The auteur theory is predicated on the concept that directors should be considered the *real* creators of the films they create. According to theorists, filmmakers have an “authoritative voice,” and should have more say in the production of their films. Although François Truffaut first discussed the concept of auteurism in 1954, not many people now understand the term or the significance.
According to the auteur theory, the director is the creator of a film, a critical notion in film studies. François Truffaut first introduced the word (in relation to the work of French film critic Andre Bazin), and it has since been mostly applied to European and Asian cinema.
This article will provide an overview of classic Auteur Theory, its historical context, and the most current advancements related to auteur filmmakers.
At A Glance
- What is an Auteur?
- What is Auteur Theory?
- The history of Auteur Theory
- What is the Importance of Auteur Theory?
- Auteur Directors vs other Directors
- The rise of Auteur films
- Three components of Auteur Theory
- Modern Directors – Are they Auteurs?
What is an Auteur?
When translated literally, the French word auteur means author in English. The term is typically applied to a film director with complete creative control over their work.
What is Auteur Theory?
François Truffaut, building on the work of French film critic Andre Bazin, coined the term auteur theory to describe his argument that a film’s director should be treated as the film’s creator. There have been various criticisms and discussions on this concept over the years. While some argue that it should be applied to all art, others argue that it should only be applied to visual arts like film.
In his 1954 journal Une certaine tendance du cinéma français (A certain trend in French cinema), Truffaut wrote as a critic for the prominent French publication Cahiers du Cinéma (Cinéma Notebook) and introduced the concept.
Several of the new French directors Truffaut referred to as auteurs were the subject of his writings. He contrasted auteurs with directors of commercial studio films, whom he called “merely metteur en scene” or “stagers” of a script created by someone else. According to Truffaut, the best films were created by directors and writers who could express their individuality via their work. Truffaut referred to this strategy as La Politique des Auteurs (The Policy of the Authors). The French New Wave filmmakers of the era that Truffaut coined La Nouvelle Vague were enthusiastic adopters of Truffaut’s theories on film.
The history of Auteur Theory
The French film critic Andre Bazin, writing in the 1920s, is credited with introducing the concept of auteur theory, the idea that a film’s director, not the actors or writers, is the film’s genuine creator.
Auteur filmmaking emerged in 1940s France as a way to make films quickly and cheaply. Although American film critic Andrew Sarris is credited with coining the term auteur theory, the concept originated with the writings of Andrè Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, who saw a connection between the post-war financial crisis and the desire to create more introspective films. Bazin developed the concept of the caméra-stylo (camera-pen) approach by arguing that the genuine film author is the director responsible for writing the idea, blocking the scenery, and communicating the overall message. Due to the work volume and limited access to funding in Europe’s independent film scene, the auteur theory became widespread.
Some names have become almost synonymous with auteur theory as it is taught in film schools, but this is not officially recognised. It’s spot-on in describing the unique styles employed by several directors. French filmmakers André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc paved the way for directors to have more creative freedom in their films.
What is the Importance of Auteur Theory?
According to the French film term auteur theory, the director is the picture’s principal creative force. Truffaut used auteur theory to distinguish great filmmakers like John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock from “mere craftsmen” of Hollywood.
Numerous directors and critics, including Martin Scorsese and Pauline Kael, have cited Auteur Theory as an inspiration. Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino have all been subjected to this theory’s scrutiny.
Auteur Directors vs other Directors
Films written and produced by auteurs asked profound questions about the nature of humanity and explored complex issues with complexity and expertise. Auteurs, in contrast to most filmmakers (who only adapt scripts created by others), are more likely to write their own screenplays or have a significant hand in the writing of their films.
The rise of Auteur films
Affection for auteur filmmakers and the widespread application of the auteur idea did not really take off until the French New Wave of the 1950s. However, director names got bigger, and the choice of film projects got more flexible.
François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, two of the most influential directors, started developing views on the subject. Later, they caused a stir with sex, plot, and violence that shattered all the norms in low-budget, fast-cut films. Their guerrilla-style shootings used genuine locations, unknown actors, and creative license; finance came from small donations, so they had only themselves to please in terms of substance.
Early Auteur filmmakers
Young, aspiring auteurist filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Peter Bogdanovich, William Friedkin, and many more watched as they “stormed the gates” and went around the studio system. They delved into more personal, dark subjects, remaining true to their original vision despite its shocking violence and otherworldliness. Because of the auteur theory’s widespread popularity, more and more people demand that Hollywood make room for outsider visionaries. These days, the definition of an auteur is up for discussion and individual interpretation.
Even though he didn’t write most of his films, luminaries like Alfred Hitchcock are among the best since their work is instantly recognisable because of the consistent exploration of tension across most of their films. Contrarily, independent filmmaker Richard Linklater has written, directed, and produced every single one of his films, but he changes his approach for each one. Understanding where to draw the line in terms of involvement and what one’s particular abilities are might be advantageous for auteur filmmakers.
Three components of Auteur Theory
According to Andrew Sarris, there are three primary components of auteur theory:
A high level of technical skill
Filmmakers who claim to be auteurs must be technically proficient masters of their medium. An auteur’s involvement in the production of a film spans many departments, each of which requires expert execution.
Compared to other technically proficient filmmakers, an auteur’s distinct personality and style set them apart. Looking at a director’s body of work as a whole often reveals recurring stylistic choices and thematic concerns. Films created by true auteurs may be easily identified as belonging to that person, which is a central component of the auteur theory. In stark contrast to the typical studio directors of the day, who merely adapted scripts for the screen without questioning the originals or providing editorial input, these filmmakers actively engaged with the material.
In general, films directed by auteurs have more to say about the human experience and have more depth of meaning. Artist-driven cinema, as opposed to the purely entertaining spectacles typically created by Hollywood studios, often provides a window into the mind of the director.
Modern Directors – Are they Auteurs?
The jury is still out on whether modern filmmakers fit the criteria of an auteur. Have a look at their profiles below:
- Director Profile: Park Chan-Wook
- Director Profile: Guillermo Del Toro
- Director Profile: Nicolas Winding Refn
- Director Profile: Christopher Nolan
- Director Profile: Quentin Tarantino
- Director Profile: Stanley Kubrick
- Director Profile: Alejandro Jodorowsky
- Director Profile: Michelangelo Antonioni
- The Work of Mike Leigh
- Director Profile: Wes Anderson
- Director Profile: John Carpenter
- Director Profile: Wes Craven
- Director Profile: Edgar Wright
- Director Profile: Hayao Miyazaki
- Director Profile: David Fincher
- Director Profile: David Cronenberg
- Director Profile: Michel Gondry
- Director Profile: Terry Gilliam
- Director Profile: Alfred Hitchcock
- Director Profile: Tim Burton
The auteur theory is used by critics to examine the creative process behind a work of art. For some filmmakers, having complete creative freedom over their projects is the pinnacle of success. Some may see this as just another way of arguing that the filmmaker has too much input in the final product. They think directors should cooperate more with others, such as producers, editors, performers, etc., during production. The ultimate goal is to have films produced by a group rather than a single person who believes they have complete creative control over every aspect of the finished product.
The auteur thesis is not a criticism of teamwork but rather a benchmark for up-and-coming creatives to aim for. An argument could also be made that Auteur status should be extended to creatives within other film roles, including (but not limited to) cinematographers, writers, editors and costume designers with a distinct perspective.