Evolution Of The Concept Of Auteur Theory

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Auteur Theory is the concept that the director of a film is seen as the major creative force or author of a film more than what the writer of the screenplay is (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica 2019). Instead of the plotline conveying the message of the film, the visual elements of the film, including lighting, blocking, camera placement, and scene length are considered to be what will convey the films message.

Those who support auteur theory further contend that the most cinematically successful films have the unmistakable personal stamp of the director. This theory was developed in the 1950’s as a solution to who is the author of a film, however as this theory, and cinematography has developed, the concept can be seen as less relevant. This paper will explore the ideas of Auteur Theory and its relevance and propose an alternative concept that could be seen as more useful in today’s society.

The concept of Auteur theory has been a part of Film Theory since 1951 and is attributed to a group of French Critics as a part of the French journal Cahiers du Cinema as their solution to the problem for who is the author of a film (Petrie 1991). Auteur theory is apart of film apart, as it can also be seen as the author as personality (Wollen 1969). The concept was known as la politique des auteurs and the idea of this was to shift the focus of the authorial signature in cinema from the writer and the producer, to the director. A true Auteur is a film artist who brings their own style and personality to material in a way as which will transform it into his or her own personal vision. Based on this definition, not all directors qualified as Auteurs, as not all directors will bring their own distinct style to a film. This led to a second concept, metteur en scene.

Metteur en scene is defined as a craftsman, who no matter how skilled they are, can only adapt the concepts of others, meaning that they will just adapt the material given to them, rather than adapting this to be their own style. It is important to note that the distinction between the two concepts was based on America cinema, and the working practices that were used in the studio, as there were directors who were hired to work on particular scripts. Auteur theory was also developed as a method of having film be considered as a serious art form (McIntyre 2012) and by assigning an author to films, the French Critics believed it would allow film to be considered as art.

As Auteur theory was developed to solve the problem of who is the author, it can be seen as a romantic idea of creativity. This is because the theory focuses on natural genius, the creative imagination and emotional spontaneity (Petrie 1991). The concept of an Auteur was developed as the French critics believed film should be seen as art, and serious art needed an artist, so they decided that the director should be seen as the author of films. This allowed the critics to deal with the studio-factory output of Hollywood and attribute the stylistic continuities to the directors (Jarvie 2003). This is a romanticism view, as Romanticism believes that art must be created by an artist, and as the French Critics believed that there had to be an artist behind the art, where the director is the artist and the film is the art.

Wes Anderson is an example of a 21st Century Auteur, and this is seen in his films, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Ashby 2013). Wes Anderson’s style can be described as a cinema of saturation, and while the storylines of his films do occur with the traditional beginning, middle and end, they all have superfluities and distractions throughout. Essentially the films will feature many extra facts that do not count as plot mechanisms or narrative themes.

For example, in the Royal Tenenbaums, additional facts like the age of when Royal bought his house and the time of year aren’t essential to the storyline and aren’t apart of the film. His films will contain unnecessary visual details, extra elements that are added to the films, but the audience is unsure as to why. Anderson chooses to saturate his audience with information. It is because of Wes Anderson’s style, and the characteristics seen in his films, that he can be classified as an Auteur. Wes Anderson is an example of a modern auteur, and therefore the concept of Auteur’s can still be seen as a useful concept.

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Moving away from the idea of Auteurs, and that directors are the authors of films, we come to the idea of Group Creativity and Film as a Committee. Group creativity is distributed cognition where each member of a team contributes an essential part to the solution, and their individual pieces integrate to form the collective product (Sawyer 2012). Whilst this is a general definition, this is true for film, as each team member who works in different areas of the film, for example, the screenwriter, director, actor and editor all contribute their own part of the film to then create the entire film. Group Creativity can be further seen in Paulus and Nijstad’s Group Creativity Model (2003) which provides a start and end process for group creativity. This model explores the individual processes of creativity, and how this will flow into group creativity, focusing on the movement of ideas, knowledge sharing and critical feedback. This model offers five key steps.

This model is generic for creativity and isn’t specific for film. When comparing this model to Csikszentmihalyi’s Systems Model of Creativity, the Group Creativity model can be seen as very different as the Systems Model of Creativity is for individual processes. However, it can be seen that the movement of ideas, knowledge sharing and critical feedback is comparable to the systems model of creativity, as the systems model of creativity identifies the importance of individual, field and domain interactions necessary in creativity (Kerrigan and McIntyre 2019). Group Creativity is a relevant concept for film theory and authorship; however, the concept of Film as a Committee further develops this idea.

Film as a Committee is a concept similar to the idea of group creativity, as it relies on a group of people and their skills to create one collective product, the film. This idea of authorship in film sees the author of the film as a committee, and the concept is likened to a committee report that has been signed by all of the members, and has been overseen and rewritten by the chairman and anyone on the committee who is powerful or assertive enough (Jarvie 2003).

This concept of the committee is who would be involved in the film creation, including the director, producer, editors, camera crew and actors. The concept of Film as a Committee shifts the responsibility of authorship from the director to the idea of group creativity, and still provides a solution to who is the author of a film as the author is now the group who were involved in the film. Film as a Committee also allows the work of those involved in a particular scene to take the praise or the blame, not just the director of the film.

When looking at Csikszentmihalyi’s Systems Model of Creativity in cinematography, Csikszentmihalyi explains the domain, field and person in relation to the creation of a film (Csikszentmihalyi 1995). The domain of Cinematography is related to other artistic domains including theatre, literature and photography, and these domains were combined to create the first movies. The person is the creative individual, who could be a director, screenwriter actor, producer or film editor. This person will then use the already existing domain of Cinematography to bring in their own ideas and change the domain.

The field of cinematography is made up of a group of knowledgeable people in the domain of cinematography who decide whether a new film or technique is worth including in the domain of cinematography and unless the idea is selected by this group, there will be no change and no creativity contributed. This explanation relates to Auteur theory, as the person is bringing their own distinct style to the domain of cinematography to influence the next generation of film makers. Whilst this explanation does relate to Auteur theory as it describes the individual, it can also be used to explain group creativity and the idea of film as a committee, as the person involved can combine with other creative individuals in their domain to create the film.

In conclusion, it can be seen that group creativity is a more useful concept than auteur theory. Auteur theory is a romanticism concept and does not provide a solution for who is the author as there are many authors in films. The author for films should be seen as a committee of people who bring their own strengths and skills to the piece and will then give correct accountability and credit for their work in the film. While there are still modern auteurs, there is an evolving need for group creativity to be recognized as the solution for who is the author in films.

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