I tend to think of Pauline Kael as the Lady Bracknell of film criticism. She speaks only in imperatives and using the royal we and never condescends to consider she might be wrong or that there might be alternative viewpoints. Her view that movies are trash would be offensive if it weren’t so ridiculous, and explains much about her not wanting to view a film twice. “To see a movie once may be regarded as a misfortune; to see it again looks like carelessness.” Forty years sifting garbage, poor Pauline.
As to disputing the Auteur theory; tell me what it means nowadays and I’ll tell you if I agree with it or not. It seems to me to a be term desperately in search of a coherent meaning.
whoever originally said that…is a fool…and a big one—-
Apologies to Robert, but, to me, if this is being used as a justification for only seeing a film a single time, it’s confusing the stimulus (the film) with the reponse to the stimulus (the experience of film). Although the film may not change in significant ways, the experience may change greatly due to the experiences that occur in the interim between viewings of a film.
Anyone who’s actually worked on a film know that a director isn’t the sole author. Filmmaking is collaborative, blah blah blah. If you write, direct, act, shoot, design, edit, and score the film, then you have stronger ground to stand on. The auteur theory as it is proposed by the members of this site has more to do with a director exploring similar themes and executing them stylistically in an identifiable way. It has little to do with actual authorship.
f you write, direct, act, shoot, design, edit, and score the film, then you have stronger ground to stand on.
This is the opposite of the Auteur theory, which is based in the supremacy of the mise-en-scene.
Who cares? The auteur theory was an opinion, an idea to convince people that film could be a serious art. It’s basically like this: Mozart was celebrated for his musical genius. He didn’t and couldn’t play every instrument in the orchestra, but he conducted and led them, and I assume chose each of his musicians. He rehearsed them. He was responsible for his music.
Now, his musicians could have been virtuosos, very talented, great technique. But he drew the best out of them with his music, with his leadership. Today, Mozart’s music is still played, and many people follow certain conductors, orchestras and musicians on how well they play so-and-so’s music, but the fact still remains Mozart’s music came from his head and was first realized by him.
The basic idea behind the auteur theory is similar to this. Everyone involved may be very talented on their own, but it’s because of the director having the creation in his head and then leading his crew cohesively to this creation that makes him the author. Others may come up with ideas, and but it’s the director job to make the choice of what stays and what goes.
Now, you could totally disagree with this, and it really doesn’t matter at all, even if you make movies yourself. If you like to make movies this way, that’s great. If it doesn’t work for you, OK. But in my experience, the most controlling and involved directors, the ones that had their obsessive hands over every aspect of the films are usually the best.
But I don’t care if people disagree with me. It isn’t 1960 anymore and the argument is boring.
Just to throw another theoretical spanner into the works – classic auteur theory is out of synch with current theories about reading/interpretation as well as current theories of subjectivity or identity or ‘the individual’ (in this case, the author or director). Barthes and Foucault, in the late 60s, each in their own way (they were, after all, lovers – pillow talk, etc…) challenged the way we think about the ‘author’ as the originator of the meaning of a work. Barthes’s famous essay, ‘The death of the author’ maintains that a text has multiple layers and meanings (not all of which are the deliberate construction of the ‘author’) and that instead of looking to the author for ‘the original intended meaning’, we should look to the readers/viewers for various possible meanings. Foucault’s essay, entitled ‘What is an author?’, suggests that an author is just an intersection of various social and culture discourses (ideas, values, images, ways of thinking, etc) which are circulating at the time – therefore in a sense an author (or auteur) is a mouthpiece rather than a visionary individual or ‘creator’ of meaning.
Personally – even if you take this theory seriously (do you?) – i don’t think this invalidates auteur theory completely, you just have to use it with greater ‘care’, for want of a better word. Even if Coppola, for example, is a product of his environment and embodies a particular discursive formation which draws on his exposure to films and the history of ideas in a particular way – he still does it, i think, in a particular way, and it is this which makes his work worthy of attention. Or something like that… how’s that??
As a delusional person, I still view it as a policy and not a theory – as a suggestion and not a vast generalisation.
@dimitris whoever originally said that…is a fool…and a big one.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine that’s who !
bullshitness and pseudo-intellectuality
Is neuroscience pseudo-intellectual?
don’t think so…..
you notice more and you feel more
not in the mood and din’t fuckin’ comprehend the material
Neuroscientist David Eagleman said nothing about mood and comprehension – uh, btw, that was book.
@ Matt Parks confusing the stimulus (the film) with the reponse to the stimulus (the experience of film)
the experience may change greatly due to the experiences that occur in the interim between viewings of a film.
Of course, Eagleman is saying that perception is enhanced during the first viewing you notice more and you feel more.
When I read what people get from repeated viewings it is mundane details – this must be because they have overcome the novelty.
The best experience of a film is this lost in repeated viewings. One wants is to dialog with the film during the initial viewing: stimulus + response are heightened.
“Neuroscientist David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine that’s who !”
what? another former Anglo-Saxon?
Can you elaborate a bit more on Eagleman’s theories? Too many people from Rosenbaum and Ebert to Dimitris and myself have had experiences where a second viewing has opened up or closed down our feelings about a film, novel, etc.
“When I read what people get from repeated viewings it is mundane details”
Maybe here, but read Phillip Lopate’s article from the May/June 2009 Film Comment a few months back where he and many other critics discuss their new impressions based on re-watching films and I think you’ll find that a lot of people get something out of repeat viewings. Do you think we’re all deluding ourselves?
@ Ana et al.: You are correct that Barthes & Foucault proclaimed “the Death of the Author” (mainly regarding literature) back in the day (Barthes died in 1980 and Foucault in 1984). However, their theories are no longer that “current.” In fact, fewer and fewer people cite them in the scholarly literature. In cinema studies, it became a bit tiresome to always put quotation marks around “Hitchcock,” “Ford,” and “Ozu” to signify that we were not talking about the flesh-and-blood directors but an effect of the text, a constellation of sociocultural discourses.
I think that the field is now more in line with what you say — “i don’t think this invalidates auteur theory completely, you just have to use it with greater ‘care’” And that’s a good thing and a corrective to the original “theory,” especially for professors like me who have to deal with young student egomaniacs who fancy themselves full of great ideas and new cinematic techniques. It’s great to suggest that they are more like antennae, soaking up the cultural detritus of society and then transmitting it back in revised form.
I’ll comment on all this neurobiology stuff after I complete medical school. :-)
I mostly agree with John P.‘s point above: auteur theory was important in the 50s and 60s because film criticism was becoming a mainstream practice and critics (like the theorists of a generation or two before) were worried about establishing film’s credentials as an art. To be an art, there had to be an artist, no?
I feel like today auteurism has sort of reached its limits. Its still useful to conceptualize certain film directors as auteurs (Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scorsese, etc.) because their work is so thematically and stylistically coherent. I think the problem with auteurism today is two-fold:
1) Everyone today is an auteur. The discourse of auteurism has been well-learned by the industry and its apparatuses, so that any director, regardless of consistency, talent, or role (i.e. picking and choosing projects themselves vs. being a hired gun) is used as a focus around which the industry constructs meaning. Does anyone really want to mount an auteurist case for Robert Zemeckis?
2) Auteurism as an idea might be applicable in a number of cases, but its also falling out of favor with most academic film scholars and critics, in part because I think it has reached its limit. What can you really do with an auteurist study? Say, “here’s some themes and stylistic traits of so-and-so.” And then what? I think this is part and parcel of a general movement away from focusing on “the artist” or “the author” in the humanities more generally, as Ana mentioned above.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve actually found genre, that tried and true marketing tactic/meaning making device, to be a much more compelling “classificatory” way of thinking about films.
Adam C’s point #2 above is more in line with current academic thinking, which includes the so-called “cultural studies” approach. Although that methodology is a bit on the wane (all intellectual movements have their rises and falls), it is found in the leading film journals.
Many people on this site would be frustrated with the cultural studies paradigm because it tends to de-emphasize THE FILMS in favor of what is happening around the films: box office receipts, the newspaper and magazine reviews, fan Web sites, branding of directors and stars, political effects, audience demographics. These things certainly have some importance in the scheme of things, but most of us still want to talk about the films and the auteurs, no?
“These things certainly have some importance in the scheme of things, but most of us still want to talk about the films and the auteurs, no?”
if we’re not, we’re putting the cart before the horse. not that both don’t deserve to be studied.
I also think there are two other things that contribute to the ongoing popularity of auteur theory – or a version thereof. One is the fact that literature courses increasingly include film amongst the texts they study and auteur theory is a very neat fit with literary analysis where ‘the author’ still remains the dominant organising principle of much literary study. Teachers or academics used to teaching literature in this way frequently see themselves as being able to comfortably make the transition to an auteur approach to film texts (and their visual codes). The other huge contributing factor is Hollywood – that has harnessed a form of the auteur approach (however distorted) for marketing and branding purposes: ‘from the director of…’ & dvd features which often include interviews with directors and much discussion of their intended meanings for their film creations (which I always watch, I must admit – much more interesting than the actors just doing the ego-stroking thing).
@ Frank PhD: i’m interested to know that in the academic areas which you read Foucault is no longer considered fashionable – although i suppose it does make sense if you are coming from a cultural studies perspective. In critical theory his work on discourse and subjectivity is still considered foundational and is certainly frequently cited in the many fields that would fall under that umbrella. I agree with you on Barthes though – although he certainly has left his mark (surely particularly in cultural studies??) – but i love trotting out the title of his ‘death of the author’ paper simply because it is so wonderfully provocative and is guaranteed to get a reaction.
*The auteur theory was an opinion, an idea to convince people that film could be a serious art. *
Not exactly. Film was already considered a serious art and the Murnaus, Chaplins, Eisensteins, etc. were already considered the authors of their films. The auteur theory as developed by Cahiers was to treat Hollywood genre film specifically as serious art via assessment of the mise-en-scene, as well as to elevate particular French directors above others. The emphasis was that the auteur did NOT need control over elements of production such as screenplay, crew, actors, musical score or final edit.
@ Jerry J.: I think that John P. was partially referring to an effort to convince THE ACADEMIC COMMUNITY that cinema was a serious art form a a whole, and not just the Murnaus, Chaplins, Eisensteins, etc., who were already considered serious artists.
The “theory” was used to try to sneak Hitchcock (witness the late, great Robin Wood’s early book HITCHCOCK’S FILMS, which asked “Should we take Alfred Hitchcock seriously?”), Hawks, and Nicholas Ray under the tent and into the groves of Academe. Auteurism was also used to increase the number of ordinary people who accepted film as art, beyond the cognoscenti who always already appreciated Welles & Eisenstein et al. as creative geniuses.
And, yes, auteurism became a marketing tool for Hollywood cinema after the collapse of the studio system. It was said that “the European cinema gave us auteurs but the studio system gave us STARS.” Well, Hollywood wanted that high-brow audience too, so it started giving us (and promoting) auteurs too: Kubrick, Penn, Altman, Coppola, Scorsese, etc. — the whole “New Hollywood” or “Hollywood Renaissance,” which borrowed many of its themes and techniques from the art cinemas of Europe and Asia.
And, yes, you’re right about the originators’ elevation of mise-en-scene and certain French directors (not the “Tradition of Quality” filmmakers). Thus, like it or not, the argument against the auteur theory based on the collaborative nature of the film medium is somewhat specious because Truffaut and his comrades were writing against directors who made respectable adaptations of literary works, films that emphasized brilliant dialogue and Grand Themes, etc., in favor of those who used CINEMATIC techniques to advance their ideas. Alexandre Astruc’s notion of the camera stylo was perfectly in tune with that notion. (I’m not saying that one can’t argue against the auteur theory based on the contributions of other craftspeople and artists [particularly screenwriters]. I’m just saying that you are ignoring and/or distorting the original Cahiers du cinema definitions when you do so.)
When I read what people get from repeated viewings it is mundane details – this must be because they have overcome the novelty.
The best experience of a film is this lost in repeated viewings. One wants is to dialog with the film during the initial viewing: stimulus + response are heightened.—-
For me at least, unless practiced with extremely disciplined focus, that approach verges on dilettantish. While I understand Eagleman’s contention, memory is still based on attention, and attention is finite even for “new” experiences, especially for those less discrete (in the mathmatical sense) experiences.
it just strikes me as ridiculous. if i like something, why would i want to deny myself the pleasure of repeating it?
on a more specific, professional level, i can’t trust the opinion of someone writing about a film they’ve only seen once. not counting brief, impressionistic reviews. im speaking about scholarly work with some research and scope behind it. purposeful limitation to one viewing seems like an experimental stunt. i need rigorous attention to detail.
No one is saying deny yourself repeated viewings – the significance of what Eagleman said is that it is biological – we are wired for the heightened experience of the new.
My point was that Kael wasn’t insane, she was perceptive – but hey, isn’t that the way with insane people?
@ Mike Spence
The commentary for Hiroshima Mon Amour was done by someone who said he hated the film the first time and after some huge number of viewings declared it a masterpiece.
He obviously went in with baggage – he eventually got up to speed with Godard’s comment?
What do you add on repeated viewings? Is there a destination you hope to arrive at?
ok. if thats the case, yeah. he just had a complicated way of saying (either that, or thank you for simplifying). of course whats new gives us a heightened experience with physical and mental reactions.
Can someone please give me a definition of mise-en-scene that I can wrap my brain around? Everything I’ve read about it seems nebulous and contradictory.
“He obviously went in with baggage – he eventually got up to speed with Godard’s comment?
What do you add on repeated viewings? Is there a destination you hope to arrive at?”
I realize this will sound way too ambiguous and arbitrary but I think you’re approaching this way too mathematically. There is no destination and no number of viewings we can say will get us there. As we learn, experience and grow our ability to appreciate gets stronger and our perspective gets wider. There is no widest until you die.
Think about a 17 year old hearing Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” for the first time. Every ten years or so the song will sound different to him. Does that mean that our opinions and insight don’t count when we are young? No, but it means we must remain open and responsive to revisiting experiences in life and in art that we may not be prepared for initially.
There have been, since Andrew Sarris and a couple of Anglo critics spread the word about the auteur theory in the 60s, many definitions (bastardizations) of what mise-en-scene is.
One thing is for sure – if you believe in mise-en-scene, then you must value the auteur theory. From its conception, they have been inseparable.
I leave you with a quote from Jacques Rivette (1), as well as an extract of an article by Godard, entitled “Montage, Mon Beau Souci”, published on December 1956 in the Cahiers du Cinema (2), both of which might enlighten some in regard to what mise-en-scene is all about:
(1) "Minnelli is regarded as a great director thanks to the slackening of the ‘politique des auteurs’. For François, Jean-Luc and me, the politique consisted of saying that there were only a few filmmakers who merited consideration as auteurs, in the same sense as Balzac or Molière. One play by Molière might be less good than another, but it is vital and exciting in relation to the entire oeuvre. This is true of Renoir, Hitchcock, Lang, Ford, Dreyer, Mizoguchi, Sirk, Ozu… But it’s not true of all filmmakers. Is it true of Minnelli, Walsh or Cukor? I don’t think so. They shot the scripts that the studio assigned them to, with varying levels of interest. Now, in the case of Preminger, where the direction is everything, the politique works. As for Walsh, whenever he was intensely interested in the story or the actors, he became an auteur — and in many other cases, he didn’t. In Minnelli’s case, he was meticulous with the sets, the spaces, the light… but how much did he work with the actors? I loved “Some Came Running” when it came out, just like everybody else, but when I saw it again ten years ago I was taken aback: three great actors and they’re working in a void, with no one watching them or listening to them from behind the camera.
Whereas with Sirk, everything is always filmed. No matter what the script, he’s always a real director. In “Written On the Wind”, there’s that famous Universal staircase, and it’s a real character, just like the one in “Secret Défense” [Rivette’s own 1998 masterpiece]. I chose the house where we filmed because of the staircase. I think that’s where all dramatic loose ends come together, and also where they must resolve themselves."
- from “The Captive Lover: An interview with Jacques Rivette” from http://www.jacques-rivette.com/
(2) "… montage is above all an integral part of mise-en-scene. Only at peril can one be separated from the other. One might as well try to separate the rhythm from the melody. “Elena et les hommes” [Jean Renoir, 1956] and “Mr. Arkadin” [Orson Welles, 1955] are both models of montage because each is a model of mise-en-scene. ’We’ll save it in the cutting room’: a typical producer’s axiom, therefore. The most that efficient editing will give a film, otherwise without interest, is precisely the initial impression of having been directed. Editing can restore to actuality that ephemeral grace neglected by both snob and film-lover or can transform chance into destiny. Can there be any higher praise of what the general public confuses with script construction?
If direction is a look, montage is a heartbeat. To foresee is the characteristic of both: but what one seeks to foresee in space, the other seeks in time. Suppose you notice a young girl in the street who attracts you. You hesitate to follow her. A quarter of a second. How to convey this hesitation? Mise-en-scene will answer the question, ‘How shall I approach her?’ But in order to render explicit the other question, ‘Am I going to love her?’ you are forced to bestow importance on the quarter of a second during which the two questions are born. It may be, therefore that it will be for the montage rather than the mise-en-scene to express both exactly and clearly the life of an idea of its sudden emergence in the course of a story. When? Without playing on words, each time the situation requires it, each time within a shot when a shock effect demands to take the place of an arabesque, each time between one scene and another when the inner continuity of the film enjoins with a change of shot the superimposition of the description of a character on that of the plot. This example shows that talking of mise-en-scene automatically implies montage. When montage effects surpass those of mise-en-scene in efficacy, the beauty of the latter is doubled, the unforeseen unveiling secrets by its charm is an operation analogous to using unknown quantities in mathematics.
Anyone who yields to the temptation of montage yields also to the temptation of the brief shot. How? By making the look a key piece in his game. Cutting on a look is almost the definition of montage, its supreme ambition as well as its submission to mise-en-scene. It is, in effect, to bring out the soul under the spirit, the passion behind the intrigue, to make the heart prevail over the intelligence by destroying the notion of space in favor of that of time. The famous sequence of the cymbals in the remake of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” [Alfred Hitchcock, 1955] is the best proof. Knowing just how long one can make a scene last is already montage, just as thinking about transitions is part of the problem of shooting. Certainly a brilliantly directed film gives the impression of having simply been placed end to end, but a film brilliantly edited gives the impression having suppressed all direction. Cinematographically speaking, granted the different subjects, the battle in “Alexander Nevsky” [Sergei Eisenstein, 1938] is in no way inferior to “The Navigator” [Buster Keaton, 1924]. In other words, to give the impression of duration through movement, of a close shot through a long shot, is one of the aims of mise-en-scene and the opposite of one of those of montage. Invention and improvisation take place in front of the Moviola just as much as it does on the set. Cutting a camera movement in four may prove more effective than keeping it as one shot. An exchange of glances, to revert to our previous example, can only be expressed with sufficient force – when necessary – by editing (…)
(…) The montage, consequently, both denies and prepares the way for the mise-en-scene: the two are interdependent. To direct means to scheme, and one says of a scheme that it is well or badly mounted.
That is why saying that a director should closely supervise the editing of his film come to the same thing as saying that the editor should forsake the smell of glue and celluloid for the heat of the arc lamps. Wandering on the set he will discover exactly where the interest of the scene lies, which are its strong and weak moments, what demands a change of shot, and will therefore not yield to the temptation of cutting simply on movement – the a b c of montage, I admit, provided it is not used too mechanically in the manner of, say, Marguerite Renoir [Jean Renoir’s editor from “La Chienne” to “La Regle du jeu”], who often gives the impression of cutting a scene just as it was going to become interesting. In so doing, the editor would be taking his first steps in direction."
- from “Fine Cuts: The Art of European Film Editing”, a Focal Press book I’m currently reading
I’m with Mike on revisiting experiences, and evolving in life, finding new meanings and details. Of course new experiences will be felt more intensely, Joe Bloggs can tell you that, no need for a neuroscientist’s quote on that one. How well i remember, as if only yesterday, when Professor Cuthbert Collin Davies of Balliol College, Oxford and Visiting lecturer at Wisconsin said to me “happy birthday”. From such a heavyweight intellect i sensed deep rich meanings. And so you can only imagine the intellectual stimulus i received, that kept my little brain cells active for weeks, when renowned psychologist-philosopher and physicist Art Oppenheim IV bade me “good morning”
p.s i’m off out now on a mission of infidelity to my long-suffering wife, as each new woman will be a powerful and illuminating and ever so densely felt experience.
still, it does seem only natural to revisit a source of pleasure- Kael’s abstinence from such repetition is striking
Frank P. Tomasulo, Ph.D. wrote “Many people on this site would be frustrated with the cultural studies paradigm because it tends to de-emphasize THE FILMS in favor of what is happening around the films: box office receipts, the newspaper and magazine reviews, fan Web sites, branding of directors and stars, political effects, audience demographics. These things certainly have some importance in the scheme of things, but most of us still want to talk about the films and the auteurs, no?”
I think there’s a lot of interesting work being done from a perspective that’s influenced by cultural studies but isn’t necessarily “cultural studies” (by this I assume you mean UK style cultural studies) and still focuses very strongly on films themselves – two recent examples being Shocking Representation by Adam Loewenstein or Atomic Light, Shadow Optics by Akira Lippit. I didn’t mean to imply above that auteur theory was useless, only that a) academic film studies has moved away from it, as you note, and b) it doesn’t really interest me. That said, I’m not particularly interested the cultural studies model you describe above, and I think some of the most interesting work lies somewhere in between close attention to films themselves and their social and cultural contexts.
edited for double post.
@Adam C: You’re correct that not ALL cultural studies scholars ignore the films. (My statement said that that approach “tends” to de-emphasize the films, so I hedged my bets to cover the exceptional cases.)
I know Adam Lowenstein from the cinema studies conference circuit and admire his work precisely because he does address movies, as well as cultural concerns that surround those films. I have seen the Akira Lippit book advertised, but with your recommendation I will look into reading it.
I certainly agree with you that some sort of scholarly synthesis of the films, the culture, and (perhaps) a revamped notion of the auteur would be worthwhile. That’s what I often try to do in my own academic writing.
@ Mike Spence:
Okay, I get where you’re coming from.
I must be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, person posting here.
The NPR show was about the perception of time as it relates to aging. Time (perception) passes slowly for the young and quickly for the old. I guessed correctly that it might have to do with experiencing “the new’. i.e. less new means time passes more quickly. Eagleman’s theory incorporated my guess.
Not so prophetically, there is less new when one gets older: our perspective is wider and also deeper by way of greater experience.
I can understand why as Kael aged, she wouldn’t see a film twice – given the new is less the first time, there is much less new the second time, thus no need to see it twice.
In your Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” example, I think you will find the experience won’t change much after a certain age. The brain’s ability to make judgments is formed by age 30. That doesn’t mean one can’t learn more about the song and have a greater appreciation, but without further analytical input one’s judgment probably wont change much by merely re-listening.
…but everyone is different.
@Kenji Just as Kael wouldn’t revisit a film, you don’t revisit your wife…..lol