The Film Artist
The Auteur Theory & Authorship
From Film Theory &
Criticism, Chapter 5, 6th
Edition edited by Leo
Braudy & Marshall Cohen
The Hollywood Studio
• Golden Era 1930-52: It resembled Henry
Ford’s assembly line for the Model A Ford
• How could Hollywood ﬁlms be considered
as ‘art’ when produced in a mechanised
manner of such disparate contributions?
• Film was not the expansion of art but the
debasement of it...
Cahiers du Cinema- ‘On a
Certain Tendency of French Cinema’
• Truffaut argued that the ‘signature’ of a ﬁlm
director (or artist) was discernible to
critics who bothered to look.
• The ‘auteristes’ at Cahiers du Cinema
argued that Jacques Tati, Jean Renoir and
Robert Bresson were all the equal of
France’s literary tradition. later they
expanded their analysis to America,
German and the Soviet Union.
• Argued that the true mark of an auteur
was evident via analysis of the director’s
style or basic motifs that would be
sustained despite changes in
cinematographer, script-writer etc.
Andrew Sarris (U.S.)
• Sees authorship as a criterion of value and
that ‘meaning’ is discernible in the work,
either through style or in basic motifs.
• Created a pantheon of great directors with
12 highlighted, including Chaplin, D.W.
Grifﬁth and Jean Renoir. (Cahiers du
Cinema agreed) as well as reclaiming the
work of Ford, Hawkes and Hitchcock.
• Compare Sarris with Victor Perkins (U.K.)
and a very different quality criterion.
• Sarris responded to the general denigration
of Hollywood by suggesting that artists
were at work, even within the studio
• Emphasised the importance of artistic
control over the work as opposed to
studio control (a contentious point)
Artist v Studio
• At important times in their careers,
Lubitsch, Renoir, Chaplin, Welles & Keaton
all exercised artistic control and at other
times, little control. other critics suggested
that ﬁlms from both eras offered qualities.
• The extent to which their is a correlation
between ﬁlm quality and directorial control
• Other facets of ﬁlm language and method
challenge auteur theory, as well as other
• The metteur-en-scene (Wollen) ﬁlms
merely translated the script.
• Eventually, critics have highlighted the
importance of cinematographers, sound
designers etc. (Kael v Bogdanovich)
• Roland Barthes suggested that Greta
Garbo’s face is both the main object of
interests and the main conveyor of meaning
in most of the ﬁlms in which she appeared.
• Note how the early Russian formalist
theory had completely ignored the
importance of stars in favour of editing and
Richard Dyer- ‘Stars’
• Discusses the importance of stars and the
circulation of their image through
promotion, publicity, reinvention, press
releases, fan based magazines, gossip
• John Ellis suggested how they appeared to
audiences as ordinary
(magazines...especially in today’s mag’s) and
• Pointed to female stars of the 40s who
provided a POV which was capable of
challenging a director’s or script writer’s
• Highlighted importance of Bette Davis,
Rosalind Russell & Katharine Hepburn as all
challenged audience sympathies associated
with previous female stars.
• Mae West, Clint Eastwood, Buster Keaton &
Charlie Chaplin offered a symbiotic
relationship between the star’s onscreen
and offscreen persona, often writing the
script or directing.
• Chaplin even composed his own music...
• Suggests that the auteur theory has
distorted American ﬁlm history to a dozen
or so ‘heroic directors.’
• Argues that if such a claim should be made,
it should be to the producers within the
system (e.g. David O. Selznick) who
organise the collaboration and provide
opportunities for artistry to take place.