March 12, 2015

What's an Auteur? Here's a Complete Breakdown of the Provocative Rebel Theory

Our most popular and treasured directors tend to have a signature style, that special touch that is all their own, that lets the audience know, right away, whose hands sculpted the films they're watching.

Scorsese, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Lynch -- these kinds of directors are known as auteurs, because their artistic sensibilities are so apparent on the screen. It's a word that most filmmakers know, but the history and theory behind it, probably not, which is why Filmmaker IQ has released a new video hosted by John P. Hess to explain the auteur theory, where it came from, how it affected the cinematic culture, and why it's still important today.

It might seem like a silly thing to talk about -- "Just go out and make movies and stop arguing about who's responsible for what," but this topic can still ruffle plenty of feathers. In fact, one of the most explosive arguments I ever witnessed in college was over whether the director really is the "author" of a film, or if the other artists (DPs, writers, editors, etc.) are equally responsible for its success.

Without wanting to start WWIII right here in an article on an indie filmmaking website, I'll just say that of course directors have an incredible influence in their films, and of course they couldn't do it all on their own. Of course a director is an artistand of course the writers, cinematographers, and editors are too. Perhaps at the end of the day, it's not directors, necessarily, that make great movies, but artists. That's the spirit of the auteur theory -- it's not to put a crown on a hierarchical figure, but to celebrate and honor those who love, respect, and create art.     

Your Comment

8 Comments

I like to sometimes knock some thoughts in my head around concerning auteur theory. I don't know.

Sometimes I think of John Huston. He was responsible for some great movies, but not all of his movies are that good. He seems like he could "get" some stories so well. I think he honestly made "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" better than the book. "Maltese Falcon" is awesome. "Key Largo", "Asphalt Jungle", "The Dead", "Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean", "Red Badge of Courage" (even though it's crippled), "Fat City", "African Queen", "The Misfits", and "The Man who would be King" are all such amazing stories. Most are adapted from literature. I think he might have had one or two original screenplays, but they aren't among his hits. He made a few other movies that just don't seem to have much redeeming value at all. He was most of the time a very perceptive reader of stories, good at getting the essence into the final film product. But I can't imagine trying to shoehorn him into an auteur. He lived a crazy larger than life sort of life. He made some of the best movies ever made. But he isn't big enough to fit into the auteur theory. That's more or less why the theory doesn't work for me all that well. But John Ford makes it. Yeah, he made some great movies, but so many of them have stupid contrived tacked on love stories, where you wish you could excise it from the meatier part of the story. Huston didn't allow that most of the time. Just made the story as entertaining as he could. His "The Killers" stays true to an essence of Hemingway. Hawks "To Have or Have Not" has absolutely no relation to Hemingway's version, other than taking place in the Caribbean. Still a fine, fun movie, but I like to imagine how Huston might have done it. I bet it wouldn't have sacrificed the plot so much. I don't know. I have mixed thoughts on it.

March 13, 2015 at 3:29AM

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Daniel Thoen
ne'er-do-well
220

Sorry, I should add that Huston just did uncredited writing on "The Killers" with Robert Brooks (I love some of his work too) and Anthony Veiller was credited with screenplay, Siodmak directed. I think I got some of the my ideas from the Criterion booklet essay, which I no longer own, so I'm unable to quickly reference it.

March 13, 2015 at 3:39AM

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Daniel Thoen
ne'er-do-well
220

Before anyone else gets the chance, I'm going to point out that I'm an idiot. I didn't realize Criterion has a bunch of those essays available on the internet. Here is the one I was talking about.

http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/505-the-killers-1946

Huston has pride for being called a dirty word by Hemingway. Good stuff.

March 13, 2015 at 2:33PM

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Daniel Thoen
ne'er-do-well
220

Here's a link to an interview of Walter Hill that kinda gets to some similar thoughts about Huston. Whole interview is good. Scroll down (or command f) to Huston / Peckinpah comparison that pretty well illustrates some of my difficulty in taking auteur theory too seriously.

http://thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com/2009/09/walter-hill-hollywood-...

March 13, 2015 at 4:19AM

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Daniel Thoen
ne'er-do-well
220

Fuck the auteur theory. It inflates egos and takes credit for an army of workers.

March 13, 2015 at 9:22AM, Edited March 13, 9:22AM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
647

Takes singular credit*

March 13, 2015 at 9:22AM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
647

The last 2 minutes of this Outstanding passionate presentation by John ( Please take a Bow ) makes a lot of sense in a team environment

March 14, 2015 at 3:54AM

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Arun Meegada
Moviemaker in the Making
433

of course with a few exceptions like Mr. Alfred Hitchcock

March 14, 2015 at 3:57AM

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Arun Meegada
Moviemaker in the Making
433

Definitely, the Auteur Theory is far better than the producer-based one. But, it's ways incomplete when we talk about all that's going on in the process of writing, planning, filming, editing and releasing a movie, as it is obvious that no one can do it alone.

March 15, 2015 at 6:21AM, Edited March 15, 6:21AM

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Alfredo Anton
Student
81