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An auteur (/ˈtɜːr/; French: [otœʁ], lit. 'author') is an artist with a distinctive approach, usually a film director whose filmmaking control is so unbounded and personal that the director is likened to the "author" of the film,[1] thus manifesting the director's unique style or thematic focus.[2] As an unnamed value, auteurism originated in French film criticism of the late 1940s,[3] and derives from the critical approach of André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, whereas American critic Andrew Sarris in 1962 called it auteur theory.[4][5] Yet the concept first appeared in French in 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 had emerged with studios granting directors broad leeway. Pauline Kael argued, however, that "auteurs" rely on creativity of others, like cinematographers.[6][7] Georges Sadoul deemed a film's putative "author" could potentially even be an actor, but a film is indeed collaborative.[8] Aljean Harmetz cited major control even by film executives.[9] David Kipen's view of the screenwriter as indeed the main author is termed Schreiber theory. In the 1980s, large failures prompted studios to reassert control. The auteur concept has also been applied to non-film directors, such as record producers and video game designers, such as Hideo Kojima.[10]



Film director and critic François Truffaut in 1965

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.[11][12][better source needed] James Agee, a leading film critic of the 1940s, said that "the best films are personal ones, made by forceful directors".[12] 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.[13]

Development of theory[edit]

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,[14] 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.[15] 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".[16] He named eight writer-directors, Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Becker, Abel Gance, Max Ophüls, Jacques Tati, and Roger Leenhardt, as examples of these "authors".[14]

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".[17]

Popularization and influence[edit]

As early as his 1962 essay "Notes on the auteur theory", published in the journal Film Culture,[18] 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 popularize the English term.

Via auteur theory, critical and public scrutiny of films shifted from their stars to the overall creation.[12] In the 1960s and the 1970s, a new generation of directors, revitalizing filmmaking by wielding greater control, manifested the New Hollywood era,[19][20] when studios granted directors more leeway to take risks.[21] Yet in the 1980s, upon high-profile failures like Heaven's Gate, studios reasserted control, muting the auteur theory.[22]


Pauline Kael, an early critic of auteur theory,[23][24][25] debated Andrew Sarris in magazines.[26][7] 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.[27]

Richard Corliss and David Kipen argued that a film's success relies more on screenwriting.[28][29][30] 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.[8] 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".[9]

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.[31] 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.[32]


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.[33]

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, record producer Phil Spector is considered the first auteur among producers of popular music.[34][35] Author Matthew Bannister named him the first "star" producer.[35] 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.[36]

Another early pop music auteur was Brian Wilson,[37] mentored by Spector.[38] 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.[39] Before the "progressive pop" of the late 1960s, performers typically had little input on their own records.[40] Wilson, however, employed the studio like an instrument,[38] as well as a high level of studio control[41] that other artists soon sought.[37]

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."[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Santas 2002, p. 18.
  2. ^ Min, Joo & Kwak 2003, p. 85.
  3. ^ Caughie 2013, pp. 22–34, 62–66.
  4. ^ "Auteur theory". Encyclopædia Britannica. n.d.
  5. ^ Sarris, Andrew (Winter 1962–1963). "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" (PDF). Film Culture. 27: 1–8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-07-26. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  6. ^ The Beginning of the Auteur Theory * Filmmaker IQ Archived 2020-07-26 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b "Pauline and Me: Farewell, My Lovely | The New York Observer". The New York Observer. October 11, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-10-11.
  8. ^ a b Sadoul & Morris 1972.
  9. ^ a b Aljean Harmetz, Round up the Usual Suspects, p. 29.
  10. ^ The Architects: Video Gaming's Auteurs - IGN
  11. ^ Bloem 1924.
  12. ^ a b c Battaglia, James (May 2010). Everyone's a Critic: Film Criticism Through History and Into the Digital Age (Senior honors thesis). The College at Brockport. p. 32. hdl:20.500.12648/6777 – via SUNY Open Access Repository.
  13. ^ Thompson & Bordwell 2010, pp. 381–383.
  14. ^ a b Truffaut, François (1954). "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français ("A certain tendency in French cinema")". Cahiers du Cinéma. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  15. ^ Thompson & Bordwell 2010, p. 382.
  16. ^ "Evolution of the Auteur Theory". The University of Alabama. 2020-02-11. Retrieved 2022-05-31.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Sarris, Andrew (Winter 1962–1963). "Notes on the auteur theory in 1962". Film Culture. 27: 1–8.
  19. ^ David A Cook, "Auteur Cinema and the film generation in 70s Hollywood", in The New American Cinema by Jon Lewis (ed), Duke University Press, New York, 1998, pp. 1–4
  20. ^ Stefan Kanfer, "The Shock of Freedom in Films", Time, December 8, 1967, Accessed 25 April 2009.
  21. ^ Film Theory Goes to the Movies - Google Books (pgs. 14-16)
  22. ^ Bach, Steven (1999). Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists. Newmarket Press. p. 6. ISBN 9781557043740. heaven's gate april 16 1979.
  23. ^ "Tommy Wiseau: The Last Auteur - Brows Held High". Archived from the original on 2021-11-02 – via www.youtube.com.
  24. ^ "Sarris, Andrew The Auteur Theory" – via Internet Archive.
  25. ^ Documentary 'What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael' Is 'Just Not Very Good' - WBUR
  26. ^ Powell, Michael (9 July 2009). "A Survivor of Film Criticism's Heroic Age". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 July 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  27. ^ Kael, Pauline, "Raising Kane", The New Yorker, February 20, 1971.
  28. ^ Kipen, David (2006). The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History, p.38. Melville House ISBN 0-9766583-3-X.
  29. ^ Diane Garrett. "Book Review: The Schreiber Theory". Variety. April 15, 2006.
  30. ^ Weber, Bruce (April 24, 2015). "Richard Corliss, 71, Longtime Film Critic for Time, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
  31. ^ Giese, Maria (2013-12-09). "Auteur Directors: Any American Women?". IndieWire. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  32. ^ "Study: Female Filmmakers Lost Ground in 2016". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  33. ^ Kamina 2002, p. 153.
  34. ^ Eisenberg 2005, p. 103.
  35. ^ a b Bannister 2007, p. 38.
  36. ^ Williams 2003, pp. 15–16.
  37. ^ a b Edmondson 2013, p. 890.
  38. ^ a b Cogan & Clark 2003, pp. 32–33.
  39. ^ Butler 2012, p. 225.
  40. ^ Willis 2014, p. 217.
  41. ^ Miller 1992, p. 193.
  42. ^ Guriel, Jason (May 16, 2016). "How Pet Sounds Invented the Modern Pop Album". The Atlantic.

General and cited references[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]