For those who don’t know, in cinema there is something called Auteur Theory in which the director is viewed as the author of a film or the major creative force in a movie. Arising in the French New Wave, first appearing in a magazine called Cahiers du cinema (notebooks of cinema) it continues till our days and I dislike it very much.
It is a way of analyzing movies rather than creating them. To make the story short, a critic looks at a movie poster, sees the name of the director, and then proceeds to evaluate the film in comparison to the director’s other work and what they know about them as a creative.
The reason for its creation was to give cinema credibility in the world of art and storytelling, to remind the public that “the work the filmmaker does with the camera is as the work that the novelist does with their pen,” paraphrased from Alexandre Astruc’s Caméra-Stylo (camera-film) essay.
This theory is always looking for patterns in a director’s work and puts idiosyncratic filmmakers in the highest standard, having achieved technical competence, distinguishable personality and interior meaning. Think, West Anderson, Tarantino, Kubrick, Scorcese, etc.
Even though there are situations in which this framing may help with further analysis- like I used this theory with my article Why we love Taika Waititi(‘s comedy)- at the end of the day, in my opinion, it detracts rather than adds to the magic of cinema.
It has been said that writing is a solitary job and to screenwriters this might also apply after the first or second read through if the director has a say in it (or just doesn’t like them) but, generally speaking film (and also theater) is when and where collaborative storytelling truly shines.
Like Director Sidney Lumet writes in Making Movies (which is a great book if you like films and want to start reading non-fiction since is not text book-like):
“On every movie I’ve done that I thought was really good, a strange phenomenon was reached that surprised both the writer and me.
All of the individual contributions from all of the different departments add up to a total far greater than their individual parts.
Movie making is very much like an orchestra. The addition of various harmonies can change, enlarge and clarify the nature of the theme.”
However what really grates my nerves is the whole erasure that auteur culture creates.
The film industry is not a very diverse industry, with just the topic of gender the Celluloid Ceiling report (that tracks women's involvement in the US most grossing films) found that women made 12% of the directors in 2021 in the highest grossing films. And that’s only counting women & men, there hasn’t been a non-binary filmmaker that has made it to the spotlight (that I know off), though there are non-binary directors.
During the Silent Era a bunch of women became incredible filmmakers however, they were editors not directors and therefore their names were hidden, though a recent online initiative Edited By is changing that. (Read: Hidden Stories: The History of Women Directors).
Other “gendered” positions that do not get as much praise are the script-girl (which can be of any gender): their job is to make sure there aren’t any continuity errors and that things don’t magically disappear or appear on the screen, or the costume designer.
This is all to say that if we look at my examples of “Auteur Directors” (or any list for that matter) we would see that almost if not all of them are white men, with Spike Lee thrown here or there.
Auteur Culture, which is just Auteur Theory but expanded to cinema as a whole, takes a creator like Sally Menke who has edited at least 20 movies directed by Tarantino and attributes her work to him.
As I slowly enter my last year of high school I remember when I first decided that I wanted to study film in college. I jokingly thought that if I had to select a department it would be directing, since then at least the movie would have my name.
Now, after knowing more about how movies are made I still value the job of a director, but they are no author. They are the glue that keeps together all the other jobs: editor, cinematographer, sound designer, production designer, costume designer, production assistant, assistant director and all those other names people don’t stay to read (is okay you have places to go) and critics forget to mention (that is not okay, you’re bad at your job).
There is no Auteur in film, and that is beautiful.
Ari Ochoa Petzo
is a Mexican-Venezuelan bi genderfluid writer. They like dancing to old music and history. In their free time you can find xem trying to coerce their friends to participate in another of their crazy projects.
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