An auteur is a person, usually a director, who was able to stamp his own identity upon a film despite the commercial pressures.
François Truffaut & Cahiers du Cinema
A key article is François Truffaut’s A Tendency in French Cinema (1954).
He objected to the stifling psychological realism typical of French cinema in the post-war period, and how notions of what a French film should be—primarily a literary adaptation—limited its scope.
Truffaut claimed that writers within the French cinema thought that the most important part of the film was the words, and that a director just added some pictures.
The scriptwriters considered their work to be demeaning, and often tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator in their audience. In contrast, Truffaut praised films where the director had contributed to the script and where something truly cinematic was taking place. Primarily this means the look of the film, its mise en scene, and the responsibility.
Metteur en scene:
The director who has technical competence in film directing, but does not add personal style to the aesthetic.
— Andre Bazin
In other works, Bazin says those who do not add personal style are an artisan rather than an artist.
Notes on the Auteur Theory (1962) - Andrew Sarris
Hollywood cinema as worthy of study instead of European art cinema.
The production line of Hollywood offers opportunities for the identification of theme, structures, narratives and aesthetics in films that in turn show the personality of the directory.
The history of these auteurs was also the history of Hollywood.
Good films were made by good directors — bad films by bad directors.
3 Areas of Competence
Technique, personal style and inner meaning: directors as technician, stylist and auteur respectively.
It is possible to for a metteur en scene to improve and become an auteur, or for an auteur to become a metteur en scene.
Auteur Structuralism - Peter Wollen
Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (1969)
- Identity of a director being constructed by the viewer.
- Analysis of directors who have had lengthy careers.
- Directory who keep on making the same film is negative.
- Locating antinomies within the movies of individual directors.
- Opposing sets of ideas, such as culture vs. nature and civilized vs. savage.
- One set of characters do not represent on side of the oppositions — the good guys having the characteristics which society accepts, the bad guys having those that society disapproves of — but that these oppositions shift and unsettle.
Antinomies in Se7en
Civilized vs. savage, moral vs. immoral, detective vs. criminal, hunter vs. hunted, virtue vs. sin, married vs. unmarried, books vs. gun, sane vs. insane and so on.
Somerset’s learning an appreciation of classical music (a taste shared by the security guards in the city library), whereas Mills is shown playing with his dogs for relaxation and needs a set of Cliff’s Notes to understand the literary allusions which are second nature to John Doe. Mills is happy to break the law by kicking down a door to a flat that they don’t have a warrant to enter, and even Somerset’s use of the secret services to discover John Doe’s whereabouts is on the edge of the law.
The modified theory factored in Hollywood’s use of genre languages and inherited narrative structures, and of course interfering studio powers, arguing that detecting a director’s use of these genre codes and conventions and use of themes and structures, either consciously or subconsciously, gives a far deeper analysis of authorship. Mise-en-scene and the personal signature was still acknowledged as being an integral part to discovering authors inside the Hollywood studio system, but they focused their attentions on the more revealing underbelly of subconscious of the film where they would look for a sign of the individual directors style.
Auteur as Unconscious Catalyst
“Auteur theory cannot simply be applied indiscriminately. It does no more than provide one way of decoding a film by specifying what its mechanics are at one level.” Then what other levels can be decoded to display a further understanding of authorship other than simply mise-en-scene and micro-analysis. Wollen argues that Hollywood is unlike any European art cinema in that art films have always been about the personal expression of the individual. The writer,director, produces and such roles would often be the same person thus creating a truly personal cinema. He saw auteurism, not as a substitute to allow this traditional conception of art into Hollywood, but as “network of different statements, crossing and contradicting each other, elaborated into the final coherent version. He saw that film-making, at least in Hollywood, was a collaborative medium and didn’t deny the other influences on the product other than those of the directors. These structures, as he called them, were key to exposing the film’s unconscious.
“To go to cinema, to read books or to listen to music is to be a partisan. Evaluation cannot be impartial. We cannot divorce the problem of codes from the problem of criteria. We cannot passive consumers of films who then stand back to make judgments from above the fray. Judgments are made in the process of looking or reading. There is a sense in which to reject something as unintelligible is to make a judgment. It is to refuse to use a code. This may be right or wrong, but it is not the same thing as decoding a work before applying criteria. A valuable work, a powerful work at least, is one which challenges codes, overthrows established ways of reading or looking, not simply to establish new ones, but to compel an unending dialogue, not at random but productively.”