Vulgar auteurism is a term used to describe an ongoing movement in film criticism associated with championing or reappraising filmmakers, mostly working in the action genre, whose work has been overlooked or maligned by the critical mainstream. Initially associated with the social network and streaming service Mubi and its online film magazine, Notebook, vulgar auteurism became a controversial topic in the cinephile community following the publication of an article in the Village Voice in 2013. It has been described as "a critical movement committed to assessing the 'unserious' artistry of popcorn cinema with absolute seriousness."
Directors whose work is commonly associated with vulgar auteurism include Paul W.S. Anderson, Tony Scott, John Hyams, M. Night Shyamalan, Isaac Florentine, Neveldine & Taylor, Nimrod Antal, Michael Bay, Jon M. Chu, Russell Mulcahy, Joe Carnahan, and Justin Lin, as well as more critically respected figures like Michael Mann, John McTiernan, Walter Hill, John Carpenter, Kathryn Bigelow, and Abel Ferrara.
Vulgar auteurism derives its name from the auteur theory, a key component of film criticism which posits that the director is the author ("auteur") of a film and that films should be analyzed in terms of how they fit into a director's larger body of work. Also known as "auteurism," the auteur theory was introduced by French critics associated with the film magazine Cahiers du cinéma during the 1950s and popularized in the United States in the 1960s by Andrew Sarris.
Several critics, including Richard Brody of The New Yorker and Scott Foundas of Variety, have drawn parallels between the earliest French and American proponents of the auteur theory and vulgar auteurism. However, many commentators on the movement consider vulgar auteurism to be distinct from the classical auteur theory, pointing to its concern with visual style over theme. The question of whether vulgar auteurism is a legitimate separate movement or a subset of the auteur theory remains a source of controversy in the film critic community.
According to film critic Peter Labuza, vulgar auteurism "seems to have been an unconscious movement before it ever had a name." The earliest criticism identified as exhibiting "vulgar auteurism" was published in the Canadian film magazine Cinema Scope in 2006 and 2007. Cinema Scope writer Andrew Tracy coined the term in his 2009 article, "Vulgar Auteurism: The Case of Michael Mann." Initially pejorative, the term was repurposed by Mubi user John Lehtonen. In the early-going, the theory was explored not through text, but through images via a Tumblr simply entitled "Vulgar Auteurism," spearheaded by Lehtonen and filmmaker Kurt Walker, with contributions from Mubi critics Adam Cook and Daniel Kasman. Over the years which followed, Mubi's online film magazine began to publish more and more articles defending genres and directors which were unpopular with the critical mainstream. Lehtonen later went on to co-found The Vulgar Cinema, along with Sara Freeman, Otie Wheeler, Christopher Small and CJ Roy.
Vulgar auteurist ideas gained currency when one of the movement's leading proponents, critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, became the co-host of the television program Ebert Presents: At the Movies, produced by Roger Ebert. However, while "vulgar auteurist" criticism was becoming popular, the term and the movement to which it corresponded remained obscure until the publication of an article by Calum Marsh, "Fast & Furious & Elegant: Justin Lin and the Vulgar Auteurs", in The Village Voice on May 24, 2013.
Marsh's article was immediately controversial. While some took issue with the films and filmmakers being championed by the proponents of vulgar auteurism, others took issue with the idea that vulgar auteurism was a movement distinct from the auteur theory.
One of the most vocal opponents of vulgar auteurism is former Village Voice critic Nick Pinkerton, who has written essays in praise of directors championed by the movement and whose 2012 article "The Bigger and Better Mousetraps of Paul W.S. Anderson" has been described as vulgar auteurist. Writing in his SundanceNow column following the publication of Marsh's article, Pinkerton described vulgar auteurism as "a shameless attention grab", adding: "Even more galling is the assumed attitude that the VA position stands alone against a vast, unsympathetic critical conspiracy to marginalize and underrate the products of industrial filmmaking. [...] The numbers, meanwhile, do not bear out claims of a highbrow conspiracy: Fast & Furious 6, which we’re assured is scorned by critics the world over, currently stands at 61% at Metacritic, above The Great Gatsby (54%), and within striking distance of arty jazz like Simon Killer and Post Tenebras Lux."
- Foundas, Scott. "'Pompeii' doesn't suck: Paul W.S. Anderson and Vulgar Auteurism". Variety.
- Palmer, Landon. "What the Insular Debate About "Vulgar Auteurism" Says About Contemporary Movie Criticism and Cinephilia". Film School Rejects.
- Labuza, Peter. "Expressive Esoterica in the 21st Century—Or: What Is Vulgar Auteurism?". LabuzaMovies.com.
- Brody, Richard. "A Few Thoughts on Vulgar Auteurism". The New Yorker.
- Singer, Matt. "Some Refined Discussion About Vulgar Auteurism". Indiewire.
- Patches, Matt. "The Other Paul Anderson: The Psychotic Action Vision of ‘Pompeii’ Director Paul W.S. Anderson". Grantland.
- Mueller, Matt. "'Pompeii' is far from a disaster". OnMilwaukee.com.
- Perez, Rodrigo. "Potentially Dumb & Fun 'Pain & Gain' Overstays Its Welcome With Unrelentingly Dumb & Unfun Tale". The Playlist.
- Shambu, Girish. "Vulgar Auteurism". Girish Shambu.
- Ferguson, Jordan. "Vulgar Auteurism Needs to Drop the "Vulgar"". Sound on Sight.
- Burnett, Colin. ""Vulgar Auteurism:" Out with the New, In with the Old". Antenna.
- "Vulgar Auteurism"
- Kenigsberg, Ben. "From the Wire: Pinkerton's Notes on Vulgar Auteurism". Indiewire.
- Pinkerton, Nick. "BOMBAST #96". SundanceNow.