An auteur (//; French: [otœʁ], lit. 'author') is an artist with a distinctive approach, usually a film director whose filmmaking control is so unbounded but personal that the director is likened to the "author" of the film, which thus manifests the director's unique style or thematic focus. As an unnamed value, auteurism originated in French film criticism of the late 1940s, and derives from the critical approach of André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, whereas American critic Andrew Sarris in 1962 called it auteur theory. Yet such[clarification needed] first appeared in French during 1955 when director François Truffaut termed it policy of the authors, and interpreted the films of some directors, like Alfred Hitchcock, as a body revealing recurring themes and preoccupations.
American actor Jerry Lewis directed his own 1960 film The Bellboy via sweeping control, and was praised for "personal genius." By 1970, the New Hollywood era emerged with studios granting directors broad leeway. Pauline Kael argued, however, that "auteurs" rely on creativity of others, like cinematographers. Georges Sadoul deemed a film's putative "author" potentially even an actor, but a film indeed collaborative. Aljean Harmetz cited major control even by film executives. David Kipen's view of screenwriter as indeed main author is termed Schreiber theory. In the 1980s, large failures prompted studios to reassert most control. The auteur concept has also been applied to non-film directors, such as record producers and video game designers.
Even before auteur theory, the director was considered the most important influence on a film. In Germany, an early film theorist, Walter Julius Bloem, explained that since filmmaking is an art geared toward popular culture, a film's immediate influence, the director, is viewed as the artist, whereas an earlier contributor, like the screenwriter, is viewed as an apprentice. James Agee, a leading film critic of the 1940s, said that "the best films are personal ones, made by forceful directors". Meanwhile, the French film critics André Bazin and Roger Leenhardt described that directors, vitalizing films, depict the directors' own worldviews and impressions of the subject matter, as by varying lighting, camerawork, staging, editing, and so on.
Development of theory
As the French New Wave in cinema began, French magazine Cahiers du cinéma, founded in 1951, became a hub of discourse about directors' roles in cinema. In a 1954 essay, François Truffaut criticized the prevailing "Cinema of Quality" whereby directors, faithful to the script, merely adapt a literary novel. Truffaut described such a director as a metteur en scene, a mere "stager" who adds the performers and pictures. To represent the view that directors who express their personality in their work make better films, Truffaut coined the phrase la politique des auteurs, or the policy of the authors, in a 1955 review of Jacques Becker's Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves titled, "Ali Baba et la 'Politique des auteurs'" (February 1955).
Jerry Lewis, an actor from the Hollywood studio system, directed his own 1960 film The Bellboy. Lewis's influence on it spanned business and creative roles, including writing, directing, lighting, editing, and art direction. French film critics, publishing in Cahiers du Cinéma and in Positif, praised Lewis's results. For his mise-en-scene and camerawork, Lewis was likened to Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Satyajit Ray. In particular, Jean-Luc Godard credited Lewis's "personal genius" for making him "the only one in Hollywood doing something different, the only one who isn't falling in with the established categories, the norms, the principles", "the only one today who's making courageous films."
Popularization and influence
As early as his 1962 essay "Notes of the auteur theory", published in the journal Film Culture, American film critic Andrew Sarris translated the French term la politique des auteurs, by François Truffaut in 1955, into Sarris's term auteur theory. Sarris applied it to Hollywood films, and elaborated in his 1968 book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929–1968, which helped popularized the English term.
Via auteur theory, critical and public scrutiny of films shifted from their stars to the overall creation. In the 1960s and the 1970s, a new generation of directors, revitalizing filmmaking by wielding greater control, manifested the New Hollywood era, when studios granted directors more leeway to take risks. Yet in the 1980s, upon high-profile failures like Heaven's Gate, studios reasserted control, muting the auteur theory.
In a study conducted by Dr. Shlomit Aharoni Lir and Prof. Liat Ayalon on the price paid in the male artistic creation process, the researchers examined three meta-fictional films that focus on male directors, as an auteur for whom cinema is the pivotal center of their being: the Israeli film Peaches and Cream (2019, directed by Gur Bentwich), the Spanish film Pain and Glory (2019, directed by Pedro Almodóvar), and American film All That Jazz (1979, directed by Bob Fosse). The researchers noted how the three films correspond with Fellini's work Eight and a Half in the manner they deal with the director's inner world, and his place in relation to his creative process.
The scholars addressed the cultural conception of genius as essentially masculine and the way in which it relates to the myth of the tormented artist. They pointed out how the auteur, as a total artist, who seeks to leave his mark on every detail of his work and who is completely involved in his artworld, may be lost in the creative process, and suffer both physically and mentally, as each of the examined films portrays.
Pauline Kael, an early critic of auteur theory, debated Andrew Sarris in magazines. Defending a film as a collaboration, her 1971 essay "Raising Kane," examining Orson Welles's 1941 film Citizen Kane, finds extensive reliance on co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and on cinematographer Gregg Toland.
Richard Corliss and David Kipen argued that a film's success relies more on screenwriting. In 2006, to depict the screenwriter as the film's principal author, Kipen coined the term Schreiber theory.
To film historian Georges Sadoul, a film's main "author" can also be an actor, screenwriter, producer, or novel's author, although a film is a collective's work. Film historian Aljean Harmetz, citing classical Hollywood's input by producers and executives, held that auteur theory "collapses against the reality of the studio system".
In a feminist criticism, Maria Giese in 2013 alleged that the auteur theory is biased to males, as the pantheons of auteurs barely include a woman. This may reflect the sheer scarcity of women as directors, with about 7% of directors being women among the 250 highest-grossing films in 2016.
In some law references, a film is treated as artwork while the auteur, as its creator, is the original copyright holder. Under European Union law, largely by influence of auteur theory, a film director is considered the film's author or one of its authors.
The references of auteur theory are occasionally applied to musicians, musical performers and music producers. From the 1960s, record producer Phil Spector is considered the first auteur among producers of popular music. Author Matthew Bannister named him the first "star" producer. Journalist Richard Williams wrote:
Spector created a new concept: the producer as overall director of the creative process, from beginning to end. He took control of everything, he picked the artists, wrote or chose the material, supervised the arrangements, told the singers how to phrase, masterminded all phases of the recording process with the most painful attention to detail, and released the result on his own label.
Another early pop music auteur was Brian Wilson, mentored by Spector. In 1962, Wilson's band, the Beach Boys, signed to Capitol Records, and swiftly became a commercial success, whereby Wilson was an early recording artist who was also an entrepreneurial producer. Before the "progressive pop" of the late 1960s, performers typically had little input on their own records. Wilson, however, employed the studio like an instrument, as well as a high level of studio control that other artists soon sought.
According to The Atlantic's Jason Guriel, the Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds, produced by Wilson, anticipated later auteurs such as Kanye West, as well as "the rise of the producer" and "the modern pop-centric era, which privileges producer over artist and blurs the line between entertainment and art. ... Anytime a band or musician disappears into a studio to contrive an album-length mystery, the ghost of Wilson is hovering near."
This section focuses too much on specific examples without explaining their importance to its main subject. (March 2022)
In the video game industry, Japanese developer Hideo Kojima—best known for the Metal Gear series—may be the first recognized auteur. Others from Japan include Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian), Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario and The Legend of Zelda series), Goichi "Suda51" Suda (Killer7, No More Heroes series), Hidetaka Miyazaki (Souls series, Bloodborne, Elden Ring), Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy series), Yasumi Matsuno (Ogre Battle, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics series), Hideki Kamiya (Viewtiful Joe, Ōkami, Bayonetta), Yoko Taro (Drakengard / Nier series), Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest series) and Kazunori Yamauchi (Gran Turismo series). In North America, similar esteem has been granted to Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Psychonauts) and Ken Levine (Bioshock, Bioshock: Infinite). Auteurs from Europe include Ragnar Tørnquist (Dreamfall: The Longest Journey), Éric Chahi (Another World), and Jeff Minter (Gridrunner, Attack of the Mutant Camels, Tempest 2000).
- Authenticity in art
- Film d'auteur
- La mort de l'auteur
- List of film auteurs
- Philosophy of film
- Vulgar auteurism
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General and cited references
- Bannister, Matthew (2007). White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Indie Guitar Rock. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7546-8803-7.
- Bloem, Walter Julius (1924). The Soul of the Moving Picture. E.P. Dutton.
- Butler, Jan (2012). "The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and the Musicology of Record Production". In Frith, Simon; Zagorski-Thomas, Simon (eds.). The Art of Record Production: An Introductory Reader for a New Academic Field. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4094-0678-5.
- Caughie, John (2013). Theories of Authorship. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-10268-4.
- Cogan, Jim; Clark, William (2003). Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-3394-3.
- Edmondson, Jacqueline, ed. (2013). "Producers". Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories that Shaped our Culture [4 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-39348-8.
- Eisenberg, Evan (2005). The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa. Yale University Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-300-09904-1.
- Kamina, Pascal (2002). Film Copyright in the European Union. Cambridge University Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-139-43338-9.
- Kipen, David (2006). The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History. Melville House Pub. ISBN 978-0-9766583-3-7.
- Miller, Jim (1992). "The Beach Boys". In DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly (eds.). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780679737285.
- Min, Eungjun; Joo, Jinsook; Kwak, Han Ju (2003). Korean Film: History, Resistance, and Democratic Imagination. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-95811-4.
- Sadoul, Georges; Morris, Peter (1972). Dictionary of Film Makers. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-02151-8.
- Santas, Constantine (2002). Responding to Film: A Text Guide for Students of Cinema Art. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8304-1580-9.
- Schatz, Thomas (1993). "The New Hollywood". In Jim Collins, Hilary Radner and Ava Preacher Collins (ed.). Film Theory goes to the Movies. New York: Routledge. pp. 8–37.
- Thompson, Kristin; Bordwell, David (2010). Film History: An Introduction. McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN 978-0-07-126794-6.
- Williams, Richard (2003). Phil Spector: Out of His Head. Music Sales Group. ISBN 978-0-7119-9864-3.
- Willis, Paul E. (2014). Profane Culture. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-6514-7.
- Ashby, Arved, ed. (2013). Popular Music and the New Auteur: Visionary Filmmakers After MTV. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-982734-3.
- Diver, Mike (October 8, 2014). "The Return of the Video Game Auteur". Vice.
- Maule, Rosanna (2008). Beyond Auteurism: New Directions in Authorial Film Practices in France, Italy and Spain Since the 1980s. Intellect Books. ISBN 978-1-84150-204-5.
- Shuker, Roy (2013). "Auteurs, Stars, and Music History". Understanding Popular Music. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-56479-8.