“… As far as I know, there is no definition of the auteur theory in the English language, that is, by an American or British critic” (Sarris 1962) was the opening line to Andrew Sarris’s famous “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” essay. This essay is what brought the “auteur theory” in to the spotlight in the USA. And to today, this theory is still in hot debate. Trying to figure out whether or not the director is the lone “auteur” of a film is a tough claim to make. In an article for Slate Magazine, Doree Shafrir talks about why a writer cannot be an auteur in “Bored of Directors.” In his film blog, Fredrik Fevang posted an article about misconceptions of auteur theory critics titled “Dan Schneider and James Berardinelli's misconception of the auteur theory.” As a comparison article, A.R. Duckworth posted a comparison article in The Journal of Film, Art, and Aesthetics of the never-ending dispute between Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael entitled “A Couple of Squared Circles.” This article cites much of Pauline Kael’s essay, in response to Sarris’s, “Circles And Squares.” Terrence Rafferty from NY Times wrote an article entitled “Now Playing: Auteur vs. Auteur” which follows a fight between a writer and director over the title of auteur on Babel. In a post from the University of Manchester, the author Jim covers a director that does not leave anyone out of the creative process in his post “The Case of Mike Leigh and the Missing Auteur.” While I believe that there are multiple creative minds that go in to a film and that in some cases, it is very possible to have someone other than the director be the auteur, Sarris summed it up by saying “Directors, even auteurs, do not always run true to form, and the critic can never assume that a bad director will always make a bad film. No, not always, but almost always, and that is the point” (Sarris 1962).
“The term auteur first entered the cinematic lexicon in French New Wave director François Truffaut's 1954 essay ‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema,’ which appeared in the influential film journal Cahiers du Cinema” (Shafrir 2006). Merriam-Webster defines auteur theory as “a view of filmmaking in which the director is considered the primary creative force in a motion picture.” Truffaut’s theory never became anything in the United States until Andrew Sarris wrote of it in his essay. Sarris went in-depth with his understanding of the theory, and what he believed. He also states that the theory is a pattern theory in constant flux (Sarris 1962).
The auteur theory has been misconstrued since Sarris’s essay, and these misconceptions have brought on much of the criticism. Fredrik Fevang’s article is about two of the big name critics of the auteur theory (Dan Schneider and James Berardinelli), and their lack of understanding of the theory. “Both reject the theory with faulty argumentation… it is in their discussion on auteur theory that I find the two guilty of misinterpretation… Schneider making the mistake of equating a director with a novelist, Berardinelli being guilty of disregarding the director's personal influence on and affiliation to his work” (Fevang 2009).
While these two critics have clearly based their opposition on these misconstrued interpretations, the biggest critic Pauline Kael does not. Kael’s famous “A Couple of Squared Circles” essay was her rebuttal to Andrew Sarris’s essay. In it, Kael responded to Sarris’s visual version of the auteur theory using 3 circles. That the theory “may be visualized as three concentric circles: the outer circle as technique; the middle circle, personal style; and the inner circle, interior meaning” (Sarris 1962). A.R. Duckworth sums up Kael’s responses to these layers with “the ‘outer circle’…of a director’s basic technical competence, is either a weak premise, a commonplace attitude of artistic judgment …or a complete misunderstanding of the necessarily talents required for the production of art” (Duckworth 2009)....
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