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An auteur (/ˈtɜːr/; French: [otœʁ], lit. 'author') is an artist, such as a film director, who applies a highly centralized and subjective control to many aspects of a collaborative creative work. The term is derived in analogy to a person the equivalent of an author of a novel or a play.[1] The term is commonly used to refer to film directors with a recognizable style or thematic preoccupation.[2]

Auteurism originated in the French film criticism of the late 1940s as a value system[3] that derives from the cinematic theories of André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc—dubbed auteur theory by the American critic Andrew Sarris.[4][5] The concept was invented to distinguish French New Wave filmmakers from studio-system directors that were part of the Hollywood establishment,[1] and has since been applied to producers of popular music as well as to video-game creators.



Film director and critic François Truffaut in 1965

The definition of an auteur has been debated since the 1940s. André Bazin and Roger Leenhardt presented the theory that it is the director that brings the film to life and uses the film to express their thoughts and feelings about the subject matter as well as a worldview as an auteur. An auteur can use lighting, camerawork, staging and editing to add to their vision.[6]

Renoir as auteur[edit]

Regarding auteur theory, film director Jean Renoir stated that "every human being, whether or not he is an artist, is largely a product of his environment."[7] Jean Renoir was the son of the painter Auguste Renoir stated his artistic concerns about filmmaking with the words: "I glimpsed the possibility of making contact with the public by the projection of authentic subjects in the tradition of French realism".[8]

Truffaut's development[edit]

In François Truffaut's 1954 essay "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français" ("A certain tendency in French cinema"), he coined the phrase "la politique des Auteurs", asserting that the worst of Jean Renoir's movies would always be more interesting than the best of the movies of Jean Delannoy. "Politique" might very well be translated as "policy" or "program"; it involves a conscious decision to value and look at films in a certain way. One might see it as the policy of treating any director who uses a personal style or a unique worldview as an Auteur. Truffaut criticized the Cinema of Quality as "Scenarists' films", which are works that lack originality and rely on literary classics. According to Truffaut, this means that the director is only a metteur en scene, a "stager". This tradition suggests that the screenwriter hands the script to the director and the director simply adds the performers and pictures.[9] Truffaut said: "[t]here are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors".[citation needed]

Hollywood changes[edit]

From 1960, with his first self-directed film The Bellboy, Jerry Lewis was one of the earliest Hollywood studio-system actor-turned-director to be critiqued as an auteur. His attention to both the business and creative sides of production: writing, directing, lighting, editing and art direction coincided with the rise of auteur theory. He earned consistent praise by French critics in both Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif. His singular mis-en-scene, and skill behind the camera, was aligned with Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Satyajit Ray. Jean-Luc Godard said, “Jerry the only one in Hollywood doing something different, the only one who isn’t falling in with the established categories, the norms, the principles. ...Lewis is the only one today who’s making courageous films. He’s been able to do it because of his personal genius”.[10]


Even before auteur theory became clearly defined, the director was considered to be the most important among the people working on a film. Early German film theorist Walter Julius Bloem credited this to film being an art for the masses, and the masses being accustomed to regard someone who gives the final product (in this case, the director) as an artist, and those who contribute before (i.e. screenwriters) as apprentices.[11]

Starting in the 1960s, some film critics began criticising auteur theory's focus on the authorial role of the director. Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris feuded in the pages of The New Yorker and various film magazines.[12][13] One reason for the backlash is the collaborative aspect of shooting a film, and in the theory's privileging of the role of the director (whose name, at times, has become more important than the movie itself). In Kael's "Raising Kane" (1971), an essay written on Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, she points out how the film made extensive use of the distinctive talents of co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and cinematographer Gregg Toland.[14]

Some screenwriters have publicly balked at the idea that directors are more authorial than screenwriters, while film historian Aljean Harmetz, referring to the creative input of producers and studio executives in classical Hollywood, argues that the auteur theory "collapses against the reality of the studio system".[15] In 2006, David Kipen coined the term Schreiber theory to refer to the theory of the screenwriter as the principal author of a film.[16][better source needed]

Film historian Georges Sadoul pointed out that the main author of a film is not necessarily the director, but can be main actor, screenwriter, producer, or even the author of the original story (in case of literary adaptations). Also, he argued that the film can only be seen as a work of collective and not as a work of a single person.[17]

Some criticize Auteur theory, and the practice of praising Auteurs, for being male-dominated. Specifically in the U.S., no woman director has ever been invited to join the pantheon of international auteur directors. Kathryn Bigelow, a potential contender for recognition as an Auteur, had to leave the U.S. for financial security, and is still not included as an Auteur.[18] In fact, on the List of film auteurs, there are only five women out of a list of 133. Some point to the lack-of women directors. In 2016, just 7% of all directors for the top 250 grossing movies were women.[19] Others point to the lack of women in film schools, which has since changed. Now, Professor Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University says that women are represented in film schools.[20] The under-representation of women in film has been called celluloid ceiling.


There are references in law, where a directed film is treated as a work of art and the auteur, as the creator of the film, is the original copyright holder. Under European Union law, the film director is considered the author or one of the authors of a film, largely as a result of the influence of auteur theory.[21]

Popular music[edit]

Record producer Phil Spector in 1964

The references of auteur theory are occasionally applied to musicians, musical performers and music producers. From the 1960s, Phil Spector is considered the first auteur among producers of popular music.[22][23] Author Matthew Bannister named him the first "star" producer.[23] 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.".[24][25]

Another early pop music auteur was the Beach Boys' multi-tasking leader Brian Wilson,[26] who himself was mentored by Spector.[27] Before the progressive pop of the late 1960s, performers were typically unable to decide on the artistic content of their music.[28] Wilson became the first rock producer to use the studio as a discrete instrument,[27] thus making the Beach Boys one of the first rock groups to exert studio control.[29] Music producers after the mid 1960s would draw on his influence, setting a precedent that allowed bands and artists to enter a recording studio and act as producers, either autonomously, or in conjunction with other like minds.[26] The Atlantic's Jason Guriel wrote that Wilson "paved the way for auteurs like Kanye West ... anticipat[ing] 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."[30]

Video games[edit]

In broadening the use of the terms associated with auteur theory, it has also been applied to the audio-visual environment as encountered in video games. Japanese developer Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear series) is considered to be the first auteur of video games.[31] Other auters include Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy series), Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian), Yoko Taro (Drakengard, NieR, NieR: Automata), Suda 51 (No More Heroes, Killer 7), Jon Van Caneghem (Might and Magic), Ken Levine (BioShock, BioShock Infinite, System Shock 2), Tetsuya Takahashi (Xeno series), Hidetaka Miyazaki (Souls series),[32] and Ragnar Tørnquist.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Santas 2002, p. 18.
  2. ^ Min, Joo & Kwak 2003, p. 85.
  3. ^ Caughie 2013, pp. 22–34, 62–66.
  4. ^ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (n.d.). "Auteur theory". Encyclopædia Britannica. 
  5. ^ Sarris, Andrew (Winter 1962–1963). "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" (PDF). Film Culture. 27: 1–8. 
  6. ^ Thompson & Bordwell 2010, pp. 381–383.
  7. ^ BFI films. Le Grande Illusion. By Julian Jackson. 2009. Page 10-11.
  8. ^ BFI films. Le Grande Illusion. By Julian Jackson. 2009. Page 13.
  9. ^ Thompson & Bordwell 2010, p. 382.
  10. ^ Jim Hillier, ed. (1987). Cahiers du Cinema 1960–1968 New Wave, New Cinema, Re-evalutating Hollywood (Godard in interview with Jacques Bontemps, Jean-Louis Comolli, Michel Delahaye, and Jean Narboni). Harvard University Press. p. 295. ISBN 9780674090620. 
  11. ^ Bloem 1924.
  12. ^ A Survivor of Film Criticism’s Heroic Age
  13. ^ Pauline and Me: Farewell, My Lovely
  14. ^ Kael, Pauline, "Raising Kane", The New Yorker, February 20, 1971.
  15. ^ Aljean Harmetz, Round up the Usual Suspects, p. 29.
  16. ^ Kipen 2006.
  17. ^ Sadoul 1972.
  18. ^ Giese, Maria (2013-12-09). "Auteur Directors: Any American Women?". IndieWire. Retrieved 2018-04-25. 
  19. ^ "Study: Female Filmmakers Lost Ground in 2016". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-04-25. 
  20. ^ Cochrane, Kira (2010-01-31). "Why are there so few female film-makers?". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-25. 
  21. ^ Kamina 2002, p. 153.
  22. ^ Eisenberg 2005, p. 103.
  23. ^ a b Bannister 2007, p. 38.
  24. ^ Williams 2003, pp. 15–16.
  25. ^ Williams 2003, pp. 15-16.
  26. ^ a b Edmondson 2013, p. 890.
  27. ^ a b Cogan & Clark 2003, pp. 32–33.
  28. ^ Willis 2014, p. 217.
  29. ^ Miller 1992, p. 193.
  30. ^ Guriel, Jason (May 16, 2016). "How Pet Sounds Invented the Modern Pop Album". The Atlantic. 
  31. ^ "Hideo Kojima - video gaming's first auteur - Screen Robot". Screen Robot. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  32. ^ Fahey, Rob (9 December 2016). "Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian: The Last of their Kind". Retrieved 9 December 2016. 
  33. ^ "How the creator of Dreamfall got back to his roots - Polygon". Retrieved 6 April 2017. 


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