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By Neptune_547 Apr 28, 2014 735 Words

“Auteur n. a film director regarded as having such a significant influence on films that he or she directs as to be able to rank as their author. (author = originator)” (Pearsall & Trumble ed., 1996, p 92)

The idea that 'the author' is the source of meaning and value in artistic texts has been a persistent one. We talk of Shakespeare’s plays or Austen's novels in ways that suggest that William Shakespeare and Jane Austen are uniquely gifted and independent individuals, solely responsible for everything in their work. This view of art credits the author with power through having genius, and/or special experience, and emphasises the individual and 'special' over the social and the shared. (Branston, R & Stafford, G, 1996, p 289/290)

The Auteur Contrast
The director in modern Hollywood can function much like a star in offering an insurance value to the industry and a trademark value to an audience. Increasingly films are bought and sold on the basis of a director's name, which takes on the function of a sign. This sign till takes on much information of significance concerning the popular and critical 'credit' of the director based on his previous work and the kind of promise offered by a new film bearing his name. The auteur sign, by contrast, is much more precise and specific. It will signify a set of stylistic and thematic features which, it is anticipated, will be identifiable in the text of a film bearing the auteur name. (Phillips, P 1996, p 150)

In other words, an auteur possesses a sign(ature) marking out his own individuality which is legible in a film over which he has enjoyed sufficient creative control for that sign(ature) to permeate the film. a "director...'merely' brings competence to the particular specialist role of directing." An auteur is "a director who brings to a film the signs of his own individuality as the dominant creative force in the film's production." i.e., style and theme in distinctive combination. auteur can be regarded as a 'persona', similarly made up of a combination of a real person and the films in which he exists as sign(ature). The principle difference, of course, is that the auteur does not appear in films (with notable exceptions like Woody Allen and Spike Lee) so that whereas the star-in-role is visible, functioning as icon, the auteur-in-role must be excavated by critical analysis. (Phillips, P 1996, p 150/151)

Auteur is a term that dates back to the 1920s, in the theoretical writings of French film critics and directors of the silent era. At the time the debate centred on the auteur (author of the script and film-maker as one and the same) versus the scenario-led film (scripts commissioned from an author or scriptwriter) a distinction that fed into the original high-art, low-art debate. After 1950 this debate was ‘picked up’ again by the newly launched film review Cahiers du Cinema (1951)…the group developed the notion of the auteur by binding it closely with the concept of mise-en-scene. (Hayward, 1996:12/13)

During the German occupation of France in the Second World War, American films had been proscribed [denounced/exiled]. Suddenly, after the war, hundreds of films heretofore unseen, flooded the French cinema screens. This cinema, directed by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawkes, John Ford and Samuel Fuller, seemed refreshingly new and led the Cahiers group to a reconsideration of Hollywood's production. (Hayward, 1996:13)

Auteur Debate

(Hayward 2006: 34)

The term ‘auteur theory’ came about in the 1960s as a mistranslation by the American film critic Andrew Sarris. What had been a ‘mere’ polemic now became a full-blown theory. Sarris used auteurism to nationalistic and chauvinistic ends to elevate American/Hollywood cinema to the status of the ‘only good cinema’, with but one or two European art films worthy of mention. (Hayward 2006, p 34)

The politique des auteurs consists in short, of choosing the personal factor in artistic creation as a standard of reference, and then assuming that it continues and even progresses from one film to the next. (Francois Truffaut, “une certaine tendance du cinema francais”. Cahiers du cinema, January 1954)

1. Branston, G & Stafford, R (1996) The Media Student’s Book. Routledge. 2. Francois Truffaut, F (January 1954) “une certaine tendance du cinema francais”. Cahiers du cinema. 3. Hayward S (1996) Key Concepts in Cinema Studies. Routledge. 4. Phillips, P (1996) ‘Genre, Star and Auteur.’ 121-163. In Nelmes, J ed, (1996) Introduction to Film Studies. Routledge. 5. Pearsall & Trumble ed. (1996) Oxford English Reference Dictionary. OUP

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