Monday, February 08, 2010

Journey of a Word



A New York Times article last week anointed Steve Jobs as an "auteur":

Apple represents the “auteur model of innovation,” observes John Kao, a consultant to corporations and governments on innovation. In the auteur model, he said, there is a tight connection between the personality of the project leader and what is created. Movies created by powerful directors, he says, are clear examples, from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” to James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

At Apple, there is a similar link between the ultimate design-team leader, Mr. Jobs, and the products. From computers to smartphones, Apple products are known for being stylish, powerful and pleasing to use. [Apple's "design restraint"] is evident in Mr. Jobs’s personal taste. His black turtleneck, beltless blue jeans and running shoes are a signature look.

How far we've traveled in 50 years. When Truffaut, Godard and other Cahiers du Cinema critics originally formulated their "politique des auteurs," they meant for it to particularly apply to Hollywood filmmakers like Hitchcock, Hawks or Nicholas Ray who managed to imprint their films with a personal vision and stylistic signature while working within an industrial system of production. Crucial to this "politique" was a politics of resistance that was manifested in at least 3 ways:

(1) A select few Hollywood filmmakers resisting (through aesthetic tactics grouped under a sign called "mise-en-scene") the powerful standardizing forces of the Hollywood system.

(2) A corresponding gesture of resistance on the part of the French critics themselves: one aimed at the dominant and respectable homegrown "Tradition of Quality" cinema.

(3) These French critics also combating the notion that Hollywood cinema, because it was a mass-culture product, was not worth taking seriously as art.

In the 1960s, Peter Wollen resituated the notion of the auteur with the help of structuralism. (See the essay "The Auteur Theory" in his book Signs and Meaning in the Cinema.) This move could also be seen as a gesture of resistance -- in this case, against an overly romanticized notion of the auteur with near-mystical powers of individual genius. The auteur, for Wollen, became a site, an "unconscious catalyst," a collection of themes, oppositions and traits that could be read, then inventoried and grouped under a name within quotation marks: "Hitchcock," "Hawks," "Fuller," and so on.

The term went into decline, at least in the formal study of film, in the 1970s and 1980s, but it has seen a resurgence -- in a reconstructed form -- since the 1990s. It was around this time that "independent cinema," as an industry category, began to show sizable commercial promise. In the last 15 years or so, we've seen the industry (first independent, then the mainstream) seize the term and deploy it -- not with any kind of resistance in mind but, plain and simple, as a strategy for product differentiation. Directors -- independent or mainstream, at the multiplex or the film festival, talented or mediocre -- are indiscriminately dubbed "auteurs" in a move that automatically attempts to bestow upon them quality and distinction, a brand identity. Especially when wielded by the industry and the media, the word has been diluted to the point of insubstantiality. It represents little more than the commodification of a set of product attributes in search of a market niche. The original animating values of resistance and critical polemics have slowly disappeared from the word since its appropriation. What does remain vitally useful today (especially for cinephiles) is the reading strategy we call "auteurism."

Your thoughts about the evolution of the word "auteur" over the last few decades, and its usefulness today? I'd love to hear them.


* * *

What was "independent cinema" before it became a commercially lucrative market segment about 15-20 years ago? We can find some answers in the fascinating 100-page catalogue [pdf] that accompanied a month-long, 150-film retrospective Independent America: New Film 1978-1988 at the Museum of the Moving Image in 1988. Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay for the catalogue, "Myths of the new narrative (and a few counter-suggestions)," can be found at his blog. Chief curator David Schwartz writes:

Before the commercial success of Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Pulp Fiction (and before the rise of home video), independent filmmakers made and showed their films in a world truly apart from Hollywood. To get their work seen, they would travel for months, with their 16mm film prints in tow, to colleges and media arts centers across the country. The commercial success of Sex, Lies, and Videotape marked the beginning of the end of this era. Last year’s big “independent” hit, Juno, was distributed by Fox Searchlight, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., and it made more money than any other Best Picture contender. Juno’s virtues were not in its artistic independence; but precisely the opposite — it was a well-written, well-directed, well-performed, and utterly conventional movie.

Rosenbaum’s essay, and the entire Independent America film series, capture a time when the label “independent” was truly up for grabs, indicating a genuine alternative to mainstream commercial cinema.

117 Comments:

Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

My sense, upon reading Truffaut's "Certain Tendency" piece, has always been that the word "auteur" meant "writer" there: that he was referring approvingly to French directors who also wrote their scripts. If this is so, then the term was subject to fundamental reinterpretation almost from the beginning.

We would be in a better position to object to the industrial/promotional sense of the word if we were able to use it with any more precision! I've long been in favor of dumping "auteur" altogether, and holding onto "auteurism" and "politique des auteurs" as terms for the movement. (Which I don't see as a "reading strategy," myself, though Wollen and others certainly tried to move in that direction.)

February 08, 2010 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Awesome. This post and the earlier one that you link to = a perfect substitute for the awkward "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" conversation that I find myself having *way* more often than I'd like.

February 08, 2010 1:23 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

As ever, an important discussion that will--undoubtedly--yield insightful results.

I first began to notice this shift in the term "auteur" reading press materials for mainstream films where the term seemed to reference budget management to bring in a product on time (irregardless of how huge the budget or how vacuous the product).


Lately, the term has more traction for me as an adjective more than a noun. I'm not so interested in aligning personalities to auteurship as I am understanding qualities of their films that I find auteurial, which is to say distinguishable or legible.

February 08, 2010 1:26 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

The mutations also happened, though differently, in France, where "cinema d'auteur" is often used as the antithesis to "cinema commercial", which of course obfuscates any notion of what it originally meant: the "auteur" within the commercial context.
A few years ago, the magazine Synopsis had an issue about the term "auteur", and one of the people interviewed was Claude Chabrol, who used an example that stayed with me: Mankiewicz only scripted a third of his pictures, but it's impossible to tell which.

February 08, 2010 4:00 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

Are there any writers who are working against the "auteur" presence in film? The concept is so hard to escape from these days; it has been simplified and generalized (as in your example) and has colored so many people's perception of movies. Especially young people exploring their love for film online -- they build their own dedicated auteur followings and judge a film according to the presence of an auteur. There are too many cases when auteur-mania distorts history (online, usually not academic scholarship).

I'm hoping a post-auteur period will arrive some time. While it is certainly useful for analyzing the films of certain filmmakers, it has its limits (and its downsides, as I said above). Personally, I have found it less and less useful the more I explore films, and I have mostly withdrawn from it. It is probably a good time for a discussion of the value of the critical-auteur-method, but I imagine the auteur has already so thoroughly saturated discourse that it will be with us for a long time.

February 08, 2010 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

Dan Sallitt: "We would be in a better position to object to the industrial/promotional sense of the word if we were able to use it with any more precision." True!

I've long tried to argue in favor of Wollen's idea of "common themes and techniques" of filmmakers as a key PART of auteurism. (Many other auteurists of the 19560's and 70's took this approach too.)

For example, it is easy to see in the films of Vincente Minnelli the subject of "brothers" and the technique of "red-and-green color schemes", among many other subjects and techniques. Both play a major role in HOME FROM THE HILL. There are fifteen major scenes in the film using red-and-green as the main colors, for example.

But it is my sad experience, that most cinephiles today absolutely do NOT want to think about films in this way.
Instead, they believe that understanding HOME FROM THE HILL as art has nothing to do with such ideas. They see art as something that has nothing to do with rational thinking, cannot be expressed as ideas or put into words,
Instead, they want to sit in a theater, and experience HOME FROM THE HILL directly - without any ideas. They have a private, almost mystical aesthetic experience, one that cannot be explained, talked about or shared. And that's that.

Such a private view of art tends to put the kibosh on any attempt to define auteurism.

Should we define auteurs as "directors with visual style"?
Well, if its taboo to actually mention or think about
concrete parts of visual style, such as red-and-green color schemes, then this approach is not going to be popular.

February 08, 2010 5:34 PM  
OpenID tpfkazrs said...

Can anyone testify to the accuracy (or quality) of the Jump Cut article by John Hess in Jump Cut? I think that was the first historical account I've seen for the term auteur.

February 08, 2010 6:39 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all, for your thoughts! And for taking the time to set them down here.

Dan, a couple of thoughts:

-- Truffaut's own practice as a critic whose credo was defined by the "politique" shows that he highly valued lots of cinema by directors who didn't write their own scripts (e.g. much of Hollywood). So I tend to be circumspect when I encounter the "directors-must-write-their-own-scripts" prescription. Also, "Certain Tendency" being highly (explosively!) polemical, I tend to think that not all assertions in it should be treated with equal seriousness/literal-ness.

-- Even if the term has not been defined with great precision (and I agree: it has not), I think it's still possible to identify two primary parties or players here: critics (who created the term as part of the cultural/polemical wars they were fighting) and the industry, whose interests are primarily commercial and profit-driven. Because of this clear divide, I find that I have no problem in critiquing industry's appropriation of the word.

But I agree with you: it's a word I wouldn't mind jettisoning.

Re: auteurism as a "reading strategy," I simply meant, in a broad way, foregrounding the director when thinking/speaking of a film, not equating auteurism with an exclusively Wollen-esque structuralist approach to film.

February 09, 2010 3:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Maya, your press materials provide a fascinating spin on this word! So, the "auteur" is now a person who is known for his/her managerial skills!

There's a YouTube video of a speaker at a software expo who extols Apple design and management as "auteur"-like, unlike Microsoft (never named and only referred to as that large company headquartered in Redmond, WA!).

February 09, 2010 3:30 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Nathan, I had forgotten about that French distinction!

Ian, good to discover your "Mango Grove"--I look forward to following it. "A Tale of the Wind" is a film I've long wanted to catch--how did you manage to see it?!

Mike, I agree that cinephiles must cultivate a keen formal-analytic sense. But I don't think that such cinephiles are quite so rare on the Web. I can think of several bloggers who might fall into that category. Speaking of Minnelli, what do you think of Joe McElhaney's recent collection? I've been enjoying it immensely.

February 09, 2010 3:59 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

Girish, if you go to Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Collection-parall%C3%A8le-Indonesia-Valpara%C3%ADso-Rotterdam-Europoort/dp/B0026796P0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1265773317&sr=1-1), you can order a five-disc Ivens box set that includes what appears to be all of his major works, including "A Tale of the Wind," presented in optimal form (with or without subtitles, and in excellent copies; in the case of "This Spanish Earth," you can even choose between Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles delivering the voiceover!) I realize that this is quite pricey, but should add that, to my mind, this is plainly one of the best box sets ever released anywhere.

February 09, 2010 10:49 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for that, Jonathan!

February 10, 2010 11:01 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Great minds think alike, it seems, as my most recent Auteurs' Notebook post (http://www.theauteurs.com/notebook/posts/1481) is on a similar subject: the automatic assumption of the director as auteur.

Ultimately, I think the question of authorship is secondary to the movies themselves, but the mentioned re-appropriation, where every film is now "a film by" even when it's not, is a strange phenomenon. I guess every controversy eventually becomes the status quo (directors once struggled for quick cuts; now they must struggle for long takes).

February 10, 2010 12:07 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Aside:

Any chance of resolving this spam issue? The moderation system sort of reduces the energy of this blog, I think -- hard to engage on another when you know it might be hours before your comment appears. Unless you're on it 24/7, Girish.

February 10, 2010 12:26 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Ian,

It seems that if there's a possibility for "post-auteurism," it would just be classical auteurism, one that is cautious and assumes nothing about the role of the director. A director's opportunities for authorship are vast, but that doesn't mean every one takes advantage of them. Most don't.

Still, one of the effects of auteurism is that it created auteurs: there are more directors around to whom the term is applicable now than there were when the term was created. This is due to changes in the perception of the role of the director, changes in the industry, and the rise of alternative models of filmmaking.

February 10, 2010 12:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Here's a clickable link to Ignatiy's post at The Auteurs: "Morel vs. Besson." I

I. ~ A terrific, thought-provoking post!

Yes, you're right about the effects of comment moderation. There are other bloggers who are also facing this issue. (Andy Rector was telling me about spam attacks on Kinoslang the other day, and so was Farran at Self-Styled Siren.) I'm going to turn comment moderation off now and see how it goes. The funny thing is: several days go by without incident and then I wake up one morning and find 200 spam comments distributed on as many posts at the blog, all from the same IP address. I'll block the IP, only to find the spammers switch it up with ease and come back at me with a different one!

February 10, 2010 12:43 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

You should take it a sign of your popularity that they feel your blog comments are a good forum to sell sneakers / knock-off medications!

February 10, 2010 12:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ha! And indeed: "sneaker-spam" outnumbers all other spam at my site by 100 to 1. Peculiar!

February 10, 2010 12:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I've removed comment moderation from all posts 3 weeks or newer. This way, current discussions can proceed without interference but I'll still be able to block spammers from blowing up older posts...

February 10, 2010 12:49 PM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

In the big Minnelli omnibus, the opening pieces by Old School auteurists are very good: Jean Douchet, Bill Krohn, Jean-Loup Bourget. It is good that this material is at last translated into English.

Among the recent articles, the best are three that deal with Minnelli's visual style: Beth Genne on film ballet in Minnelli, David A. Gerstner on Tea and Sympathy, and editor Joe McElhaney on staging in Some Came Running.
But shockingly, these are the only pieces in the book to discuss Minnelli's visual style in any depth. Minnelli, the master stylist, the great colorist, the man whose camera moves and moves!!!!

Much of the other material in the book is psychoanalytic. I think psychoanalytic theory is worthless garbage. These articles can be hard to take.

February 10, 2010 1:17 PM  
Blogger ted said...

There's a good article by Ranciere in Cahiers du Cinema No. 559 (pages 36-38) called "La politique des auteurs, ce qu'il en reste." I'm not sure if it's available in English, but in it Ranciere traces the concept of auteurim from its inception up to the present in French film criticism, evoking Daney, Biette and Skorecki as touchstones of the term's evolution.

February 10, 2010 8:05 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

Just an aside to Mike: It's difficult to think of anyone this side of Rousseau who, for better or worse, has done more toward developing our modern conception of the self than Sigmund Freud. Just invoking the word "auteur" attests to his influence--i.e., the solipsism of the ringmaster among his collaborators.

Then again, there is a lot of garbage written under the rubric of "psychoanalysis."

On another note, shouldn't the "politique" always remain foregrounded? That is to say, isn't the auteur more of a body of multivalent discourses? This is more along the lines of Wollen's "Hitchcock," as opposed to Hitchcock. But playing a Foucauldian game would make us less blindly devoted to every frame of film produced by a so-called auteur, or at least pursue the "forgotten film" without feeling like we were approaching a lost piece to some impossible puzzle.

February 10, 2010 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, I'm always surprised that after all these years this is still an issue, and I cannot yet understand the reason for using a french word instead of simply "author" in English, or at least in the US. I like to make the distinction between, on one hand, "la politique des auteurs", which was a move of some of the "Cahiers" people to end with the dominion of screenwriters in French cinema of the time and with criticism based on plots, and foreground the meaning of style and a predilection for filmmakers which were their own writers (credited or not, as their defence of Hitchcock, Hawks, or N. Ray proves) on the condition they had a visual style of their own (as their excessive dismissal of Huston demonstrates, despite being often his own screenwriter), and, on the other hand, "the method of authors" as appliable in film criticism, which has often been applied in excess, to filmmakers which were not authors (or only occasionally). It seems to me evident that (since a screenplay is not a film, and is not yet cinema) the director is (or may be) usually the person which can influence more strongly the actual meaning of a film on the screen, often changing the meaning intended by the screenwriter or the producer by casting, actors direction, framing, cutting, lighting, intonation, editing, the use of music (even if some of these factor could be out of his or her control), so that any competent director with a strong pesonality can be identified when watching one of "his" films, even if he's not the "real" author (as Chaplin and some others, more frequently in Europe, were). I never go to a movie only because of the screenwriter or the cast, I often watch it only because it was directed by someone I've often found interesting. I think the big difference is when writing not about a particular film, but about a filmmaker in general. If he or she is an author, you can make general statements such as "Hawks does that" or "Hitchock is primarily interested in" (the same could be predicated about John Ford, Fritz Lang, Max Ophuls or Jacques Tourneur) which you can hardly write about William Seiter, Henry Hathaway, Gordon Douglas or Roger Corman, no matter how many little details you can list as "characteristic" of their "style". There are many more "stylists" or directors with a certain visual flair than true "authors", and in many case an author can get into conflict with the producer or a powerful writer and not have full control, or only become sufficiently interested with certain projects on which he may become an author or co-author. For instance, I don't think (even if the was a writer) Robert Rossen became an author until he directed "The Hustler" and "Lilith", of which he's certainly the only author (I've read both books). Of course, in a strict sense, it is ALWAYS an axaggeration to say anything like that (even in the case of Chaplin, who directed, wrote, acted, composed the score, produced, etc.), since - contrary to a poet or a novelist - almost no one can make a film single-handed, withaut the collaborarion or help of other (often very talented) professionals, but it can be assumed, as a sort of shorthand, that most Sirk's, Walsh's, Preminger's, Cukor's or Minnelli's films are mainly theirs. To which I see not much to object, except on the part of such hardened anti-authorists as producers wanting to have subservient, impersonal craftmen at their command.
Miguel Marías

February 11, 2010 4:37 AM  
Blogger Gregory said...

I am an auteur of the mise-en-scène of my shopping cart, struggling with the insistent branding of "Trader Joe" who looms like a Jack Warner to commercialize my personal vision of sustenance.

That seems more authentic than casting Steve Jobs as an auteur.

February 11, 2010 5:06 AM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Any anti-auteurists around here who can make an intelligent case against it? It seems like most online critics read films via auterism and it has become the de facto means by which to view movies. I'm not saying it's an incorrect way of doing things, but wouldn't the debate be healthier if someone is seeing cinema through another lens? Reading cinema as a collaborative and democratic art, with a multitude of authors whose voices coalesce into one vision? I don't know.

February 11, 2010 9:02 AM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

I guess my problem sometimes with auterism is that it is an assumptive approach. Unlike literature, where one cannot deny the sole authorship and personal vision of a single creative mind, with cinema there is such a disconnect between the critical approach to the object and the process by which that object was actually made. I take it auterism had its roots in literary criticism, and I believe that is where some of its imperfections lie. No doubt when a film is made there are voices stronger than others than rein in all elements towards a vision, but the fact remains that there are other voice in existence. With literature, it is one voice and no other that makes it to the page, a true meaning of "auteur". With cinema, I am not so sure that is the case. I am willing to accept auterism as one of many ways to read film, but I cannot have it as the be-all and end-all of criticism of the medium, which sometimes happens.

Or perhaps I am way out of my league commenting at all. I am still very much an ongoing student of cinema. So much more of you here are more experience in such matters.

February 11, 2010 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Of course, there is room for avant-garde film (from where I stand, usually the only kind that can really be said to be truly created by an auteur) and, in literature, exquisite corpse or renga, but in those two cases the collaborative spirit is immediately acknowledged, and there is no pretense or recourse to a single authorial voice.

I apologize for breaking this up into three posts!

February 11, 2010 9:30 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

My sense is that 'auteur' trips off the French tongue easier than 'author' does off the English tongue, perhaps contributing to the obstacle felt by many, at least in the past, to the term's application to filmmakers.

So too the association of the term with literature, despite the fact that a dictionary, in English or French, will tell us that an 'author', before being 'someone who writes a literary work', is simply the 'instigator' of something - someone who causes something to exist (we have all, at one time or another, been the author of our own misfortune). In this sense, Mr Jobs is an author, although why the French word was needed to make this point is beyond me - perhaps to indicate that the description is meant in more than just the 'instigator' sense....

With respect to the post above by Dottie - absolutely, 'auteurism' is now a complete critical orthodoxy, sustained by the programming practices of the leading festivals and film institutes. Virtually every other way of looking at film has been bulldozed out of existence by it. Definitely a topic worthy of critical investigation and discussion - eventually, all reigning paradigms must fall. How and when will this one fall, and what will it be replaced by? The time is (over) ripe.

Finally, on the topic of authors, I've recently posted to the caboose web site the 1934 article by a certain M. Rozenkranz quoted by André Bazin in his 'Theatre and Film' essay, and which I hypothesise was written by Siegfried Kracauer. (If this is the case, it would be the only point of contact between the two: curiously enough, neither ever cited the other's work.) The article is in French and, whoever the author, it is a fascinating piece well worth reading (Bazin called it 'profoundly original for its day). I hope to have an English translation up on the site in the coming months.

February 11, 2010 9:32 AM  
Blogger ZC said...

Sometimes the question of authorship is raised (or assumed) because of the fact of "personal expression," and in this case the underscoring axis is one of power; and sometimes authorship is important because of the functionality that the director, at least in some concepts, can give coherence. If you look at V.F. Perkins, for instance, he's not so much concerned with personality, but rather the unity of an artwork, which presumably the (good) director is in a privileged position to bring into existence. A "hired-hand" director who has little power and who doesn't appear to impose unity on a body of work (within & across films) isn't likely to be designated author in either of these more conventional and widely used senses, though one may still find worthy things to discuss. (I think Dan Sallitt, when he'll write or talk about more minor but interesting directors, gives good examples of what I'm referring to here...) I adore some films by John Brahm or Henry Hathaway, for instance--and think that criticism or scholarship about them is totally warranted--and I think that one can make cases that they have consistent or connected stylistic/thematic concerns running throughout their works. But depending on what definition of 'author' we're working with, I would not likely say they're on the same plane as Fellini. This isn't necessarily an evaluative thing, either--let's say I adore Hathaway but despise Fellini! I would still grant the obvious, that Fellini is more fully recognizable an author of his work than Hathaway. Obviously, everything is open to debate and polemic, but one has a much larger mountain to scale, evidence-wise, to suggest that a metter-en-scene who never attained much power is more an "author" than a European art filmmaker during the art cinema's heyday.

The problems with authorship--for "directors" or anyone else (producers, stars, screenwriters, DPs) is when the designated author is presumed to have been behind everything in the film, even if only as an author-function, so that the film becomes a closed system (or open only to backstage pass-holders, i.e., the author's other films). Everything in cinema is already ten times more richly overdetermined than this ...

Is "management" a way to be an author? I would think so - management is in some ways a euphemism for "direction," no? (Or the other way around.) If someone had the same kind of overriding control over a film as Jobs does over Apple products, people would surely refer to that person as the auteur of their films, even if they didn't like them. The use of the French in the article, however, is just a grab for sedimented cultural capital. I agree with those here who've been skeptical of the persistent anglophone usage of "auteur" as though it were a special and mysterious word with its own hidden meanings. Steve Jobs is certainly powerful, he has control, he can implement vision. And his persona provides coherence, either actually or as a functional supposition (standing in for his company). But does this mean he is the iBresson? Well ...

February 11, 2010 10:41 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Dottie,

In literature, the same issues pop up. We forget the roles editors, publishers, agents, assistants, transcription services (many highly-regarded writers preferred to speak into a dictaphone and then have a secretary write it out; Mark Twain was actually the first person to use the technique), proof-readers, even typographers play in making, say, a novel.

It's true that one can "purely" be a writer, but a work of literature often has much more input than just the author.

February 11, 2010 1:01 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

So we're brought back to the same issues. However, I think there's a certain good to the use of a foreign word, auteur in English: the connotation of auteur is not "sole author," but "an author's voice." The Chabrol quote about Mankiewicz that Nathan brought up is a very pertinent example here (an aside: it's interesting how the Nouvelle Vague directors use Mankiewicz as a go-to example, and not always in a positive light; Rivette, I think, once responded, when asked what mise-en-scene was, that it was "what was missing from the films of Mankiewicz.").

February 11, 2010 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would not forget that an auhor (one who conceived the story and the structure, wrote the screenplay, was telling his/her own story or voicing his/her own opinions, produced and directed the film, and has a distinctive style) can also be very bad, whereas even a hack, given a good script and good actors, can sometimes direct a quite good picture, or even be normally a very interesting filmmaker. My only troubles with some "extended" versions of the "author theory" (as I'd rather call it) are the assumption that an "autor" film must be better than a "non-author" film, and the idea that any director whose film we may like must be defended as an "author". I don't mind at all whether William A. Wellman or Walsh are authors, I find most of their films either magnificent or very interesting. Whereas Von Trier or Bardem may be authors of their film but regrettably so, in my opinion. There have not been 300 real "authors" in the movies. And sometimes having a strong will with which to confront one's ideas can improve a film, as is often the case when one compares the work of one director when he worked with a good producer and a good DP and the films he made perhaps more single-handedly but without such help.
In literature, one can more easily be an author than in films, but that does not mean that every writer is an author (not even a bad one), nor that they are completely free of external influences (from publishers, marketing, censorship, translators, editors, etc.).
Miguel Marías

February 11, 2010 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

I don't know. I'm looking at this from a very practical, literal, almost base point of view, and I apologize for that. But look at it this way. For instance, I would like to be a writer. And so all I have to do is get pen and paper, or ink and a typewriter, or a good computer, and then I create a literary work. There is no question that I can produce a literary work without any direct input but my own. Of course, once I decide to enter it into publication, to commercialize my work, then it will go through all the agents that everyone here has mentioned. But the fact remains that I am able to produce the work solely on my own, a single creative mind at work. Especially if I choose to keep the work private, it shows how it is always possible for one person to produce a literary work. A single voice.

However, with films (especially fictional, narrative, feature-length film), it is usually not possible to create the cinematic work without the presence of several creative minds. Actors, editors, cinematoraphers, sound engineers, art directors, directors, all the crew involved. Can something like The Life of Oharu exist without the input of several creative minds? I do not believe so. Of course, some madman could choose to do all the roles that have to do with making a film. And then again, it is possible in avant-garde films to have one person working to bring a film into existence. Sorry, but this disconnect with reality I still see as a flaw in the idea of the auteur, and I apologize if I am taking such a literal, almost vulgar approach to the matter.

Is it any wonder why for so many moviegoing folk, the auteur practically does not exist in their vocabulary (usually, they see the star of the film as the most important figure). But with literature, there is no question who is the creative force usually. In literary criticism, there is no question who the author is. It is the writer.

I do prefer Mr. ZC's use of the word "management" in place of "auteur", given the business-like connotations. Cinema is very much a commercial art, in that it will take a lot money to produce any kind of long-form film. Whereas with writing, all you need is your imagination, and maybe a pen and paper.

Perhaps it is because I am trying to fashion myself a poet, and I see the similarities between myself and other creators in the arts: painting, sculpture, areas of music dealing with single performers and composers, etc. But in film, I can only find a kinship with the avant-garde directors. There is something different in spirit with regards to directors such as any of those mentioned above.

February 11, 2010 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Sorry for the rambling post. It is late where I am, and I need to sleep :)

February 11, 2010 7:02 PM  
Blogger ZC said...

I do think that the fact of power, struggles over power, and the myriad connections this all has to commerce is important and should not be overlooked - but there's no easy determining mechanism here. I don't know if I'd say that cinema (en toto, or in essence) is an especially commercial hence collaborative art. (Sometimes a singular authorial presentation is the sexy/profitable thing!) And on the other hand it's really easy to cast the auteurist stance as a matter of aesthetic hero vs. heartless, mechanical business. This is how I felt for a long time, and certainly it is a strain that exists.

But the relationships, in general, are much more complex than this romantic standoff. Not even the art of the "old masters" was really the art of the old masters - Renaissance painting owed so much to the demands and specifications of patronage, for instance, and the entire practice of schools. Romanticism and/or romantic modernism are a blip on the radar of the history of artistic production. They will be outlasted. Acknowledging this incredible complexity (and--it sometimes, misleadingly, appears: vulgarity) is crucial, and it doesn't detract from the achievements of Rembrandt, or Ford, or Bresson, or Zanuck, or Bette Davis ...

February 11, 2010 10:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great reading here--thanks, all!

"Renaissance painting owed so much to the demands and specifications of patronage, for instance, and the entire practice of schools."

Zach's comment reminds me that part of Bazin's resistance to the 'cult of the auteur' had to do with the fact that he saw studio-era Hollywood as being not unlike eras like the Renaissance or Elizabethan times when painting or theatre flourished because of (and not in spite of) the "genius of the systems" that were in place during those times.

February 11, 2010 10:09 PM  
Blogger Jacob W. said...

Just wanted to express gratitude for including that PDF catalogue, it's a valuable resource...

I think you also would find it worthwhile with regards to some of the past issues of the "independent" filmmakers to peruse some of the articles included in Mike Hoolboom's Independent Eye magazines, easily available in PDF files on his website:

http://www.mikehoolboom.com/writing/Independent%20Eye/Independent%20Eye%20Home.htm

Thanks again...

February 11, 2010 10:17 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Jacob. And good to discover your very interesting avant-garde cinema blog.

February 11, 2010 10:31 PM  
Blogger ZC said...

Girish - precisely!, and I think one of our desiderata is to understand recognition of the "genius of the system" as something quite apart from "the celebration of the industry." Though neither could quite exist without the other.

(BTW, I want to say that above, when I mentioned "schools," I meant to say "workshops." Although there was some more to say about painterly "schools" as well...)

February 11, 2010 10:58 PM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Yes, thank you everyone for your replies. Just to make it clear, I am not at all against the approach of auteurism, simply that I think it should not be the only way to read film, or even the predominant method. After all, in literary criticism, it is even possible to read and value the text without recourse to identifying the writer's preoccupations or voice. But, of course, literature is a much older artform than cinema.

Cinema, of course, does not need to be commercial (the avant-garde, some documentaries), but I daresay it is a much more expensive artform than, say, poetry. The cost of equipment alone! And the fact that you have so many people to pay for their work forces it towards a commercial milieu.

ZC, of course I'm aware of these historical precedents when it comes to art, but I guess I am arguing for process. Take a paintbrush, some paints, and you can make a painting. Take a pen, some paper, and you can make a novella. Take a guitar, make some musical notes, and you can make a song. The single creator is easily possible in these mediums. A single mind at work. But with certain kinds of film, you need a cast and crew. And I'd at least like to think that there is no brainwashing, zombification, or puppetry occurring when a great film is being made. The human mind is always at work. With certain forms of cinema, there are multiple minds at work.

I hope I am clear in what I am trying to say.

February 12, 2010 1:23 AM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

ZC, of course, it does not take away from the achievements of the people you've mentioned. They are all artists in their own right. It's just that the process by which they produce their art is very different from the way I would try to produce art, and so my bit of contention with the auteur theory, which seems to be more apt for the artistic process that I undergo. It seems to be inadequate for the totality of the film process (although it is still a very insightful and useful approach). I would just like to have film criticism move further away from literary criticism, move beyond auteurism, and really come into its own. Why not a multiplicity of auteurs? Or the art of film determined by the struggle and compromise of authorial voices for a vision?

February 12, 2010 1:39 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Dottie - you mention the writer, the poet, the sole musician with a guitar, the painter before an empty canvas ... but not the arts of the theatre, the circus, the band, the orchestra ! I have always thought of cinema authors more in the vein of theatre directors or 'ringmasters' than lonely poet-types (not that I have anything against them!). That is, they work with a 'crowd' of talents, and they have to 'blend the ensemble' (both in front of and behind the camera, andt all pre and post production stages). That is where creativity comes from in most cinema. That's how I think of Renoir, Rivette, Barnet, Cukor, Bene, Truffaut, Kusturica ... And this takes nothing of artistic coherence or even 'personal world view' away from these authors, just as working in theatre-spectacles takes nothing away of that away from Peter Brook or Robert Lepage or hundreds of others. Some film directors are notoriously expert at hiding that 'crowd' they collaborate with: look at the credits of Godard films, which often seem designed to have you recall nothing but the magic initials JLG !! And other directors go the other way, deriding 'auteur theory' and excessively giving all credit away to their team ... but even that posture never stopped Altman or Boorman or many like them actually really being authors in a true and substantial sense ... The other key thing for me about 'authorism' (I'm trying to go with Miguel's terminological preference here!) is that surely - like every cultural phenomenon - it's the expression, finally, of a deep and prevalent wish or a fantasy: it's about the possibility of an individual expressing something or himself or herself DESPITE every force of the market, society, industry, management, bureaucracy, etc etc that ceaslessly 'overdetermines' them (to use Zach's equally appealing terminology) and mulches everything they do into just another assembly-line product of one sort or another. In this sense the 'voice/vision of the author' is always something that arises, in a sense, miraculously, against all the odds of the oppressive 20th century modernity that, at the same time, created the very possibility of such expression within the medium of cinema. We rejoice in 'discovering' filmic authors because we always fear, somewhere within us, that individuality (and not just the individuality of artists, but every citizen) is on the absolute verge of being snuffed out altogether ...

February 12, 2010 5:37 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Wonderfully put, Adrian...

All: I'm leaving on a weekend trip and shall rejoin you in the fray of this 'authorist' debate upon my return!

February 12, 2010 7:05 AM  
Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...

What a wonderful discussion! I, for one, want to believe that the auteur theory, perhaps due to the success of the New Wave, has been taken to the absolute extreme.

It's really a useful tool to "crack" the intention of a film, but it shouldn't move from becoming the means to the end itself. Here's an interview of Rivette where he discusses this a bit. An excerpt:

The whole question of the scriptwriter is closely linked to the idiot mythology which has grown up recently round the idea of the director as complete creator, a youthful genius who can do anything and everything, and which has resulted in an influx of directors of startling incompetence.

"Obviously we the Cahiers team, with Truffaut as chief spokesman -- were responsible for this myth, but we were writing at a time when polemic, shock statements like "anybody can make a film," were a necessary reaction against the rigid stratification which was then strangling the cinema. It was a completely closed shop, in which the director spent fifteen years moving from third assistant to second assistant, and finally to assistant director, before getting anywhere; and the writer worked through the same process. The reaction was inevitably violent and uncompromising: all kinds of extreme positions were taken up. And, since 1959 and the birth of the New Wave, all these attitudes have been taken much too literally."

February 12, 2010 8:13 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Excellent historical context and corrective. Godard, by the way, says exactly the same thing.

February 12, 2010 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Coming in late, I fear I'll simply end up repeating points others have made well already. But I still find it useful to restrict the notion of the auteur (I'd just revert to the French to retain the historical resonance) to directors whose styles were evident through a system (the Hollywood studios) that did not promote or encourage self-expression. Used in this sense, there was never any reason to view directors deemed artists such as Fellini, Bergman, or Bresson as auteurs: they worked in systems that foregrounded their individual expression, and thus their status as heroic "auteurs" didn't need to be claimed.
I do think the impact of auteurism has been to render virtually all films "the work of" directors: we think of films as Spke Lee films, Tarantino films, David Lynch films, etc. But we also tend to think of the films George Lucas has produced but not directed as Lucas films. There's a tradition of viewing some earlier producers (Selznick) as the auteurs of the films they controlled, but did not direct. (There is no cult around Victor Fleming, whose name appears on GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ, two films that are treated as if their directors are irrelevant: their auteurs would seem to be their studios and/or producers.) And auteurism removes many films from consideration: the vast body of B-Westerns is in part neglected because no one has ever seen reason to locate the work of auteurs there.
I'm surprised there's been no (or did I miss it?) mention of the star as auteur here: one commonly views Mae West as the key source of her films, not their directors, and star vehicles are clearly ways in which a film is adapted around its casting, not its director, writer, or other technicians.
Just a few stray comments slipped into a very interesting discussion!

February 12, 2010 9:46 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Oh, and I also must speak up for the significance of psychoanalysis as a basis for the modern notion of the author (here key citations to Barthes and Foucault on the author should be made). If we at all assume that some of the traits of an auteur's style are unconscious, accepting the truth of the intentional fallacy from literary studies (that is, the meaning of a text can't be limited to an author's intentions), then we are relying upon a Freudian model, whether promoted up front or not. The modern notion of the author and the modern model of psychoanalysis -- the very notion that an author might be defined by an ego -- are almost impossible to separate.

February 12, 2010 9:51 AM  
Blogger André Dias said...

Two minor and contradictory contributions on the issue: one in favor of the use and abuse of the notion of ‘auteur’; another limiting its scope. First, I feel some directors do indeed construct ‘cinematic systems’ of great complexity and richness, which are sustained by a relationship of solidarity between thematic, stylistic and other choices made regarding the variables of cinematic composition. These ‘systems’ created by different directors are, surprisingly perhaps, extremely heterogeneous and mutually incompatible and should be considered incompossible, even when proximity between directors is explicitly stated or just suggested, or when there’s some observed superposition of a technical or ethical feature. To put it bluntly, Straub would be unable to do Ozu or Bresson (or even Hawks, contrary to his credo), Kiarostami would be unable to do Hou Hsiao-hsien, Costa, etc. This stylistic – in the larger sense of the term, i.e., encompassing a world view – incompatibility makes me understand better the misunderstanding of some directors work by others of equal relevance (Welles and Rossellini, for instance) – that’s why we need critics, by the way.

Second, auterism can’t amount to be the final stance of a critical discourse. As Deleuze said about the ‘proper name’ (nom propre), it does not designate an individual nor is it given in advance. Of course, Kiarostami signs his films, we know that in advance; but what are we indeed saying when we say it’s a film by Kiarostami? It would be extremely lame – after all those artist's enormous work and effort to acknowledge or discover the world’s beauty and complexity – to put the cat back in the box of the proper name invoking psychological reasons. I’ve been wondering for a while on Kiarostami’s perversity, as it appears at certain moments of his films, but I do not feel that, once and if that concept is properly described as it happens there, would its utility be limited or circumscribed to that specific auteur; its relevance would extend perhaps to some other moments in films by others or, better still, to things outside cinema. Auteurism – so historically connected to cinephilia – still seems the key to this closeness to film and, more importantly now perhaps, the necessary openness to the world inside/outside it.

February 12, 2010 11:41 AM  
Blogger Andrew Gilbert said...

The possibility of a post-auteur cinema (or cinephelia) must be tied to a systems approach to film culture, as it is the antithesis of the reductionist perspective of auteur theory, which boils the complexities of a film down to a singularity. Conversations of authorship are fascinating, as are lists, hierarchies, and canons; useful tools for dissemination that have recently come to dominate all conversation and thought (at least in the evolving web culture).

A film is more than the sum of its parts, but it seems a systems approach would have its pratfalls as well. Whereas the diluted form of auteur criticism evolved into an obsession with specificity, it essentially blinded itself, omitting everything that didn't conform to its structure. An open-ended approach, however, could flounder under its vagueness and disingenuous attempt to consider everything. Is their a happy medium? Or are we experiencing this medium now, as we engage in long conversation that will never arrive at a consensus, however the journey itself is meaningful? Are we in a period of transition? Well dude, I just don't know...

February 12, 2010 3:51 PM  
Blogger Andrew Gilbert said...

Dottie, I believe the function of authorship in any art form is to create a means with which to mass communicate the art forms. There is no such thing as an artist in a void, they must find a way to attract the attention of us: a giant mass of billions of voices. An artist's most important creation is sometimes themselves, a constructed character that becomes the entry-point to their work. Time and culture has proven that these characters are never "accurate", but if a writer or filmmaker cannot create an avatar, then a studio, producer, etc will, call it commercial or whatever.

Art and artists have dual citizenship in the nations of Truth and Lies. If facebook, blogger, and youtube as great democratizers have proven, we as people still rely on a voice- an image- a persona that draws us in. I am more in love with Johnny Guitar as a film than I am with N. Ray as a person, but somehow I had to arrive at Johnny Guitar amid the millions of films and videos inhabiting the ether of mass media communication. Even a DIY punk band was scouted by a producer who knew how to harness their sound and make it connect with an audience. Even all posthumously published Kafka had its Max Brod.

February 12, 2010 3:56 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Andrew,

If the "genius of the system" is already a key part of auteurism as classically defined--if not as practiced--that isn't the "post-auteurism" being tabled a return to the tenets of classical auteurism? "The cult of the auteur," I think, suggests a mis-application of auteurism; we could call it "late auteurism," to make things simpler. I don't think auteurism was meant to be reductive; it was meant to open cinema up to ideas that were a part of the analysis of other media, but not film. The practice of late auteurism has brought the reductive aspect in. It'd be foolish, I think, to discount auteurism altogether; a post-auteurist would simply have to admit its limits (and the forefathers of the theory already did that) and embrace all other approaches equally. Every film should merit its own approach. I'll go even further, and say that every film merits multiple approaches.

February 12, 2010 5:50 PM  
Blogger Andrew Gilbert said...

Ignatiy, I think you are right, and "late auteurism" as you put it is a better way of clarifying what I tried to say. I do not mean to disqualify the theory and my criticisms of the reductionist quality were aimed at the legacy of the theory as purported by some (something that in my experience has become overbearing) .

I am a believer in multiple approaches. I find the "too specific" and "too vague" polemic to be an interesting one that I often have trouble navigating.

February 12, 2010 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Three further discontinuous thoughts !

1. Something I have tried to nut out for ages: why is there such all-pervasive 'bad faith' in the discussion of authorism? What I mean by this is the literal river's worth of pieces that begin: "We must problematise the Romantic ideology legacy of the auteur-as-sole-genius, Only Begetter and Great Man, blah-blah" - but then go again, regardless, to discuss a bunch of films linked solely by the fact that they are directed by the same person! The simple fact is that if you - anyone - writes a piece comparing three films by Almodóvar (or whomever), you are automatically an authorist, period. To break out of that 'reflex' is not an easy thing to do - and to this extent, I agree with Andrew's observation about how authorism has been crippling and restrictive.

2. Although I have problems with authorism, I also have vast irritations with all the 'post auteurist' pronouncements that depict this method, Straw Man-style, in all its naive splendour of 1953. We should always start with the 'high points' of authorism: Gunning on Lang, Gallagher on Ford, Durgnat & Simmons on Vidor (an amazingly overlooked classic book), Cunningham on Chauvel (if you don't know this Australian reference, shame on you!), the works of Miguel or Hasumi, etc. I actually take the end of the '70s as a kind of watershed, with people such as Bourget bringing in something like a 'systems theory': the author is not off on some hermetic Romantic island (the 1953 syndrome again), but seen as fully interacting with genre conventions, studio conditions, national cultural mythologies and ideologies, etc etc. The same goes for all the studies mentioned above. In Gunning, for instance, authorism sits alongside a profound examination - deconstructive in a true sense - of the 'loss of the author-figure' in the conditions of modernity. All Lang's cinema rests upon that.

3. To Mike: buddy, I may never forgive you for what you have said about Joe McElhaney's great Minnelli anthology, and especially my contribution to it (read its first few pages again, slowly)!! But, seriously, I would like to pose one question to you (and not about psychoanalysis, we have already had that friendly stoush!!). Way back in the '60s, Durgnat defined author-study as the tracing of 'recurring features' on all levels in a director's work - I think you would agree with this so far - but then he makes an important critique that, in a sense, no one has ever successfully refuted (although, in a Deleuzian sense, André does above): if we find, for example, the theme 'city vs. country' in a particular director's work, how can we say that the theme BELONGS to that author alone? City-and-country is a theme that belongs to a genre, perhaps to a specific cultural-historical trend, and it indeed may be treated (in diverse ways) by very many authors. This is why Durgnat was compelled to say (like many by the late '70s) that sometimes a genre is the author of a film, sometimes a studio ... sometimes a whole nation! Thus his provocation: "The auteur of most films discussed in Sarris' THE AMERICAN CINEMA is ... America". If that's ALL we ever said, we wouldn't be saying much either; but it can be (and has been) a starting point for many fine analysts-critics.

February 12, 2010 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Auteurism is the spectre haunting film studies and its offshoots in cultural journalism. The Cahiers has stayed auteurist to this day, continually theorizing about the meaning and function of the term. Suture theory, enunciation theory etc. are later versions of the politique. It was and always will be a subversive idea. Institutionalized people are allergic to it. The best evolved version is Jean-Claude Biette's "What Is a Cineaste?" where the use of thematic consistency to define an auteur is accepted with a shrug and a new term, "cineaste" ("filmmaker"), is used to designate the directors previously referred to as "auteurs": a cineaste being a filmmaker who has transformed the tool he inherited to portray the world in a new way (Rossellini), instead of using hand-me-down forms to convey received ideas (De Sica) while consistently recycling the particular subset of received ideas that make him, in Biette's reduced sense, an "auteur."

February 12, 2010 7:42 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - I didn't mean to imply that Truffaut was taking a firm stand that directors should be their own screenwriters. I just find it amusing that the first Cahierist usage of the word that I know of, and probably the one that started the ball rolling, may have referred to literal writers, with pens and paper.

I think auteurism was once something other than a reading strategy. It was a taste, an aesthetic, a set of I-like and I-dislike stands. And, to my mind, that's the sense in which auteurism is interesting. As one reading strategy, one among many, it doesn't seem like anything revelatory to me. You put a director's films side by side, you note things in common: it works sometimes, but it's not so thrilling.

If we look at the politique in France, the Sarrisites in the US, Movie magazine in the UK, we can see differences in the movements, but the vibe is similar. In each case, there's a prevailing critical set of opinions that the auteurists set themselves against. Most of the people that the auteurists sat next to in screening rooms thought that Autant-Lara and Carne, or Huston and Lean, were important directors: the auteurists were starting meaningful wars with people who could fight back. New canons were erected to oppose the old ones, and non-auteurist critics thought that the auteurist tastes were crazy. And what was coolest about auteurism was that its taste was less obvious, less surface-y, more intuitive. Non-auteurists couldn't get past the fact that Hawks made films about cowboys and race car drivers, that Hitchcock gave thrills: the top layer of films seemed enough for them. The auteurists had their antennae out - they were feeling for a secret movie that wasn't necessarily on paper, that was constructed with rhythms and compositions and actors' inflections.

Recent academia does not seem that interested in deciding whether art is good or bad, and so the core impulse of auteurism doesn't port well to academic thought. Auteurism has punch only if good/bad is important.

February 12, 2010 11:00 PM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Thank you, everyone, for such an engaging conversation. I have learned much; anything more I would have to say would simply be an iteration of all the excellent points brought up, I fear.

Just a few comments: Mr. Adrian, you mention the theater among others as an artform closer to film than, say, literature or painting. In my experience, the best criticism written about the theater does not usually begin from the point-of-view of auteurism. For instance, the most enlightening criticism of Sweeney Todd has been to read about how Sondheim, Wheeler, Prince, Lansbury, Cariou are all equal artists in contributing to the meaning and art of the original production, and then with Doyle, Wheeler, Sondheim, Lupone, and Cerveris in the revival. None take precedence over the other as an auteur of the production. Perhaps the problems I have with certain uses of auteurism is, as aforementioned, the reduction to talking only about the director as the central artistic figure without giving a hang about those that surround him.

There is this documentary about the process of producing an haute couture collection for the House of Chanel floating around in YouTube. In fashion, Karl Lagerfeld (the creative director of Chanel) is seen as some sort of cult figure, the great auteur of the House of Chanel. Well, after viewing that documentary that highlighted the seamstresses and embroiderers and shoemakers that actually put the collection manually, I could only think how perverse, shortsighted, and inhuman it was to think even for a minute that Lagerfeld was the sole source of this creative vision, the only one recognized and given credit, the true artist seen as responsible for the collection.

Mr. Sallitt has already said for me in a way. Why is there a tendency to criticize films as one would literature (here I am speaking of the sole creator, the most reductionist)? Webpage upon webpage of intelligent criticism discussing this director and that director, but only specialist websites, those of "special interest" talking about cinematographer, actor, producer, editor, even screenwriter, and then usually limited to Hollywood movies from the Golden Age. No full-length treatise on the art of Kinuyo Tanaka or Thelma Schoonmaker or even James Wong Howe as fellow auteurs? Mr. Sallitt has already put it quite well for me in the idea of auteurism as a reading strategy. But perhaps that is where I am at fault. I am more interested in reading texts than I am in ascribing values of good/bad.

Thank you to everyone who replied to my ramblings! Sorry if I don't reply individually (I wouldn't want to take up more space than I already have), but know that I have read all of your posts here :)

February 13, 2010 10:20 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

If the 'early auteurism' aesthetic Dan describes were alive today, we would see critics exalting (seemingly) anonymous Bollywood films or direct-to-DVD U.S. action movies. And not as perfect works of art, but as containing small personal touches within what looks like a monolithic machine to the lazy eye. Lots of people now study Bollywood, but I don't see it as the focus of a new generation of auteurist critics following the modus of Cahiers. Early auteurism was all about the fragment, the detail, the fleeting moment of poetry or style snatched whenever possible, by director and viewer alike, from the grips of the system.

These early auteurists would not recognise today's auteurism, with its complete retrospectives of Howard Hawks, elevated to the level of Bresson, overlooking, as Corey points out, the fact that there are auteurs and then there are auteurs. One is free to argue that Hawks was as great an artist as Bresson, but they worked in two completely different ways for different audiences, and our critical approach to them, whatever its conclusions on the level of merit, should reflect that.

What, then, is the value and meaning of auteurism today? Does Hawks need to be rehabilitated as an auteur the way he did in 1950? Is anyone applying a similar method of rehabilitation to the Howard Hawkses of our day? (Are there Howard Hawkses of our day? In all sincerity, I'd love to hear someone tell me about such a person so I can check them out. If there aren't, I suspect that this would be because the system Hawks worked in was bigger than Hawks, and that there are no new Hawkses because no such system now exists.)

I can't organise and express this in the space of a blog comment, but I see auteurism, pace Rivette and Godard, as a completely calcified and unproductive method from more than a half-century ago with little relevance to today's cinema. Aren't there better ways to think about film culture, starting with the need to go beyond whether a film is good or bad? I'm more interested in why and how than in good and bad.

February 13, 2010 10:49 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

It's hard to know what auteurism would be in today's cinema! It's definitely not about the old touchstones, which have become encrusted in tradition. We live in a world where the same people like Detour and Lawrence of Arabia: no battle lines can be drawn there.

I can imagine modern-day auteurists sifting through torture porn or disreputable rom-coms. (Mike Grost is one of the few old-time auteurists out there who is still committed to the idea that infra-dig Hollywood films can have value - the terrain has shifted so much that his recommendations usually fall on deaf auteurist ears. Michał Oleszczyk is a youngster who brings some auteurist energy to modern entertainment genres.) Maybe a new auteurist generation would be so different in sensibility from the old-school auteurists that no common ground or signal of recognition could be found. Whatever. The fact that we might not be able to spot, or participate in, new shifts in film consciousness doesn't mean that they don't exist.

Personally, I still see an awful lot of criticism that just stops at the surface, takes films at face value. I feel that there's room for old-time auteurist sensibilities to make distinctions between how a film presents itself and what its style is actually expressing. But I certainly don't see forming alliances, or strategies for mass action. That's okay: these things are better when they happen naturally.

February 13, 2010 11:12 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

It's hard to know what auteurism would be in today's cinema, yes. The problem is that we have something passing itself off as auteurism - I like Hawks, you like Bresson. That makes us auteurists by today's standards.

There are all kinds of pernicious effects to this. I 'grew up' watching films on big screens under completely different paradigms. The first, now virtually extinct outside of Paris, the cinémathèque grab-bag, with two completely different films back to back in the same cinema (in my case, the Cinémathèque québécoise at $1.50 per film). This is how Hawks was seen in 1950 in Paris, not in complete retrospectives, and it's important to remember that I think. Two, in monster 'national cinema' retrospectives (in my case, at the now-defunct Conservatoire d'art cinématographique across town from the cinémathèque in Montreal). This is where you'd see, once again on the same evening's program, the rare 1950s Andrezj Wajda film alongside the (sometimes surprisingly good) 1960s Polish comedy or B feature or literary adaptation. The former may now be on a Criterion DVD, and its author may someday somewhere be the subject of a touring retrospective, but the latter have disappeared forever. Partly for all sorts of economic and technologial reasons but partly also because of critical and exhibition paradigms - the 'national' has become quite unfashionable, but I maintain that it is a handy way to group material for exhibition and study, without necessarily adhering to deterministic 'national' formulae. But Conservatoire-like venues at work today don't even try to organise similar events.

So auteurism has become the list of names in the Criterion catalogue and the retrospectives some of us are lucky enough to see on tour. (The really happy few attend numbers of remote film festivals every year.) It's a pretty impoverished film culture, when you think of it. Would a change of paradigm help? I don't know.

February 13, 2010 11:57 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

afterthought: those Polish B features had the virtue, essential to any auteurist aesthetic and generally just plain fun, of not knowing what to expect.

February 13, 2010 12:02 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

You know, that surprisingly good 60s Polish comedy is probably being downloaded right now on some film-buff torrent site. And some youngster might conceivably have made custom English subtitles for it. The paradigm has shifted, and we can't all keep up with it, but there is so, so much more access now than there ever was.

I agree that there are many important films and filmmakers who don't exist as far as repertory and specialty film programming goes. And now is the time to start hunting them down, if we can get with the program.

February 13, 2010 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Hi Mr. Caboose, I just wanted to make sure that this is your website: http://www.caboosebooks.net/ ? I can't find it in Mr. Shambu's sidebar (I hope he does eventually add it!), and I would so like to read the Rozenkranz article you mentioned :)

February 13, 2010 12:39 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

That's it. The Rozenkranz article is there, in French, in a PDF file on the page for What is Cinema? (A box called "Who was Rozenkranz?")

Sorry for the commercial break everyone. But this reminds me that the current issue (no. 81) of the Journal of Film Preservation, published by the International Federation of Film Archives, has a very good and quite lengthy discussion of present-day exhibition policies and practices at some leading film archives, dealing in part with how to program 'auteurs'. Not many libraries carry the JFP I suspect, but you should try to track it down. If you can wait a year, they post all issues on line one year after print publication.

What reminds me of this - sorry! - is the review of What is Cinema by Paolo Cherchi Usai in the same issue, also available in PDF format at caboose.

There, back to commercial-free broadcast!

February 13, 2010 1:28 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

DS,

You're right; in many ways, I feel like film torrent sites, curated with only enthusiasm in mind, are doing more important work getting people interested in films they wouldn't otherwise see than most revival houses or cinematheques. If only people were as adventurous with movie tickets as they are with downloads...

February 13, 2010 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Thank you so much :) And so I shall see if my French at the moment still needs some practice!

Mr.Vishnevetsky, I agree, there's a certain area of the Internet film community that seems pretty adventurous in that regard: those who patronize so-called cult films. The vaulting of House to the point that auteurist-driven companies like Masters of Cinema and, from what I read, Criterion would be releasing it gives one such hope!

This discussion reminds me of another related field: architecture. Architecture critics almost pretend as if the equally important engineers are not greatly involved in realizing these visions! Nary a tribute to great engineers these days. It's all about the starchitect.

February 13, 2010 2:30 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Definitely the conservatism of audiences is a problem. Unfortunately many specialty exhibitors play to this rather than try to challenge their audience's habits ever so slightly.

Dan, there's something a little contradictory about things being more accessible than ever before and at the same time hard for many people to find. You also have to know what you're looking for, and like everything else on-line, there's little in the way of refereeing.

But maybe someone could volunteer to point the rest of us in the direction of such sites, and/or Girish could initiate a discussion someday about film on line (I'm old enough to have it hard-wired into me that cinema is seen in cinemas, not downloaded. It's like asking me to buy my vegetables at the gas station.)

And, for the time being at least, this paradigm has not supplanted the old; it co-exists with it. So we're left with what appears to me to be an increasingly conservative and orthodox culture of specialty exhibition venues showing the work of tried and true auteurs. And this is still where official sanction is obtained: do you want your film shown at MoMA, or available for download on-line?

It's startling to someone for whom this was not always the case to consider that most often, when we go to a specialty screening today, we are going to see the work of a critically sanctioned individual (at least this is how the work is marketed and discussed by critics).

February 13, 2010 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strangely, I seem to agree at least to some extent with almost every intervention in this many-sided dialogue.
However, I think we should try to be more precise. Caboose, when you say "If the 'early auteurism' aesthetic Dan describes were alive today, we would see critics exalting (seemingly) anonymous Bollywood films or direct-to-DVD U.S. action movies. And not as perfect works of art, but as containing small personal touches within what looks like a monolithic machine to the lazy eye." I think you're right. But,
a) who said the 'early auteurist' aesthetic is alive today? I, for one, think it is not, and perhaps we might wonder why, apart from its being 50+ year old, and therefore "old fashioned".
b) I doubt you can call early auteurism an 'aesthetic'. It was certainly a stand, partly a policy of some of the 'Cahiers' people who wanted to become filmmakers (that's one of the reasons Bazin cannot be called an 'auteurist'), partly a 'way of looking at films' beyond their storylines, plots and explicit statements.
c) To find interesting or even magnificent some obscure (even direct-to-DVD) American, Thai, Italian or Russian movies or Bollywood productions should be the task of any critic (as different from reviewer or academic), and I do not think it should be confused with 'auteurism' at all. I may find very interesting and even very valuable (and more valuable than most 'indie' self-proclaimed 'authors') the films of John Carpenter, George A. Romero, William Lustig, Joe Dante or some directed by Stallone or Dolph Lundgren, without any tempation of 'knighting' them as authors, or the equals of Bresson, Hawks, Ozu or - to come closer to today - Eastwood, the recently departed Rohmer or Apichatpong Wheerasethakul. The same as some Hathaway or Victor Fleming films
can be better than some (even very good) Ford or Hitchcock movies.
Miguel Marías

February 13, 2010 3:04 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Dottie,

Mr. Vishnevetsky is my father's name. As this is Girish's blog -- and not Shambu's -- I think it's safe to say that we're all on a first name / pseudonym / initials basis here.

It's not only cult films that have acquired reputations via the Internet. To cite another example in Criterion's future releases (and from what I understand, House, which was once only available in the US through an unsubtitled VHS bootleg), I feel like a big part of Pedro Costa's Anglophone reputation, and the success of touring screenings of his work, owes to the massive amount of work (analysis, not merely praise) that's been done on him online by bloggers, online magazines and screen-capture obsessives. If we could not always see Pedro Costa films, we could at least learn a lot about them by reading about them for free.

Caboose,

I think the problem is that audiences are perceived as being more conservative than they really are. Having seen how many people will show up at a semi-clandestine screening of an unknown film based entirely on word of mouth or good write-ups, I think people are on average more adventurous than revival houses / specialty theaters will give them credit for being. Living in Chicago, I have the pleasure of going to Doc Films, which is curated mostly by students or student-age cinephiles and puts together some damn adventurous / unusual programs (one ongoing project, somewhat controversial, is their serious presentation of "sexploitation" and pornographic films).

Anonymous,

Stallone is an author!

February 13, 2010 3:16 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Sorry Miguel, I didn't notice your signature, and just realized you were not merely an Anonymous.

February 13, 2010 3:17 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel,
a) I agree. Mine was a rhetorical statement whose aim was to demonstrate that it is not alive because the things I describe do not exist.
b) Aesthetic was perhaps a poor choice of words. I call the politique des auteurs the 'authorship approach' in English, so I would say substitute approach for aesthetic. I guess I meant aesthetic in the sense of the way this approach cultivated a sense of the fragment and saw the presence of an author's hand in an anonymous context, etc. It saw an aesthetic no one else saw at the time, so it became their aesthetic.
c) Right. But they turned it into a program, a credo. And, in film, in something resembling our lifetimes, they were there first, so they get the prize.

February 13, 2010 3:19 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Miguel,

But doesn't low-budget / genre filmmaking constitute a system of its own, just as much of one as studio of the classical auteur? In a sense, Carpenter, Dante and Romero were, in their early films, as much at the mercy of economics / audience tastes as Ray, Walsh or Cukor; they had to put in gore or nudity the same way the classical auteurs had to keep them out. Romero, I think, remains one of the great political filmmakers.

Stallone's authorship is a fascinating thing, because he seems to be an actor even when directing -- he plays a role, always very earnestly.

February 13, 2010 3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dottie, you say "No full-length treatise on the art of Kinuyo Tanaka or Thelma Schoonmaker or even James Wong Howe as fellow auteurs?", and there I cannot follow you. If it is difficult to gauge and measure and value the work of the director, which, after all, 'directs' and is (or was) usually 'at the helm', I find it increasingly difficult to judge the work of a screenwriter (after all, you see the finished film, and do not usually read the script), the editor (who usually does not what he/she likes with the film) or the cinematographer (whose 'style' changes from film to film and directors... if they're any good). Even actor can be very good with some director, incredibly bad with others, and in any case only big, powerful stars (or part-producers) can sufficiently influence a film as to be considered co-authors of the whole film. They can make important, even decisive contributions, for good or bad, but rarely can be called (even simplifying and exaggerating) 'authors': not even Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne or Cary Grant. The case of Tanaka Kinuyo is altogether different, and a mystery to me (although I've read a very long and interesting paper about her as an actress somewhere on line), since I consider the six films she directed make her one of the greatest filmmakers ever; but I don't think she's so much the author as Mizoguchi, Naruse, Ozu and others of the many films in which she acted - wonderfully. After all, once the film begings to become a film (i.e., to be filmed, not a project, an idea or a full-length screenplay), the director is in charge and should be the one responsible to blend the different talents or assets (budget, technicians, cast, story) put at his disposal (by his choice or by that of others, be it Zanuck or Selznick). He may then be superseded by a producer, his film recut or partly reshot, part of his/her (although in "classical Hollywood" it would rarely be "her") vision would remain and would be possible to pinpoint.
Miguel Marías

February 13, 2010 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, you ask "Who are the Hawkeses of this day?" or "Are any Hawkses today?", I quote from memory, although both questions could be asked. I might add, "Who are the Truffauts, Godards, Rivettes, Rohmers, Douchets, Perkinses, Woods or Camerons, even if some of them, happily, are still with us? I'm afraid cinema has changed a lot, "filmgoing" has disappeared (even if film-watching has become a lot easier), and that less people now consider film as a means of self-expression, both filmmakers and cinéphiles.
Miguel Marías

February 13, 2010 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Mr. Marias (with apologies to Mr. Ignatiy, but I prefer addressing people this way in real life), just a quick answer, and then I have to run some errands. Perhaps I was incorrect in using the term "auteur" to make claims for Tanaka, et al since I'm already subscribing to the idea of auteurism (which presupposes the director) in the first place by arguing for their status as author of the work. Let me correct myself and say that I am making claims for them as co-creators of their films, who share in this vision of the film as a completed work. Again, where I am coming from, I am arguing for the idea of film as a vision not created by an auteur but by a multiplicity of creative forces. Also, is it not possible that a director would also begin to suffer if he/she does not work with the right kind of people? Ichikawa after his wife stopped writing for his films, for example. My point in asking why there are no treatises on the people I mentioned was basically my way of asking why the obsession with directors alone. Aren't there people interested in looking at the body of work of cinematographers, editors, and actors, with as much a critical eye as that devoted to directors? It seems a bit unfair to de-value these fellow artists, even if it is unintentional. I think an examination of, for instance, Bette Davis's acting, its evolution, and how it shares in determining the vision of her films is possible. I can say the same for Kinuyo Tanaka and how, in spite of the towering presence of the directors she worked with, much has not been said about why they would cast her in her roles, what screen persona she has participated in building that would influence why and how these directors worked with her, and why does she interpret her roles in such a way that is unique to her as an actress. I think of all this is just as critical to the making of the film as the work of a director.

I hope it is clear by now that I prefer to see a lot of cinema as a shared vision rather than as an auteurist's vision.

February 13, 2010 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dottie, not trying to diminish anyone's contribution to filmmaking (which is altogether of a different nature than literature), it would be boresome and unpractical to quote the entire credits alongside a film's title, for several reasons, beginning by their reliability (not every credit is deserved, many collaborators go uncredited, not all of them are equally important, the contrution of some may be detrimental) and ending by how much space it would take. At the beginning of cinema, most films were anonymous, without the name of the director or even the players. Only the company or the producer were advertised. Then the star system come into being. Only some directors (usually also producers, often screenwriters under an alias, like Griffith) became gradually known. In Europe is was somewhat different, but it was a revindication of some filmmakers to have "their name avobe the title", or such ambiguous credits as "A Frank Borzage Production" even when the producer was another. In Europe none saw a Fritz Lang, Murnau, Eisenstein, Clair, L'Herbier, Epstein or Renoir film as anything but as "theirs". When Lang, Renoir an others migrated to the US, many of their former admirers claimed that they had become mere "craftsmen" instead of "authors". And the people at Cahiers (rightly so, in my view) countered that trend analyzing the continuity and evolution and developments of their thematic concerns, their style, their narrative patterns. As these critics wanted to become filmmakers and were more interested in film as an art form than as a trade, they wanted to express their visions in their own style and chose as their models rather those filmmakers which either wrote their own screenplays or controlled them enough to make their own the stories conceived by others, rather than those who put into images the screenplays they were assigned. Then they discovered that some American filmmakers, while working inside the system and in genres already established still managed to put their imprint on the films they directed and which shared a vision and a style no matter the genre, the stars, the production company or the budget. Maybe they made a mountain of some tiny details, in some cases, although this was rather the case of some of their later or foreign followers, but I find their "approach" or "method" was useful and very productive insofar as it allowed the belated recognition and study of people such as Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk or Jacques Tourneur and the salvage of many B-movies and poverty row directors such as Boetticher or Ulmer, far more interesting that many a respected and Academy-awarded filmmakers. I'm sure this can help yet to discover perhaps some other (fewer, I'm afraid) neglected, underrated or forgotten directors, whose input was overshadowed by the names of producers, stars or screenwriters. The hype of directors was not so generalized as you assume, and you can see ads or trailers in which the director is not even mentioned or is regarded as some sort of employee.
Ignatyi, I don't doubt Stallone is (at least sometimes) the main influence behind the films the chooses to make, or the main decision-taker. But I don't see even in those directed by him (even if they are good) the film style that would make of him a cinematographic author.
Miguel Marías

February 13, 2010 7:18 PM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

Girish, the host of this blog, out of the blue asked me to comment on the new Minnelli book.
This sounded like a command performance.
I tried to comply.
And singled out six writers for special praise.
Now Adrian Martin is saying I've made an enemy for life out of him, because of my comments.
And I didn't even say anything about his article!

I am really, really in over my head!
No one else here has been asked to comment on this book.
Or even read it.
I said more positive things than negative.

I am really, really scared.
I feel frightened and lost.
I don't understand the etiquette of this situation.
Or what I should have said.
Maybe I should never comment on any book I've read again.

Yours in fear,
Mike Grost

February 13, 2010 9:36 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, what I meant when I asked 'Are there any Hawkses today?' was not 'Is there anyone of his talent?', but rather 'Is there anyone of his talent toiling in obscurity in the industry?'. Here too I answered my own question, suggesting that there isn't, because the industry is not the same.

You're right, everything has changed a lot, and that's part of my point. Hawks didn't create his films on his own, or even with his 'circus' (Adrian). He created them within a system that no longer exists. A film director may be a circus master, but even circus masters are dependent upon all sorts of things beyond their control. Hawks may have created his films, but the studio system created Hawks.

Bazin: 'It would be too easy to explain Voltaire's failure in the theatre by saying that he didn't have a head for tragedy. It was his century that was not tragic'.

And again: 'To say that the Conservatoire's contests no longer yield tragedians is by no means to say that there are no more Sarah Bernhardts being born but rather that their gifts no longer fit the times. In this sense, Voltaire wore himself out cribbing from 17th-century tragedy because he believed that Racine alone was dead, when what had actually died was tragedy itself'.

I would be surprised if our society had regressed so far and so quickly that in 50 years there are no more Godards, Truffauts or Hawkses being born. They're just doing something else, because cinema is no longer the art of this century and is no longer able to nurture their talents as well as it once could.

Cinema knew quite a few great talents, but that talent lay also in what it had to say to a certain society at a certain time. Pierrot is not just a formal wonder; it is an astounding formal synthesis of a society. That society and that time have passed. Today's society is more compellingly addressed by other cultural forms (if only because of the numbers involved: cinema no longer has the audience it once did). Cinema still has a few great talents who make interesting films, but those films don't resonate the way an earlier generation's did and aren't buttressed by the more vital film culture(s) of the past, from Hollywood to Cinema Nôvo.

Can auteurism, in any of its incarnations, account for this? Not at all. It sees only the person who makes the film, not the society which makes the person and in which the film is seen.

February 13, 2010 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

I recognize my comments on the Minnelli book, are way too brief to form an adequate review of an academic research project of this size.

But they were the best I could come up with.

My apologies to Joe McElhaney, and everyone else involved with the new Minnelli book.

At least I am reading your work.

February 13, 2010 9:56 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

caboose,

As a "young person," I have to admit that a pet peeve of mine in these discussions is the idea that "young people don't care about / go to / think about / think in terms of movies." Until I see some hard figures, my own experience as a constant moviegoer suggests otherwise.

A society exists, as do the people who make films for it. In American cinema, great directors who work for the multiplexes: Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh, Kathryn Bigelow, James Gray, Tony Scott, Neveldine & Taylor, Richard Linklater, Tony Gilroy, David Fincher, more recently Nimrod Antal, Dito Montiel & to a certain extent David Mackenzie (to name a few off the top of my head).

February 13, 2010 11:38 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

...though a lengthier "appendix of the damned" can definitely be compiled.

You're right that the system -- not just of people making films, but of people seeing them, even in the theater -- has completely changed. But I think the system has changed because society has, not because the system has gone out of sync with society.

February 13, 2010 11:56 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Ignatiy, I said nothing about young people not going to, caring about, etc. In fact I said nothing about young people at all. I said that cinema's place in our society has changed. Nor did I say that interesting films are not being made. Nor did I say that the system is out of synch with society. On the contrary. The present-day system is in synch with present-day society, and past systems (Hollywood studio, nouvelle vague), were in synch with theirs. It could not be otherwise. I must not have been making myself very clear, because there doesn't seem to be a single point in my last comment that hasn't been misconstrued.

February 14, 2010 12:04 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Or it's just late and we're all up for misconstruing. It was the "Cinema still has a few great talents who make interesting films, but those films don't resonate the way an earlier generation's did and aren't buttressed by the more vital film culture(s) of the past, from Hollywood to Cinema Nôv" and "That society and that time have passed" bits, but now I understand that it wasn't meant as quite the putdown I read it as being and more meant to direct towards an understanding of how a medium is always tied to an era, even when its the same medium across several eras (like the ebbs and flows of theatre or painting). Apologies.

February 14, 2010 2:37 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

caboose,

Whew -- I think that last comment of mine was unreadable, but I hope you understand that I meant it sincerely. Time for sleep and a fresh mind in the morning.

February 14, 2010 2:39 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Mike, relax, I still like you. But you DID mention only six articles in Joe's book (3 old, 3 new) and say: "These are the only pieces in the book to discuss Minnelli's visual style in any depth". And this is just not true of many of the other contributions, my piece included !!

Thanks to all for the stimulating conversation here. Victor Perkins once wrote a piece on authorism called "The Premature Burial", and I too confess that horror metaphors (of 'the beast that won't die' variety) have come to my mind lately about this topic !!!

February 14, 2010 4:42 AM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

Adrian Martin's article on "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" opens with a two page account of a song number. In addition to describing Streisand's performance and themes of "exhaustion", it also comments on the number's visual style: the use of long takes and Minnelli's staging.

My apologies for not mentioning this in my comments on the Minnelli book.

February 14, 2010 9:11 AM  
Blogger Andrew Gilbert said...

To piggy back on the discussion of the modern system and authors working with in it, I'd like to mention the situation of the Pixar filmmakers. Their work is constrained by two like-minded systems; a. Disney as a brand with an image, and b. the status quo assumptions of what 'cartoons' should (must) be in America.

Lasseter, Doctor, Stanton, and co. are finding ways to put their moral and political stamps on films that will eventually be folded into the Disney stock of characters, even though the intentions behind the two studios is at loggerheads.

February 14, 2010 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, I certainly cannot but agree with you: cinema is no longer the art of the twentieth century, and had ceased to be so several decades before we came to the twenty-first. It has no longer the appeal or the influence, taken over by tv and the Net. Perhaps cinema has become a remnant of the past, and instead of films being available in the theatres, bot the commercial and the artistic one (which were often the same), they have become divided into two each time more separated fields. I find it difficult to discover much of interest in most of the blatantly commercial, widely distributed American films, and for me the more exciting films being made today are usually hard to come by, at least in your next multiplex or on tv. That doesn't make impossible, however, that certain mainstream or marginal-within-the-present-system filmmakers manage to do personal or interesting works, although it seems a little harder and I'd say there are fewer filmmakers which aspire to that. And some of the very interesting people working nowadays all over the world, old (Godard, Straub, Rivette, Oliveira, Bellocchio, Resnais) or younger (Kiarostami, Jia, Costa, Hou, Apichatpong, Tsai, Guerín, La Diaz, Raya Martin, etc., can be still considered and studied as authors.
After all, most poetry books are not best-sellers nor widely read, which doesn't make poetry useless. I'm a little skeptical about the genius of the system, and I don't believe that society (which is not the same everywhere, despite globalization) totally determines the aims and stregths of individuals, although it certainly influences them and determines that of a vast majority. Fortunately, there are still rebels, outcasts and inconformists, who try to pursue their own idea of cinema, or the development of a young art form which offers multiple possibilities and can adapt (not only passively) to changes in society.
Long before I ever read my first "Cahiers" or heard about the existence of the "politique des auteurs", as an enthusiastic and frequent filmgoer I had already developed an intuitive, practical policy that I still find extremely useful: once I noticed that among the films I liked most many were directed by guys like Walsh, Ford, Tourneur, Sirk and some others, I began trying to catch every film directed by them I could. At the same time, I learned to avoid some others (often as prestigious as René Clair), after disliking or finding very uniteresting several of their films. And others seemed too irregular or risky, since I loved some of their films and hated others. That seemed (and for me, proved) a more reliable criteria than the fact that they were produced by MGM, Fox, Columbia, Universal or Paramount (I felt a certain sympathy for RKO), or were French, Italian or British (although I rather fled from German and Spanish films), or were played by Wayne, Fonda, Ladd, Mitchum, Widmark, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Rhonda Fleming or Joanne Drew. I'm much less optimistic about the health of present-day American movies than Ignatyi, but I feel there is not too much difference between this way I described from my early teens and how one can now select what each of us finds interesting. But I would not confuse that (even if its director-centered) with authorism: I certainly don't claim such status neither for Edward Ludwig (which had no power but I find sometimes very good) nor for Steven Spielberg (who has all the power but I can't find very good most of the time).
Miguel Marías

February 14, 2010 3:14 PM  
Anonymous Bernd said...

Can a team be the "auteur" of a film? I think when it comes to certain films of certain directors, that it is problematic to call them the "auteur" and forget about their collaborators that may be an important or driving force behind their style or artistic vision. One example I have in mind is the team of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle, another is the team of Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai.

February 14, 2010 10:25 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, the directors you name can still be considered authors as you say, but I'm not convinced this is the most productive way of looking even at them, let alone the rest of cinema today. I see these directors as exotic animals, watching as their numbers dwindle and their natural habitat shrinks. Soon that habitat wil be too small to support them and they'll end up in zoos. Magnificent beasts still, to be sure, but without a natural habitat in which to thrive, and without offspring except those born in the zoo.

So while the plight of Canada's polar bear, facing extinction within our lifetime because of climate change, must move us, and while they remain a tremendous animal, our attention should be focused on the disappearing habitat - the genius of the system.

Nothing else fully accounts for film's accomplishments throughout history. Individual geniuses have come and gone, to be sure, but without the genius of the system they would have joined the circus. And nothing else can account for film's decline. It can't be the case that young people today have less genius than young people 50 years ago. Only the genius of the system affords an understanding of how film works.

Instead, auteurism, that great leveller, invites us to think of disparate talents from widely different times and places as one and the same thing, individual genius, without accounting for why there is sometimes more and sometimes less of this to go around.

February 15, 2010 8:52 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Bernd,

I'm not sure, because even in the two examples you cite, there are certainly different forces at play instead of a single unified voice. There's certainly a Wai Ka-Fai and a Johnnie To that exist separately, and they maintain their personalities when they work together; part of what makes the films they make together so good is the interplay between these two approaches and sets of interests.

As for Doyle and Wong: Doyle strikes me less as a creative voice (though he certainly has one) than as an enabler of sorts. He can adapt himself to different aesthetics, but what he maintains from project to project is an impulsiveness. Cinematographers, who fiddle with lights and light-meters and lenses for a living, tend to be fairly reasonable and workmanlike. They're asked to use a vast knowledge of techniques and a particular set of tastes to realize what are often very vague instructions ("Make it a medium shot, with not so many shadows."). But Doyle seems up for anything.

His work with Jarmusch on The Limits of Control highlights this: it doesn't look very different from Jarmusch's other color films, but the approach to filming seems more impulsive. There are moments, like the light passing across the street, that seemed to be shot more spur-of-the-moment than what's usually associated with Jarmusch. Wong's films without Doyle look pretty much like Wong's films with Doyle, only more restrained, less of the impulse for excess that Doyle brings.

February 15, 2010 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Mr. Bernd, indeed, I am thinking the same thing. So often a director's films take on such different forms and moods depending on who they're collaborating with that I prefer to identify who really is, so to speak, "writing" the film (to exhaust all literary metaphors) and more often than not I see cinema as tied to several artistic personalities and their contributions as important as the director's (sometimes even more so). Every star who worked with Curtiz overrode him. Natto Wada is as important as Ichikawa, Schamus as Ang Lee. There are Scorsese and Schoonmaker, Kar Wai and Doyle, Kurosawa and Mifune, von Trier and his actresses. Then there is the case of two directors (the Dardennes, the Quay Brothers, To and Ka-Fai). Or films like A Royal Scandal. I don't know how to reconcile that with the idea of single authorial vision, the cult of the director.

My viewing habits are quite different. Sometimes I seek out directors, sometimes actors and actresses, sometimes studios (Ghibli and several animation studios), sometimes cinematographers and art directors. I find that my interests lie in who works with whom, whose art overlaps with whose, and that is where I prefer to locate cinema rather in someone's single vision or body of work.

February 15, 2010 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Dottie, here's a story for you: when I met Arta Dobroshi, the remarkable star of LORNA'S SILENCE, I asked her (as everyone asks her): how did she cope with having two directors, in the Dardennes? Her answer: "I loved it - because at least one of them was always there for me on set. In my next film, I demand 3 or 4 directors!"

February 15, 2010 2:39 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Dottie: I don't think there's any right or wrong about these things. If you're a viewer who likes movies primarily for reasons associated with direction, then you're closer to the auteurist end of the continuum. If you like movies for a lot of reasons that don't relate to direction, then you're closer to the non-auteurist end. It was a mistake to tag auteurism with the word "theory," because it doesn't explain to viewers why they like things. In my opinion, it's more of a taste, or rather a collection of loosely affiliated tastes.

February 15, 2010 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, either I don't know what you call "the genius of the system" or it only existed in the US, roughly from the 20s to the early 60s. And even there and then, some films wholly escaped from that "genius" (which also mangled, mutilated, compromised or frustrated many films and whole careers). I don't see any system (and much less with "genius") anywere else, not even in Ufa in Germany or Cinecittà in Italy, and certainly not almost everywhere else. Certainly, the system provided many advantages, but also many hindrances and limits. On the other hand, who knows if these "last dinosaurs" are not really the equivalent of Truffauts's "hommes-livres" for a cinema of the future that precisely now can become less dependent on any system and on money. There are already some (certainly potential "authors") filmmakers which make movies almost on their own. And I, for one, prefer that that any system.
Dottie, I don't think there is proof (or even traces) of such an statement as you make about Michael Curtiz, who certainly had much more talent and personality than many "freer" filmmakers today. What you call "teams" are so different in every instance you mention I would not dare jump to any conclusions. Stanley Donen films have more to do with Donen & Kelly films than Gene Kelly's single efforts at directing, and both are different from the films of the team in which there was also the strong presence and style of Arthur Freed, almost a semi-independent unit inside MGM, has Hugh Fordin documented in detail. Although certain frequent and great collaborators with a strong personality may have been of great help to filmmakers, I don't think you can put on the same level Eisenstein and Tissé, Hitchcock and Burks, Hawks and Russell Harlan, Griffith and Bitzer, Godard and Coutard. I happen to find Doyle a very dangerous DP (like Storaro and several others) and his work as director of no interest whatsoever. The fact that over the history of cinema co-directing teams are very unfrequent, despite Hollywood's factory-like penchant for 2nd unit director or retakes or remplacing Cukor with Fleming then Wood and some others (which causes the heterogenous irregularity and drops in rhythm of "Wizard of Oz", "Gone With The Wind" or "Duel in the Sun") seems to me rather revealing, and in most cases there is a division of work extending to production, screenwriting, editing, etc. Only in cases like Huillet-Straub or occassionally Godard-Miéville it seems to me quite fruitful.
Miguel Marías

February 15, 2010 3:59 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, I used the expresson 'genius of the system' only because it had already been bandied about a fair bit on this thread quite a bit. I've never used it before and don't look forward to using it again. But I find it hard to believe you don't know what it means: most basically and generally, a film culture and production context - and not simply Hollywood studios, although there the process may be most vivid. The nouvelle vague happened in France, with a film culture it could fed off of, and not Saskatchewan. Are the French more artistically inclined than the people in Saskatchewan? Nothing indicates that this could be the case.

You prefer people who make films on their own, or something to that effect, but film is not poetry. And even poetry requires 100 bad poets for every good one. It just seems to be a law of nature, or rather of art. There wouldn't have been a Picasso if there hadn't been a lot of bad painters. You know the old joke, right? Stalin calls in the Commissar of Film and says: so, how many films do we produce every year? And the commissar answers: about 80, Comrade Stalin. And Stalin says: and how many of them are any good? The commissar gulps and says, well, about three or four, Comrade Stalin. OK then, Stalin declares, I'm cutting your budget and from now on you're making only the good ones.

Le cinéma, par ailleurs, est une industrie. You won't have those 'authors' you cite continuing to make poem-films if there is no longer an industry. An industry that occasionally produces something of interest, of course.

February 15, 2010 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, I think Girish stated very clearly the issues at the start, and that the first mention of "le génie du système" alluded Bazin and very clearly a Hollywood no longer existing (and for already a very long time). When several persons in the thread have wished for the "end" or "passing out" of "auteurism", I think they referred more to the excesses of some of its later developments (including the dubbing of every first-time director as "author", the "a film by..." syndrome) than to the (for me indisputable) fact that several (if not too many) filmmakers have been or are the "authors" of their films (or, if you prefer, the main influence operating in them), in which cases I think a complete retrospective of their work is very interesting and allows a study of it as an ensemble (particularly in some cases, those Moullet called "auteurs d'oeuvre" against "auteurs de films"; I think every single film by Ozu or Bresson gains by being analyzed comparatively with their other films). This would certainly be not the case with other (most) filmmakers, regardless of their interest and of the qualities of their input (or a more or less part of it). Therefore, I think selective or strict "auteurism" can still be useful, and might become the only useful way of studying present or future films made out of the (non-existing or devoid of much "genius") system, regardless of their more or less wide distribution (such films may circulate on the net or go directly to DVD) in theatres, of their box office results (probably nil) or even their number. Statistically, I see no correlation between the number of films made in a country every year and the number of good or interesting films (either in absolute quantities or as a percentage). Portugal has always produced less films than Spain, much less than the US, and the number of good or very good Portuguese films has been regularly higher (of course, to my tastes). And sorry, but I can't see Dreyer, Bergman, Mizoguchi, Godard, Straub, Satyajit Ray, Nicholas Ray, Lino Brocka, Jean Renoir, Max Ophuls, Otto Preminger, Vincente Minnelli, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Chaplin, Claire Denis, Ida Lupino, Boris Barnet, John Cassavetes, Philippe Garrel or Jean Rouch as very representative or "common products" of any society (in some cases, I'd even wonder which). This does not mean they work neccessarily against or outside their societies (or those in which they work), nor that they are isolated in ivory towers and get their inspiration from heaven, nor do not need good accomplices such as great actors and technicians, nor any other caricature of "Romantic" ideas (film did not even exist them). I'd merely point out that one of the sources of 'early auteurism' was no doubt Alexandre Astruc's dream of the "caméra-stylo", and that that (in the '50s)far-fetched idea seems now nearer to a possibility than ever before. Some think "Avatar" signposts the future of cinema. Were it really so, I would remain interested by films up to that point (like others have ceased to be interested in films made after 1960). But others believe such composite products will perhaps dominate the market but will not prevent works such as being made by Akerman, Varda, Erice, Guerín, Apichatpong, Lav Diaz, Raya Martin, Godard, Garrel, Straub, Benning and (for me, fortunately) really many others. One of the main attractions of cinema has always been its variety, and the possibility of enjoying Ulmer and Bresson, Bava and Rossellini, Godard and Ford, Rouch and Eisenstein, and I hope this variety will not cease to exist.
Miguel Marías

February 16, 2010 7:11 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, when Louis Hochet died Straub and Huillet lamented that there wasn't a single sound technician in the world able to take his place on their films. Watching those films, the uninitiated might think that the sound on them would be the simplest thing in the world to do - they're not exactly full of Hollywood/Euro-trash sound design and effects.

In the early 1980s, the cinematographer Henri Alekan showed up on films by Raúl Ruiz, Wim Wenders and Straub and Huillet, films and directors seen as a current of renewal in a tired European 'art' cinema. At the time, these were directors who best fit your description of making films 'almost on their own'. Yet Alekan was a pure product of the industry, starting work in the 1930s on Renoir et al's La Vie est à nous and as an assistant to Schüfftan on Carné et al's Le Quai des brumes before doing Cocteau's La Belle et la bête and then languishing in the industry for several decades. His 'new' look was important part of these 'hand-made' films by S-H, Wenders and Ruiz. Hand-made, but as part of an industry and reliant upon the resources of that industry. No French classical period of the 30s and 40s - no Alekan - no new look, if you will permit this crude telescoping for the purposes of my argument.

My verification word: lastruc. L'Astruc? La caméra-stylo?

February 16, 2010 7:23 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, my last comment was made before seeing your most recent. Must run, to be continued perhaps.

February 16, 2010 7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, I certainly appreciate as it deserves Hochet's extraordinary sound, but I feel it is equally important and outstanding in every Huillet-Straub film, even when they could not use him. He may have been the best for them, the one who better understood their demands, and when he died they were certainly paying a tribute to him. I am not aware now of Hochet's work for other filmmakers, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was, however efficient and technically proficient, much less interesting. Alekan was a magnificent DP, and a thinker about cinematography as well, but, if my memory does not fail, he was DP in one and a half Wenders films, a couple or so of Ruiz films and another two or three of Straub-Huillet, and I think the contributions of, respectively, Ballhaus, Müller, Schäfer, or Aronovich, or Piccone, Lubtchansky and Berta were at least if not more significant. I feel that Wenders black and white images were more or less the same with either of the three DP mentioned and with Alekan. As for Alekan's languishing, I frankly do not see it, he worked almost every year in his life in the most different kind of films and in very different styles (I'm recalling "Red Sun" or "The Poppy is Also a Flower"), and even as early as 1946 he seemed completely adaptable to such different styles as Cocteau's "La Belle et la Bête" and Clément's "La Bataille du rail", so I'm afraid your example is not very persuasive to me, even if I do not think you pretend Alekan is as important to these three directors as themselves. And I remind you I never deny the interest of having good co-workers, and almost every filmmaker tried to have people with which they worked hand-in-hand. Preminger, Ford, Mann, Hitchcock or Minnelli offer good instances even when they had to choose between the people on contract with Fox, Universal, Paramount or MGM. But if they were not free and had to use another, the difference was not very significant. See Minnelli with Krasner, Ruttenberg, Daniels, Alton, or Preminger with La Shelle, Miller, Leavitt, Shamroy, Griggs.
Miguel Marías

February 16, 2010 12:12 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, you said that you prefer films that are made by people "on their own" or something like that. I merely tried to point out that most films are not made "on their own". Now you seem to be saying that films aren't made on their own, but can be made with "any" "technician". Even if one were to agree with that, it still leaves the question of where these "technicans" come from. A hint: the system.

Word verification: slate, another film term.

February 16, 2010 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Caboose, but I never said films are made by filmmakers "on their own", but only that nowadays such possibility sees more feasible (not neccessarily better, but only more available for those desiring it, or having no other way to work freely, since they are expelled from the "system"). And I never said it did not matter/it was indifferent who were your collaborators, everybody would like to work with people they think the best, have a better understanding with, or are better suited for the film on hand, but I don't think it changes too much if you have to get another (provided it is good enough). Of course, most technicians and actors work (if they want to work continuously and earn their living) inside the system (or whatever remains of or stands for it), although not all of them, and some don't come from the system (I don't think Lubtchansky or Étienne Becker are "industrial" cinematographers, as were not at that point the ones Cassavetes employed). I may prefer (though not on principle) films made by filmmakers working "on their own" (metaphorically) or outside the system once the system has fallen apart and retains (often increased) its limitations and almost none of its virtues. When the system worked, it could hamper some personal, individualistic, innovative or venturous filmmakers (from Stroheim to Welles), but it certainly helped average and even mediocre directors to make at least entertaining, well-made pictures, sometimes even great films. They were commissioned to direct a good, well-structured script, with reliable to outstanding technician and a good cast. That could be called "the genius of the system", perhaps. But that I think is no longer true since around 1964. I don't think a Mervyn LeRoy would be able today to make films as good as "Random Harvest" or "Waterloo Bridge". Sorry, Girish, I never intended to invade your blog with a dialogue between Caboose and myself.
Miguel Marías

February 16, 2010 8:00 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, I guess I misunderstood this comment of yours above:

There are already some (certainly potential "authors") filmmakers which make movies almost on their own. And I, for one, prefer that that any system.

February 16, 2010 8:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, everyone, for this absolutely fascinating discussion! Miguel, you and Caboose are by no means "invading" my blog: you're always welcome to converse here--as little or as much as you like. Dottie, alas, I haven't updated my sidebar in months: I need to do that soon!

February 16, 2010 9:56 PM  
Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...

Phew. What a discussion. One note: I'm currently reading RObin WOod's Hitchcock's film revisited and the 50-page introduction to it seems to be a solid defense of the auteur theory (although modified to a certain extent by Wood) against semiotism/structuralism. A very interesting read. Will try to post excerpts sometime.

February 16, 2010 10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, you misunderstood it, but it was my fault, I should have written "prefer that rather than any system". By which I meant two things, 1) that even in the heydaw of a well-oiled organized industrial system like the Hollywood of the so-called "Golden Age" (where much was mere gilt and often tin or cardboard) the films I really like are those that are different from the majority and have more "individual" traits, and 2) that nowadays that the remains of the system seem to me rather restrictive than helpful, I see the only hope of finding really interesting films in filmmakers (I do not mean exclusively directors) wanting make films they really desire to do, that they have an urge to make (provided they do it well, of course). I can enjoy and appreciate things quite different, both commercially-oriented and "low-brow" like Dolph Lundgren's "Command Performance" or the latest "Rambo" directed by Stallone (regardless of their more or less possible authorship) and supposedly minority or audienceless films like "Histoire(s) du Cinéma" or "Le Genou d'Artemise", and feel disappointed by Straub's "Corneille-Brecht" and by "Avatar" or Spielberg's "War of the Worlds". I do not think an author at the helm guarantees success nor that author-films are automatically superior to craftsman films. That the director is its own screenwriter or/and producer is useless or detrimental if the script is bad and he's uncritical about his own choices and decisions. But I also think that an unenjoyable movie while you watch it or a failure or a botched-up re-edited film like Minnelli's "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever" or "A Matter of Time" can be enlightening/revealing about its director and quite interesting when you think about it and recognize its thematic/ formal (they are or should be linked) connections with his other films.
Miguel Marías

February 17, 2010 5:54 AM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

Last call for me on this lengthy discussion. Sorry I've been away.

Mr. Sallitt, I think you nailed it for me brilliantly. As a theory, there is so much I find lacking in auteurism. But as a preference for a way to watch movies, yes, it makes perfect sense. Thank you for that.

Mr Adrian, thank you for the little anecdote. It made me smile :)

Thank you everyone for such a lively discussion!

February 18, 2010 7:01 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

After all of this, a strong case has been made in my mind for setting aside the ascription "auteur" except for historical instances, and speaking to the authority or authorial in filmic projects/texts. Since it's been somewhat laid out that a writer is not an author just because he writes and a painter is not a master just because he paints, and--more to our point--a filmmaker is not an author just because he (or she) makes films with stylistic characteristics.

Which leads me to wonder about the qualities of authorship, particularly the presence of authorship (would that be authority?) and the persona creatively practiced with that authority. I say that drawing upon my memories as a young lad when--without having yet heard the term "auteur"--Alfred Hitchcock was the first director I identified as a director because he made such a point of creating a persona around his directorship, which could not be done without his considerable presence. Is the "genius of the system" a recognizable presence?

February 23, 2010 11:57 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

I have one more comment, in support of Michael’s motion to stop using the term “auteur.” Really, isn’t there something...not reactionary, but maybe retrograde about caring who the most conspicuous contributor to a film is? One of the subtler lessons that the auteurist movement had to teach was that it was possible to value the work of an artist who was entangled, and sometimes buried, within an industrial structure. Who’s to say that multiple creative contributions might not exist in parallel within the same work, each one visible depending on where we care to focus our attention? And, given that, who’s to say that the more obvious layer of art is the most valuable one? Proclaiming any one collaborator the auteur of a work seems to me a commitment to stay on the surface, to stop at the first layer of expression that meets the eye.

February 24, 2010 11:32 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

In other words, you get what you look for. Cahiers du Cinema began scratching the surface of performance and found directorial authorship underneath. And though, as has been amply illustrated in this discussion, the industry has commodified the ascription of the auteur so that films can now be sold "as directed by", the industry still has a prediliction for persona and performance. Take, for example, how relatively easy it is to gain access to interview a director, even someone like Bela Tarr or Bruno Dumont, whereas trying to get near a big name star is another junket altogether, and usually a roundtable at that. It's an industry of supply and demand.

But I like what Dan is saying. Someone who writes on film can angle in on many different levels, even though most publicists would prefer red carpet coverage and promotional speak pieces timed to distribution dates.

The way a writer angles in is the perspective. If you choose to stay away from studio product to focus on revivals, or forego lead actors for supporting character actors, the tenor of investigation is vastly altered. And if you choose to see a film for the complicated teamwork it is--hell, the circus it is--than authorship capsizes into the authority of management.

February 25, 2010 12:10 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Mind you, I speak as someone who's far, far on the auteurist side of the continuum: direction is almost always crucial to me. I just don't see the need for a term that means "the noisiest creator on the project," inasmuch as "noisy," however one defines it, isn't the same as "value-creating" or even "interesting."

February 25, 2010 12:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi, Michael, Dan, and others -- This thread has my head humming. Hope to be back with a "follow-up" post soon--likely tomorrow.

February 25, 2010 5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has nobody observed that lately, even in big ads, most often than not you cannot see anywhere the director's name (or it's in so small print you cannot make it out)?
The industry wants to focus attention on personalities? Certainly, it still thinks in terms of the star-system. But only exceptionally they focus on the name of the director, unless the film has no known actors and they are packaging/labelling/selling it as an "auteur" or "indie" film.
I'm still waiting for one advantage of the belief in collective "authorship" or "equalitarian responsability" for a movie. For one, it would end becoming "Sony's latest release" or "Universal's new production" when Sony or Universal might only be its distributing company. But according to the aberrant U.S. regulation, the "author" is the owner/buyer of the film, even if that corporation has had not the slightest influence on the conception or the actual making of the film. See who has the copyright at the end of the credits and who is "defined" as "author": X productions, Inc. (or Universal Pictures) "is the author of this motion picture for the purposes of the Berne Convention and all national laws giving effect thereto".
Miguel Marías

February 25, 2010 7:08 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Miguel opines what I was trying to say much more cogently and practically. "You want to interview Bruno Dumont? Sure. You want to interview Channing Tatum? Get in line."

February 26, 2010 3:17 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I can't recall if this has already been brought up in this discussion or not, but, reading Danni Zuvela's Senses of Cinema interview with James Benning this morning, I was reminded that an argument could be made for "avant-garde" film being about the most authorial you can get; but that, rather than characterizing Benning as an "auteur", Zuvela's description of his body of work as "artist films" seems more fitting. Besides, does the battle to retain authorship over a film require industrial pressures?

February 26, 2010 3:27 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hello, all! I've been under the weather, thus the delayed new post. It should be up in the next day or two...

March 02, 2010 2:58 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Take care of yourself first. Hope you're already feeling better.

BTW, I got a kick out of finding your Wikipedia page. Did you put that up?

March 03, 2010 6:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh heavens no, Maya, I didn't. My mom found it and sent me the link a year or so ago.

I stayed home from work today: tried to drink a lot of herbal tea and sleep all day...

March 03, 2010 6:49 PM  

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