~~/~(Vo / ~A
The studio had expected this to be a nice little murder
mystery, an ordinary kind of picture. Well, you don't
have Orson Welles and have an ordinary anything.
He could only make it extraordinary.
Janet leigh on Touch of Evil
How do people decide which films to see? They read film reviews in newspapers, magazines, and journals, and on websites. They listen to their friends . Many fans flock to see movies featuring their favorite star; others line up for a film by a director whose work they enjoy. These viewers use their knowledge of a direc tor's oeuvre as well as historical and biographical information to analyze, inter pret, and evaluate her latest film.
14.1 One ofJohn Ford's famous frame within a frame compositions in Shenandoah.
The common practice of using a film's director as an organizing based on the aUleur theory, developed by French cinephiles in the and 1950s. At its most basic, the theory proposes that a director is the the film: aUleur translates as "author." The term implies that the director' primary creative source and his films express his distinctive vision of the IS John Ford was an important Hollywood director who is rightly with the Western genre: as the director of more than sixty Westerns career that spanned six decades , Ford established many of the genre's familiar conventio ns. In visual terms he made the Old West synollymous the desert terrain of Monument Valley on the border of Utah and Arizona. worked with the same actors again and again, including John Wayne, McLaglen , and Ward Churchill. Wayne became a Western icon thanks to films. Ford's best·known visual technique is probably the frame within a composition (fig. 14.1). In terms of theme, Ford 's films focus Oil OUtsiders find it difficult to fit into a community. Just as "Dickensian" might be u5ed describe Charles Dickens's literary style, so "Fordian" would be used to a film exhibiting these characteristics and "Wellesian" would be applied to a Iillll using Orson Welles's signature devices of deep·focus cinematography and fluid camera movement.
The French critics who argued on behalf of the aUleur did not just extol the work of recognized French writer-directors. Instead, they argued for the anlstry of Hollywood directors. Their theory claimed that even commercial Hollywood directors (whose films others disparaged as mass entertainment , made in an assembly·line fashion) could be viewed as artists .
More than fifty years after the aUleur theory emerged, it seems unremarkable to assume that the director is the primary creative force behind a hlm. Directors. studios, and film critics all encourage this notion. But the customary use of the auteur approach to film should be tempered by an understanding of its full imph· cations. This chapter examines the idea of film authorship as it developed in France and , later, in the U.S ., and the way the aUleur can be used as a marketing tool. Then it looks at the application of this approach when writing about film and provides examples of four contemporary international auteurs in the context of research questions raised by aUleur theory . This chapter explores both the value and limitations of the auteur approach.
The Idea of the Auteur: From Cahiers
du Cinema to the Sarris-I During the 1940s and 1950s in Paris , intellectuals who loved cinema used it to explore aesthetic and philosophical questions. Many of these cinephiles-includ· ing Fran~ois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Jean·Luc Godard, and Claude Chabrol-also made important films. Others, including Andre Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, can' tributed to film theory. Their early arguments in favor of the auteur approach tn film criticism were published in the influential film journal Cahiers du Cinema. Alexandre Astruc looked at film as a medium of personal expression,...
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