18 Mar Does the Auteur have a place in filmmaking today?
Andrew Sarris’sWhy do you watch a film? To see your favourite actors? Or do you follow a specific director’s body of work?
Looking at a (very brief and diluted) history of film we go to France, where the Lumière brothers and George Méliès were seen as an artistic force of filmmaking in the late 1800s. When sound came into filmmaking in the 1930s, literary and stage adaptations were all the rage and with the World Wars ravaging Europe from 1918 – 1945, American films were banned in Europe. When WWII ended, the age of the film critic began in order to establish what the “art” of cinema was, which also fueled the cinephile movement – people who where constantly watching films during the wars to escape their harsh realities, and had access to large libraries of French and American films after the war, as well as a magazine written by film critics. New observations by the critics introduced audiences to the idea of the mise-en-scène which made audiences notice full scenes, and camera-stylo which opened audiences to see the director use a camera as if it were a pen. From the “anti-plot-and-dialogue-driven” films of the past, came the theory of the Auteur. Auteur = a film with the personality of the director only.
The idea of the Auteur sprang from the French New Wave movement. However, American film critics didn’t dig this idea. A reason for this is because the French filmmakers created small artisan productions whereas American filmmakers made studio assembly line productions. One American theorist developed the Auteur Theory from appreciating French New Wave films as well as films by Hitchcock et al, which is about judging a film by its director: looking at the director’s technical competence, a distinguishable personality seen throughout a body of work and interior meaning- how the director’s personality is applied to the material. Another theorist retaliated by ripping this theory to shreds, saying “Judge the artist by the movie, not the movie by the artist”. i.e. who cares about a director; judge a film by its own merit!
To conclude, it is problematic use the term ‘theory’ in opinions related to film as it has such a loaded history. Filmmaking is collaborative and therefore authorship is collaborative in a medium that is so complicated to discern.