Art Cinima

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  • Topic: Federico Fellini, Film director, Akira Kurosawa
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CHAPTER

19
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ART CINBMA AND THB IDBA OF AUTHORSHIP

I

ndividuals and institutions affect history, but so do ideas. One of the most influential ideas in cinema history is the belief that a director is

most centrally responsible for a film's form, style, and meanings. Most historians have made this assumption since at least the 1920s, but it was examined and articulated with particular force in postwar European film culture. The debates of that period, along with the films that were drawn into them, shaped filmmaking all over the world.

THE RISE AND SPREAD OF THE AUTEUR THEORY
Since the mid-1940s, French directors and screenwriters quarreled over who could properly be considered the

auteur,

or author, of a film. The

Occupation period had popularized the notion that the mature sound cinema would be the "age of the scriptwriter," but Roger Leenhardt and Andre Bazin claimed that the director was the main source of a film's value. These two critics wrote for the journal other American directors. An important statement of this line of thought was Alexandre As­ truc's 1948 essay on

Revue du cinema

(1946-1949), which championed Orson Welles, William Wy ler, and

la camera-stylo

( "the camera-pen"). According to

Astruc, the cinema had achieved maturity and would attract serious artists who would use film to express their ideas and feelings. "The filmmaker­ author writes with his camera as a writer writes with his pen."l The mod­ ern cinema would be a personal one, and technology, crew, and cast would be no more than instruments in the artist's creative process. In 1951, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze founded the monthly magazine

Cahiers du cinema

( "Cinema Notebooks"). Bazin quickly became its

415

416

CHAPTER 19

Art Cinema and the Idea of Authorship

central critic. The first issue reviewed as a Billy W ilder film, Robert Bresson film,

Sunset B oulevard D iary of a Countr y Priest as a The Little Flowers of Saint Francis

Moreover, considering Bergman an auteur allows us to look for common elements across his films. One motto of auteur criticism was Renoir's remark that a di­ rector really makes only one film and keeps remaking it. Recurrent subjects, themes, images, techniques, and plot situations give the director's films a rich unity. Knowledge of the auteur's other films may thus help the viewer understand the one at hand. In particular, the auteur critic was sensitive to ways in which a director's work developed over time, taking unexpected turns or returning to ideas broached earlier. Finally, auteur criticism tended to promote a study of film style. If a filmmaker was an artist like a writer or painter, that artistry was revealed not only in was said but in

as a Roberto Rossellini film, and so on. Soon younger

Cahiers

critics such as Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol,

Jean-Luc Godard, and Fran�ois Truffaut began pushing the auteur approach to the point of provocation. The first scandal came in 1954, with Truffaut's essay, "A Certain Tendency in the French Cinema." He attacked the Cin­ ema of Quality (p. 375) as "scenarists' films," works that revealed a lack of originality and a reliance on literary classics. According to Truffaut, in this tradition the screenwriter hands in the script, and the director simply adds the performers and pictures, thereby becoming only a metteur

what

en scene,

a "stager." Truffaut named a few gen­

how it was

said. Like any creator, the

uine auteurs: Jean Renoir, Bresson, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Tati, and others who wrote their own stories and dia­ logue. Fulfilling Astruc's dream of the camera-stylo, these directors were true "men of the cinema." In making the issue of screenwriting central, Truf­ faut was providing a rationale for

filmmaker ought to be a master of the medium, exploit­ ing it in striking and innovative ways. Auteur critics dis­...
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