my translation of text above]

François Truffaut's contribution

[...] Il s'agit de Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Becker, Abel Gance, Max Ophuls, Jacques Tati, Roger Leenhardt; ce sont pourtant des cinéastes français et il se trouve - curieuse coïncidence - que ce sont des auteurs qui écrivent souvent leur dialogue et quelques-uns inventent eux-mêmes les histoires qu'ils mettent en scène. --Une certaine tendance du cinéma français (1954) - François Truffaut

[...] The directors concerned are Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Becker, Abel Gance, Max Ophuls, Jacques Tati, Roger Leenhardt; [...] it appears that these auteurs also write the dialogue to their films and invent the story lines of the films they direct (mettent en scène). --Une certaine tendance du cinéma français (1954) - François Truffaut

The man who coined the phrase "la politique des auteurs" in the 1950s—François Truffaut—explained that the worst of Jean Renoir's movies would always be more interesting than the best of Jean Delannoy's. He and his colleagues at the magazine Cahiers du Cinema recognized that moviemaking was an industrial process. But they proposed an ideal to strive for: using the commercial apparatus just the way a writer uses a pen. And so they valued the work of those who neared this ideal.

These critics—Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer—wrote mostly about directors, although they also produced some shrewd appreciations of actors. Later writers of the same general school have emphasized the contributions of star personalities like Mae West.

However, the stress was on directors. [Jan 2006]

America's reception of the auteur theory

Andrew Sarris
When Andrew Sarris spread these ideas to the United States, he called auteurism a 'theory,' as though it were an explanation of how films are made.

Screenwriters, producers and others reacted with a good deal of hostility.

But "politique" should probably have been translated as 'policy'; it involves a decision to look at movies in a certain way and to value them in a certain way. Truffaut provocatively said, "There are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors." What he meant was that art can't be arrived at by some quality-control process—finding an 'important' subject, hiring a 'distinguished' playwright, finding 'authentic' locations, and so on. A movie might fail in many ways and still be important as a revelation of what some creator thinks and feels. [Jan 2006]

Pauline Kael
The spring 1963 issue of Film Quarterly ran a piece by Pauline Kael entitled Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris. Responding to Andrew Sarris’ Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962, Kael’s article is not merely a notorious moment in her own glittering reputation, but put the movie director-as-auteur squarely at the heart of American film criticism. American film criticism, the American film industry, and film culture generally have never recovered. --http://www.audiencemag.com/ARTICLES/amazons.html [Jan 2006]

Auteurism vs genre films

Like many auteurists, I was raised on skepticism about studying film genres, such as Westerns or crime films as a whole. After all, many auteurists have argued, genres are constructed out of conventions. And what do conventions have to do with art? Nothing! So thinking about genres is inherently trivial, and only brings out unimportant conventions in movies. Or so I once thought. But now, I believe the above paragraph is nonsense based on misconceptions. --http://members.aol.com/MG4273/zgenre.htm

Alexandre Astruc

The concept of the auteur, as its French name suggests, a French idea which emerged in the 1950s. The film critic started the ball rolling in an article for the journal L'Écran français in 1948 when he wrote of Naissance d’une nouvelle avant-garde : la caméra-stylo. Astruc argued that cinema could become "a means of expression as subtle as that of written language" with the director becoming a kind of author. Astruc's ideas were developed by a later generation of critics, like André Bazin, and filmmakers, like François Truffaut, associated with the French cinema journal Cahiers du cinéma. In 1954 Truffaut wrote an article called `Une certaine tendance du cinéma français' in which he claimed that the director enjoyed the principal responsibility for making aesthetic choices. Andrew Sarris in the United States championed and developed this under the name the `auteur theory'. --http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/~os0tmc/contem/film.htm, Introduction to Postwar French Cinema

Case study: Tim Burton and Ed Wood

Compares Ed Wood and Tim Burton in relationship with the auteur theory.[...]

Beyond retracing the author debate historically, it is perhaps best to simply examine two known film authors and contemplate how they achieved their auteur status. For purposes of historical and theoretical diversity, Ed Wood Jr. and Tim Burton seem optimal choices for consideration. Ed Wood Jr., officially voted the worst director of all time, has been elevated to auteur status through his reputation for making terribly bad films. Tim Burton, on the other hand, is a modern marvel who has managed to turn the Hollywood system to his advantage, producing both large-scale blockbusters as well as smaller, more artistic films with clearly personal motivations. As Michel Foucault explains in his essay "What is an author?," the identity of the author "is functional in that it serves as a means of classification." Curiously, the point at which these two auteurs and classifications intersect is in Tim Burton's 1994 film "Ed Wood," a homage by Burton to the notorious "Worst Director of All Time," Ed Wood, where the themes, styles and personalities of both directors collide in one production. --Laura at girlsaresmarter http://www.girlsaresmarter.com/laura/papers/Auteur.html [Dec 2004]

Death of the Author (1968) [...]

Barthes, Roland. 1968. "La mort de l'auteur" (The death of the author). Manteia, vol. 5. Translated by Stephen Heath in Image, Music, Text (1977) - Roland Barthes [Amazon US]. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977, 147.

In his 1968 essay "The Death of the Author," Barthes made a strong, polemical argument against the centrality of the figure of the author in literary study. (Michel Foucault's later article "What is an Author?" responded to Barthes's polemic with an analysis of the social and literary "author-function.") --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Barthes

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