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The Auteur and the Film

March 8th, 2010 by btrachtenberg100

While the nature of the relation between shots reflects the objective understanding that evolved from juxtaposing pictographs. It’s a step forward in a sort of picto-linguistics that facilitates a narrative through a rubric of standards. The theory of the auteur reflects the humanity that the individual brings to the screen. Similar to this shared standard for understanding films that we’ve become accustomed to viewing, the films of a director should be understood in the larger context of the rest of his body of work.
There are many theories regarding the nature of the auteur. Peter Wollen breaks the auteur into one of two categories. There’s the one who stresses style and mise en scene, whose works add depth to the directors existing repertoire because themes are developed from film to film. Then there are those who are metteur en scene; products of adaptation whose works are self contained but shows stylistic consistencies throughout their career. This further fragments the initial division between realist and formalist narrowing the definition of what it means to be a true artist in the celluloid medium.
Andrew Sarris sees the director reflected in three independent continuums; technique, personality, and the interior meaning. (Respectfully synonymous with technician, stylist, and auteur) The technician path most closely resembles Wollen’s metteur en scene. It would seem that Wollen views directors in fixed categories. Whereas Andrew Sarris’ definition is more flexible in this respect that he recognizes that directors vary on more of a continuum within three fixed catagories resulting in more themes and variation. I propose that the actual definition stems from a conflict between the three categories of Sarris, each representing the unconscious desires and conscious intentions of the director resulting in an emerging visual storytelling style that represents the individuality is diffused throughout the directors’ work. This is the auteur.
William Wyler says that if you put fifty directors up to the task of filming the same scene with the same crew, and cast you would have fifty different versions of the same thing. While this is true in the immediate distinction, an auteur is ultimately the way they chronicle themes over time. Jean Renoir describes it best when he says that a director spends his life making one film and his life’s meaning can be derived and understood from the thread throughout his work.
The idea of the auteur can be a dangerous one as well for it creates expectations in the mind of the viewer. One who goes into the film of a director he likes, he is biased towards that film. He may attribute his lack of understanding, not as a weakness in the art, but rather as something he doesn’t understand yet. As Andre Bazin encourages, there should be an objective measure for which a film is compared, then an opinion can be formed. I feel this detracts from art, by standardizing the method of viewing. While it’s true that a name on a film creates expectations, a good film is a good film regardless. This personalization of film art reflects society at a certain time and a person’s genius on a single film may be circumstantial. Nor is a good director’s work always on par. a single work can exist independently. After all, a director may make only one or two films. The auteur arises from personal view that spans across their films over the years and therefore is a separate phenomenon altogether. The individual films must be understood separately, as by themselves and as part of the director’s cannon.

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2 Responses to ' The Auteur and the Film '

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  1.   Vincent Li Sun said,

    on March 14th, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    it is true that the quality of each film should be considered separately and not affected by the authorship since a good director can direct bad films. However, it seems to me that “viewing based on an objective measure” is more likely a theoretical idea. audiences are biased, everyone has their own measurement on the quality of a film as an art; with the expectations created by auteur, we might not be so neutral in real life. therefore, even if a good director made a bad piece, are we really going to hate it? or we will still like it since we like the director’s authorship?

    but indeed, if we would just analyze the films theoretically, it is very true that individual films must be understood separately. but in real life, i think the expectation created by auteur should be considered.

    Vincent Li Sun

  2.   Kam said,

    on March 14th, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I think Film is just intrinsically more personal than most other kinds of art, excepting perhaps music. Most films that aren’t experimental endeavor to show us the world we live in and the lives we lead. For this reason, we are apt to form unrealistic expectations for filmmakers based on previously experiencing their films and finding meaning that relates directly to our lives. Perhaps auteurs are more likely to elicit this response because their work is so personal, whether as a reflection of their personality and soul as Sarris says or by the repetition of themes that reveal a deeper meaning of their life as Wollen and Renoir indicate.

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