Auteur theory

Aaron Gerow gerow
Fri Jul 2 00:14:29 EDT 1999

Michael Badzik rightly reminded us that the auteur theory can and has in 
the past accommodated other auteurs such as screenwriters, producers, 
stars, choreographers, and even production designers.  That's what I was 
taught as well.  I should add, however, that this was not always the case 
with the auteur theory, but rather was its response to initial criticism. 
 The fact that early auteur theory overemphasized directors was corrected 
by those who emphasized that cinema is more of a collective process.

>And the auteur theory as I see it is only a tool for analyzing those films 
>which might be considered the works of auteurs; it implies no particular 
>measure of goodness to a work (Ed Wood was an auteur after all), only that 
>there may be a degree of one person's outlook, theories, quirks, or
>in their oeuvre. 

Actually, this is not quite right.  I taught the auteur theory recently, 
using Truffaut's preface to the Hitchcock interview book as an example, 
and quite clearly in Truffaut's mind, the auteurist perspective is an 
evaluative mode.  When the French critics were watching tons of Hollywood 
films in the Cinematheque Francaise, they weren't just trying to find the 
consistencies between films by any director, they were trying to look for 
directors who stood out from the rest because they uniquely were able to 
implant their personal vision.  Thus the early distinction between an 
auteur and a craftsman.  People like William Wyler were very skilled, but 
when viewed in the entirety of their work, they did not succeed in 
creating a consistent personal world--they were mere craftsman.  
Directors like Hitchcock, Ford, and Hawks, however, were some of the few 
auteurs who always gave you a "Hitchcock" or "Ford" film.  Sarris, of 
course, used this same reasoning to create his Pantheon of great 

Early auteurist theory was trying to tread the fine line between opposing 
tendencies. On the one hand, in reacting against the cinema de qualitie 
and a related criticism that emphasized art cinema, the French critics 
valorized Hollywood and commerical cinema (it is this trend that has led 
later auteurists to valorize Ed Wood).  But at the same time, in trying 
to valorize Hollywood, they had to rely on existing notions of art and 
value.  Thus their vision of an auteur who, DESPITE working within the 
restrictions of commerical cinema, is able to avoid the standardization 
plaguing most Hollywood productions and create something personal (to 
them, this is greater evidence of a master artist because such artists 
are working in tougher conditions than those in art cinema).  Truffaut 
has much to say about how bad most of Hollywood cinema can be.  

Auteurism was also an effort to combat existing criticism's tendency to 
focus on content over form.  By looking at Hollyood films with generic 
content and formulaic plot, they began to emphasize that what was 
cinematic about the work of auteurs was less the story (though they did 
emphasize stories typical to certain auteurs), than the cinematic choices 
the auteur used to present it.  (This was also their way of emphasizing 
directors as auteurs even if they were working with scripts written by 
others.)  Again, to them, most directors were unable to move beyond just 
filming the story they were given; only the auteurs turned it into a 
personal world.

By the way, this emphasis on the cinematic is also evident in 
post-_Shinema 69_ Japanese criticism, and is one reason I still think 
Hasumi Shigehiko is really just a fifties auteurist critic wearing 
post-structuralist jewelry. The continuing influence of that critical 
school in Japan is a central reason why auteurist analyses still dominate 
the Japanese scene.

That then raises the question of not only what people think the place of 
auteurism is in Western criticism of Japanese film, but also what its 
place is in the Japanese film critical sphere. I certainly think there is 
a need to posit the importance of other methodologies in the Japanese 
context, but does that mean we should eliminate auteurism?  How are we to 
deal with auteurism in our work, both in Japan and in other countries?

Any thoughts?

Aaron Gerow
Yokohama National University
KineJapan list owner
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