The Auteur Theory

Film Theory Chinese International School IB Film Studies 2010-2011

³The "James Cameron" brand is on the level of a "George Lucas" or "Steven Spielberg." Every writer-director dreams of having this status «´ - The Hollywood Reporter

What is the Auteur Theory?

What is the Auteur Theory?
A theory that proposes that a director is the author of the film.  

The term µauthor¶ implies that the director is the primary creative source and, The director¶s films express their own distinctive vision of the world.

The Idea of the Auteur   

Emerged from specific cultural milleu: postwar France (1940s-1950s). Developed by cinephiles who were filmmakers and theorists; Theory published and discussed in the influential film journal, Cahiers du Cinema.

The Idea of the Auteur 

Directors: Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol Theorists: Andre Bazin, Alexandre Astruc 

The Idea of the Auteur  

1948 ± Alexandre Astruc used the word µcamera-stylo¶ (camera-pen) to describe his idea of film as a medium of personal expression. 1954 ± Truffaut published µA Certain Tendency of French Cinema¶ that endorsed Astruc¶s ideas and naming the µAuteur Theory¶.

µA Certain Tendency of French Cinema¶  

Average film director merely translates a pre-existing work (novel or screenplay) into film. Auteur transforms the material and makes it his own.Writer-directors and directors who shape pre-existing material according to a distinctive, creative sensibility are auteurs.

µA Certain Tendency of French Cinema¶  

Favourably compared Hollywood films with French cinema¶s µtradition of quality¶. Auteur approach focused attention on the artistry of Hollywood and not what many saw as its crass commercialism.
³Filmmakers like Eisenstein, Renoir and Welles had always been regarded

as auteurs« The novelty of auteur theory was to suggest that studio directors like Hawks and Minnelli were also auteurs´ (Robert Stam)

The Sarris ± Kael Debate   

Theory sparked debates about which directors deserved to be called auteurs. In the U.S., the discussion of authorship appeared in the journal, µFilm Culture¶ and in µThe New Yorker¶ Chronicled a famous debate between film critics, Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael.

µNotes on the Auteur Theory¶ (1962), Andrew Sarris 

Created a version of the Auteur Theory primarily designed to evaluate directors. Whether or not an individual director is an auteur; Where a director ranks among all auteurs

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2)

µNotes on the Auteur Theory¶ (1962), Andrew Sarris 
1) 2) 3)

Criteria: Technical competence A distinguishable personality Films in auteur¶s work must share an interior meaning that links the director¶s vision and subject matter. E.g. Stanley Kubrick and his imperfect humans and the flawed technology they create in their own image.

Pauline Kael 
1) 2)

3) 4) 5)

Challenged Sarris¶ criteria: Some great filmmakers are crude directorial technicians, e.g. Chaplin µDistinguishable personality¶ favoured repetition, penalizing directors who risked venturing beyond a familiar genre or style. µInterior meaning¶ too vague Theory might lead critics to overvalue trivial films made by established µauteurs¶. Theory does not take into account collaborative nature of filmmaking.

Other limitations
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2)

3) 4) 5)

Theory implies that director always possesses conscious intentions to produce a film and a body of work. Though principle of dialectical tension is a good one, the director has to have a fighting chance with the material. Some films are dominated by stars rather than directors. Some excellent films have been made by directors who are mediocre. Great directors sometimes produce bombs.  

Despite limitations, Auteur Theory remains central to film scholarship and criticism. Powerful notion of film authorship exerts an influence on filmmaking as a cultural practice.

Film Criticism using the Auteur Theory   

Director¶s life and career become the frame of reference; Look for patterns because films made by same director in spite of differences in era, location and technology. Identify whether a film is typical of (or an aberration of) the director¶s oeuvre.

Film Criticism using the Auteur Theory   

Compare two or more directors to note similarities and differences. E.g. Welles and Ford A director¶s work might be reconsidered through it¶s influence, e.g. Todd Haynes and Douglas Sirk Can be used to strengthen the interpretation of a theme. E.g. Welles and individuals corrupted by power.

Task 1  

 

Recreate a 1 minute replication of one of the following: 1) The rooftop scene from µInfernal Affairs¶ 2) The shower scene from µPsycho¶, or 3) The µcontender¶ scene from µOn the Waterfront¶

Task 1  

   

Points will be awarded for how close the following are observed: 1) Setting 2) Costume and Make Up 3) Props 4) Performance & Movement 5) Framing & Composition.

Task 2 - Auteur or not?   

Research a director from each of the reverse engineering project. Study his filmography and decide on this person¶s signature techniques or strategies; Should this director be considered an auteur? Create a short documentary script explaining your discoveries.

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