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Challenges to Auteur Theory



Since New Wave directors developed a theory in the 1950’s, it is recognised that takes more than just directing films to be an auteur. Auteurs apply their style and techniques to add a personal touch on their production. They use their own perspective which they impose on every film they produce. An auteur I have chosen to study is Alfred Hitchcock, I believe he is a phenomenal auteur because he has full command over how his production is filmed both technically, (shots and framing) and artistically, (mise-en-scene and genre) … Furthermore, Hitchcock was raised in a strict catholic background, and was often wronged by his parents, I believe he utilised this to cultivate his ability to present suspense stories. Hitchcock usually creates films that are in the Thriller genre as they include lots of suspense and psychologically complex characters, this is also where his nickname was first coined – Master of Suspense. Themes that constantly surface in Hitchcock’s films are looking at the complexities of life. For example, characters in Hitchcock’s films are mundane, ordinary characters living their normal lives until the master of suspense turns things upside down. This is shown in his film Shadow of a Doubt (1943), in this film we are introduced to a normal family who are living their everyday lives, until their uncle Charlie visits and brings attempted murder and detectives with him. Another common theme in his films are that the protagonists are always the ones who are being investigated. This is shown in Hitchcock’s silent romance film Easy Virtue (1928). The main character in this film is Larita and she is on trial for committing adultery. Another example would be in Hitchcock’s film Vertigo (1958) Johnny the ex-detective is blamed for the demise of his partner and wife as he was to scared of heights to save them. Here we can see a link to his childhood in his films which was being wrongly accused by his parents. However, this isn’t the only link to his childhood in his films, the torturous relationship between a mother and child is seen in one of his most recognisable films – Psycho (1960). Here we see a disturbing representation of a family relationship and it’s also the only time we are introduced to the characters mother. This is also the case in many of Hitchcock’s films like Easy Virtue (1927) or The Birds (1963). However, it is not only the Mother role that is stereotyped in Hitchcock’s films, women are portrayed to have femme fatale-esque qualities. Even if the woman survives until the end of the film and marries the protagonist, she is usually still characterised villainously. An example of this in Hitchcock films would be Miriam from Psycho, she was named a liar and brutally killed off in the films first half. Another spoiler; Madeleine in Vertigo, a woman who is portrayed as devious is set up by Scottie as he wants to expose her for who he thinks she really is, a fraud. Moreover, in Hitchcock’s films, characters show prominent signs of confession and guilt but only when it Is too late to amend for their actions. In the film Psycho, Miriam only feels guilty about the money she stole after she has already left town and attempted to disappear with it. This is also shown in Vertigo when Scottie feels guilty for the fear, he has of heights which stopped him from saving Madeline, this stopped him from helping her when she depended on him. On the other hand, we see how Madeline feels guilty for manipulating and setting Scottie up to make him be a witness in a suicide. Predominantly, Alfred Hitchcock is an auteur. He is known famously for his films in the thriller genre. Hitchcock always displays his technical code and conventions; his artistic choices and themes show that his films are dear to him. Hitchcock brings a clear vision to each film he has produced and his career in film will strongly reflect that. What is most prominent in Hitchcock’s films however was a strong visual voyeuristic male. Since audiences first watched Janet Leigh get stabbed to death naked, the films ‘Psycho’ remained one of Hitchcock’s most acclaimed works. Audiences rejected scopophilia but acknowledged its presence. François Truffaut and Andrew Sarris developed Auteur theory in the 1950’s through to the 1960’s and stated that “the director projects his/her own personal style on to the film” but it’s the commonality of the themes that arise in each directors works that is the important aspect to auteur theory. It wasn’t until the end of the studio system in the early sixties that directors had the opportunity to become an auteur because of the control studios had over individuals and it wasn’t until the implantation of auteur theory that the directors were categorised as auteurs. Auteur theory was designed by a French magazine ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ in a way to go to war with mass conglomerate productions common in post-war France. This theory of director-as-author was created in the foundation stone of the French cinematic movement ‘Nouvelle vague (new wave). Two of its theorists Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard later became major New Wave directors. Due to the occupation of the Nazi’s in World War Two, American movies after the liberation were not banned in France anymore and bombarded their way to influence French cinema to a more commercial art form and Truffaut et al deemed this: “less viable as an artform.” We can consider Hitchcock an auteur because his oeuvre can be clearly analysed for common themes, whether they are intentional or not, and it is these recurring themes that make Hitchcock’s visual style easily recognisable. But, does this cultivate auteur brands as the director’s names have become the poster to market films, spectators have their favourite auteurs and are more likely to view their films due to their common visual styles. Some directors have been categorised as ‘metteurs en scéne’ by Truffaut meaning even though they may be talented directors because their artistic control requires authorial confirmation, they will never be considered an auteur. Peter Jackson is a valid example of this because even though he may have created his own films because ‘Lord of the Rings’ was someone else’s work; he can only adapt the film thus losing a lot of artistic control. There are many criticisms to auteur theory such as a film isn’t created by an individual like a novel – it is a collaborative meaning the director cannot assume authorship because the music score, editing and other production variables are just as important as the directing. Auteur theory ignores writer theory completely giving supremacy of the film solely to the director but the construction of the film originates with the writers and studios and then the further collaboration in order to create a major motion picture. In ‘The Schreiber Theory’ (2006), Ivan Thalberg stated that the writer is the most important person in Hollywood. Since Andrew Sarris’ ‘Notes on Auteur Theory’ (1962) anti-auteur theorists have espoused that the writers are the authors for their conception of the story, (elon.edu). In 1889, the Biograph studio made writing a separate branch of production outlining more complex narrative structures but for the first time here filmmakers begin to perceive writing as the lynch-pin for production. however, this theory breaks up the issues of creative control – once the writer has sold their script, they have no rights to their intellectual property and have no control over the outcome of the production. in ‘Blade Runner,’ Ridley Scott asked to rewrite and edit the film so that it fits his vision instead of the writers (Dangerous Days). Fancher was directed to the novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Phillip K. Dick. Fancher didn’t like the novel but seen its potential; this resulted in Dick turning down Fancher’s first draft as he believed it was dubbed down far too much losing the reflection of his own work. However, Ridley Scott can be seen from this an auteur because of his strict adherence to his artistic vision and only collaborated when unions necessitated it, he followed his vision disowning the earlier versions of ‘Blade Runner’ until the ‘Final Cut’ was released. Fancher had to commercialise the film otherwise it would never be created, the writer will always be at the director’s mercy unless they are fortunate enough to be the same person. Paul Sellors argues the importance of ‘Collaborative Theory’ and how the studio and crew like editors and cinematographers are equally responsible for creating the films consciousness. Collective authorship comes from a group with the same common goal. However, when you break down the complexities of this theory, there are similar problems in this theory that ‘Schreiber theory’ faced – it is easier to blame the cast and crew rather than face the deeper embedded problems when facing a collective authorship. Schatz defends the theory of cofounding variables and that films aren’t “simply of individual human expression” but are just a product from a studio. Auteur critic Jean-Louis Comolli conveyed even ‘independent’ films are subjected to these influences thus deterring that films will always be a story of desire from financial backer. If financial backers do not like the narrative, they will not fund the film; Sellors’ discussion of intentionality shifts to the position of the financiers being the true authors of a film. However, when we look at different genre films, we can find they are strongly tied to the studio which blurs the lines of authorship. Despite all the theories critiquing auteur theory, Sarris knew the gravitational pull of the director and how all the stars was in the directors orbit but if it wasn’t for Sarris’ direction through space we would still be staring at the sun blinded to see something that was always there, Sarris gave guidance where to look. Sarris went wrong by referring to auteur theory as something that can be proved meaning many detractors misunderstood Sarris’ linguistic peccadillo. French critics used the phrase ‘la politique des auteurs’ for their theory; it means its not a rule, it’s a policy because it was aimed at power. Critics seek recognition from directors they admired, prolonging the French Resistance against an occupation in cinema led by people undeserving of the position. The critics against auteur theory such as François, Truffaut, et al, made a place for themselves in the industry with their own films canonizing evidence to their critical ideas. Auteurism has its power come from an inspiration of artists, if it was nothing other than arcane patterns across a director’s body of work, it would have an obscure run. I believe it is natural for critics – who themselves are writers – to be the natural resistance to the notion of the auteur. Critics can identify with screenwriters just like spectators can identify with the actors/actresses. But actors and actresses are just inventions of the directors – John Wayne was an invention by John Ford. The post-war years were a golden age in Hollywood because of the era of the independent producer and now directors take an active hand in the script. Emphasis on collaboration is a way of limiting the individual’s prerogatives; subordinating the artist to rules and ideologies. The catalyst of resistance to auteur theory is populist demagogy. Pauline Kael made herself from being Sarris’ detractor whereas Sarris was independent. Sarris made his name by inspiring his work becoming the dominant figure in film criticism. Sarris like a movie he leaves virtual impressions and like a director he may not be present but he is definitely heard and reveals the complexities of reality within the industry, (newyorker.com). The Museum of Film History. (2019). The Hitchcock Effect: Hitchcock’s Influence as an Auteur. [online] Available at: https://eng3122.wordpress.com/group-3-main/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019]. dmax06 (2020). Auteur theory. [online] Slideshare.net. Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/dmax06/auteur-theory-5591722 [Accessed 29 Feb. 2020]. Gillonj.tripod.com. (2019). ALFRED HITCHCOCK: AUTEUR?. [online] Available at: http://gillonj.tripod.com/alfredhitchcock/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019]. IMDb. (2019). Shadow of a Doubt (1943) - IMDb. [online] Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036342/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019]. IMDb. (2019). Vertigo (1958) - IMDb. [online] Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052357/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019]. Rotten Tomatoes. (2019). Easy Virtue (1927). [online] Available at: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1006429_easy_virtue [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019]. Rotten Tomatoes. (2019). The Birds (1963). [online] Available at: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1002448_birds [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019]. Cherwell. (2020). Hitchcock and Voyeurism - Cherwell. [online] Available at: https://cherwell.org/2015/03/22/hitchcock-and-voyeurism/ [Accessed 29 Feb. 2020]. Elon.edu. (2020). [online] Available at: https://www.elon.edu/u/academics/communications/journal/wp-content/uploads/sites/153/2017/06/01DavidTregdeEJFall13.pdf [Accessed 29 Feb. 2020]. Nast, C. (2020). Andrew Sarris and the “A” Word. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/andrew-sarris-and-the-a-word [Accessed 29 Feb. 2020].

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