Frank Tomasulo wrote, “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.”
I have to admit I’ve heard your name before but am unfamiliar with your scholarship. Would you recommend one of your essays (or something by someone else if modesty takes hold) where you’re attempting something of this nature (i.e. trying to combine a cultural approach with a revamped notion of the auteur)? I’d be curious to see how you’re tackling the problem as someone who (as I noted above) finds a lot of auteur studies fairly dull.
Adam: One book that immediately comes to mind is American cinema of the 1970s: themes and variations, edited by Lester Friedman. I have an essay in there on the year 1976 but the other chapters are well-written and insightful.
Friedman’s Introduction spells out the project — integrating textual analysis with cultural studies.
You can access some of it for free through Google Books.
>>as someone who (as I noted above) finds a lot of auteur studies fairly dull<<
It isn’t just auteur studies, Adam. Since cinema became a legitimate focus for study, a lot of the writing on it became powerfully dull. It’s the drawback of academic writing.
I recently finished a book of essys on Pedro Almodovar (which, heaven help me, I have to review) which largely had me wondering if any of these deep thinkers had noticed that the director’s films are fun.
(And Dr. Frank, I’ll provisionally exclude you from that charge. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of your essays but your posts here are certainly not dull, though they are stuffed with information and insight.)
i think academic writing is dull by necessity, to an extent. it tries to explicate, not entertain. so i dont think its so much of a drawback. those that will be entertained by it are those that are interested in deep thinking anyway.
regarding almodovar, i wouldnt be so interested in a writer talking about how his films are “fun”. for one, thats a value judgment, and its not very scientific. its fine for mainstream, popular journalism though.
well i know NO ONE is fucking with Micheal Bay…did you see Transformers? SHIT WAS GANGSTA!
I do find that it’s easier to recognize films by director than by anything else. Occasionally the writers’ tendencies also shine through, for very unique writers like Charlie Kaufman and Ron Moore. But where the writer writes the words, the director interprets them through his own experiential and aesthetic lens, and that’s the first stylistic element you notice.
I do think if you subject a film to overzealous academic scrutiny it not only strips it of all the qualities that make film enjoyable enjoyable in the first place, it distances you from the emotional experience of the film. Additionally, you implicitly cast yourself as the intellectual omniscient, isolating yourself from what meaning the film to people with different life experience than you.
subject a film to overzealous academic scrutiny it not only strips it of all the qualities that make film enjoyable
The overzealous academic scrutiny happens after the film has been watched – it doesn’t strip away anything but enhances the experience.
Quoted for truth. Stop the reactionary anti-scholarship hysteria.
Bobby Wise wrote: "i think academic writing is dull by necessity, to an extent. it tries to explicate, not entertain. so i dont think its so much of a drawback. those that will be entertained by it are those that are interested in deep thinking anyway.
regarding almodovar, i wouldnt be so interested in a writer talking about how his films are “fun”. for one, thats a value judgment, and its not very scientific. its fine for mainstream, popular journalism though."
I agree to an extent. The book Harry Long is reviewing sounds really tedious to me, and I think part of my problem is that much of the writing on film I’ve read that’s particularly dull is is auteurist stuff (and I have to read a fair amount – I’m currently pursuing a PhD). It seems to have become the fallback in almost all film criticism and a large volume of academic writing; and the cultural approach just excites me more, it often seems more thoughtful, i.e. less on autopilot.
I’d be interested in an essay trying to figure out WHY Almodovar’s films are fun. I think even academic writing is suffused with value judgments anyway, even if the veneer is objectivity.
Adam C: One way that Almodovar signals to us that his movies are “fun” is that he elicits slightly exaggerated performances from his actresses & actors. I’m mainly thinking of his early comedies, such as WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. (That’s not an essay, of course, but just one element in the creation of humor in his cinema.)
BTW, where are you studying for your degree?
WHY Almodovar’s films are fun—-
That’s actually a great idea for a thread topic.
why almodovar is fun
he has a sense of high melodrama (like Sirk) mixed with the bizzare.
I could compare him, a bit, to John Waters; his films that are fun have a naughtiness to them but it is a naughtiness with a sense of play and without judgment (Kika for example). The reason he is fun is what is lacking in someone like Todd Solonz (who also explore sexual mores), affection for his characters
Not just the actors, but the plot devices are a bit over the top, and the colors are “feel good” bright, often compared to candy. All of it triggers a pleasurable response even though the films subjects are hardly “feel good” much of the time. How the effects the understanding of each film is a more open question I think.
>>i think academic writing is dull by necessity, to an extent. it tries to explicate, not entertain. so i dont think its so much of a drawback. those that will be entertained by it are those that are interested in deep thinking anyway.<<
There is, I think, part of a truth in there. One certainly doesn’t want to give the impression that Almodovar is all shits ‘n’ giggles with no substance. But any essay that ponderously examined that director’s deeper meanings without also giving a sense of the absurdity does Almodovar a deep disservice. I’ve read a good deal of academic writing on theater, for instance (which used to be my pursuit) and I can’t think of any similar essays on Ionesco, for instance, that didn’t give full recognition to that writer’s absurdity as well as readings of his deeper meanings.
I think there are two things going on in this particular book (and I hastily note that it’s not true of every essay in the collection) is that the writers are conscious (& over-compensating) for film study still being fairly young and therefore still not taken seriously by a good many people) & that Almodovar is equally not taken seriously by a good many people because he’s gay & works primarily in a comedic voice.
@Dr. Frank – I’m doing a doctorate in American Studies at Michigan State, but my background is in Film Studies – my BA and MA are both from the Cinema Studies program at NYU. When I applied to PhD programs, I wanted to do something a bit more interdisciplinary, but since I’ve just fallen back into doing film and media scholarship, I probably should have stayed in a program like that, but its too late now that I’m ABD.
Re: Almodovar – it seems that his most recent film, Broken Embraces, contains a self-conscious reflection on the way his films are meant to be taken. (POTENTIAL SPOILERS) At the end, the film director character has the chance to re-cut the mangled film-within-the-film into the form he wanted, transforming it from a total misfire to something akin to a Almodovar film. That transformation, of course, hinges on the actor’s performances, and I interpret it as a moment where Almodovar recognizes how crucial a particular type of performance is to his films “reading” correctly – i.e. ironic fun, campy, a bit kitschy.
@Adam: We have an M.A. in Cinema Studies from NYU in common, although mine was earned back in the silent era. :-)
@Adam, Matt, Greg, Harry, & Den: Yes, these are all other means by which Almodovar signals the lighter side of his vision of humanity, while still addressing serious issues and themes. He uses both cinematic techniques (colors, costumes, set design, camerawork, music, etc.) and performance tropes (campy acting, comedic “tone”), as well as the narrative structure, dialogue writing, and characterizations to convey that unique feel.
BTW, Almodovar was originally scheduled to direct an episode in the anthology film EROS (2004), which was supposed to be a tribute to Antonioni. He had to bow out due to other commitments and was replaced by (ugh!) Steven Soderbergh! I wish Almodovar had been able to make that short film. It would’ve no doubt been a great accompaniment to Wong Kar-Wei’s episode, THE HAND.
Maybe someone should BUMP any threads on Almodovar that already exist on this Web site. He is indisputably an auteur in terms of the original formulations of the politique and its American offshoots; Almodovar clearly demonstrates consistent themes and cinematic style.
I bumped one if anyone is interested in talking about this further.
what’s your dissertation thesis?
@ Bobby Wise
Well, that’s kind of a bone of contention right now. It’ll likely be about amateur and industrial films and how they negotiated the boundaries between private and public, home and work in the postwar period, as a precursor to the “private lives publicly lived” era of home video and reality TV.
Thanks for taking an interest.
Why are consistency in theme and style important? Aren’t individual films better appreciated on each on their own terms?
Isn’t each film meant to represent a singular kinetic experience? Are we not devaluing this experience by attempting to shoehorn a particular work into a larger oeuvre?
Furthermore, doesn’t the notion of authorship create a cult of personality around the film director, thereby paving the way for canonical thinking, wherein representative films by each so-called “important” director must be included?
Is this not a closed-off way of approaching cinema, not to mention inherently conservative? And since when have the arts benefited from conservatism?
-Why are consistency in theme and style important?-
Well, for one thing, this is practically speaking, how art is normally exhibited and understood. You wouldn’t go into an art museum to look at paintings, for example, and expect them to be hung randomly throughout. Hemingway’s short stories, Gogol’s, Shakespeare’s plays, Emily Dickinson’s poems, are collected and published in a single binding. In art history, context matters. That’s not to say it should be the only factor, of course.
-Aren’t individual films better appreciated on each on their own terms?-
To approach this another way, part of the project of early auteurism was to promote the work of certain directors whose work, film by film, was not being appreciated “on its own terms.”
Late to the party here, but this is something I’m really interested in. The main question that I have, which I haven’t heard addressed here, is whether or not auteur theory is really just a shorthand way of advocating aesthetic intentionalism. If it is, then why bother calling it by a different name, and why doesn’t it fall prey to the well known philosophical problems with intentionalism (Barthes and Foucault are fine examples, but intentionalists also need to deal with Rorty, Derrida, and a host of others). If auteur theory is somehow distinct from intentionalism, then someone needs to explain why. I should say here that I don’t think it will do to say that auteur theory only applies to film. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the relevant arguments for this (the first one that springs to my head is that film is collaborative) can be applied very easily, mutatis mutandis, to literature, music, and at least some non-filmic visual art. That is, there is no obvious reason to think that film is so special in this regard as to necessitate special arguments about interpretive authority. Secondly, if one wants to say something like, “well, auteur theory is actually an argument that it is the director that we should focus on when doing interpretive work, or that the director has some special authority” then it seems like you’re begging the intentionalist question. If auteur theory assumes intentionalism and then argues that the figure whose intentions matter is the director, then it seems to be a pretty weak theory, and is still prey to anti-intentionalist arguments, so the matter will have to be dealt with directly either way.
Another issue that weirds me out is the fact that auteur theory creates such strange philosophical bedfellows. In my experience, most film/media/cultural studies folk align themselves nearly exclusively with what we might call the canonical continental philosophers, deriding the analytics (a stance I share, though my background is in analytic philosophy). However, as has been mentioned, anti-intentionalism is still the main strain of aesthetic thought in continental circles. On the other hand, intentionalism is nearly dogma in analytic aesthetics. The fact that the film folks have alligned themselves with analytic philosophy on this issue isn’t an argument for anything, but it’s an anomaly that I think is worth noting.
This article gives Godard’s rationale:We won the day in having it acknowledged in principle that a film by Hitchcock, for example, is asimportant as a book by Aragon. Film auteurs, thanks to us, have finally entered the history of art.
Godard on Godard, 147. Also see Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, ed. Alain Bergala. (Paris:Editions de l’Etoile, Cahiers du cinéma, 1985),
The author goes on to level several criticisms – with this, maybe, being similar to what you are saying:Thirdly, this logic of history is commonly based on an internal account of historical development that presupposes that the evolution of the film industry is ultimately driven by artistic impulses, and that all material,
institutional, technological, sociological, economic and political changes are secondary to the true “soul” of film history.
As much as I love all the isms being thrown around in academia, they are not helpful while watching films.
My view is that order focuses perception and watching films by director opens up their style to a more effective realization of what they are saying and how they are saying it.
So I say yes to auteurship, rather than wait around for the next André Bazin to say: Hey these mumblecore guys are for REAL !
I respect your position, but if you want to talk about the the phenomenology of the experience of film, it seems counterintuitive to me actually. If you’re worried about robbing from the viewer the subjective rawness of watching a film, a concern that I share (and one that I think justifies on some level the skepticism of academic analysis that has been expressed here. i have the same position about ethics actually, but that’s another discussion), then i’m not sure it makes sense to make watching a film into a treasure hunt for clues that the director has left so we can discern his meaning. It strikes me that fewer things can more effectively limit the interpretive phenomenology of watching a film than keeping the director in mind the entire time. Do you take my meaning?
^ The “auteur” is possible within cinema as well as music because they’re created within time and is thus not mediated by language and dialectics. Have you read your Deleuze? The Time-image is exactly the image the auteur produces, he liberates himself from the norms imposed by language. The succes of the auteur is not to come across with a certain point or opinion, but to start speaking “another language”, to reveal the ambiguity of reality as Bazin would say. While literature reproduces society and order because it “is language which speaks, not the author”, film is not dependent on the linguistic filtration or mediation of reality. The auteur film is thus conscious of its own chaotic shapelessness, it doesn’t try to impose dialectical superstructures upon the formless matter that is film and it doesn’t rely only upon narrative, dialogue or the action-reaction formula imposed on the individual scenes. The non-auteur film, on the other hand, could be transcripted without anything being lost.
Likewise, I respect all approaches and want to be aware of them, but my main interest is an enhancement of perception, I am synthesizing whatever works and not buying into any one approach in toto.
And no, I don’t believe ‘knowing too much’ ruins the experience, quite the opposite.
Do you take my meaning?
Yes, I think we agree auteurism is weak. I offer Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles as an example of another type of interpretive weakness – the overlay of a theory that distorts the perception of the film.
“wait around for the next André Bazin to say: Hey these mumblecore guys are for REAL !”
The critic as auteur?
I love that in that Godard quote above he chose Louis Aragon.
“Does anyone dispute the Auteur Theory any more?”
My friends who work on movies sure do…or at least they often seem to think that NO one is in charge.
@peabody, I certainly didn’t say, nor did I mean to suggest that too much knowledge was the problem, so I apologize if that’s the impression you got. What I meant was that the idea that what we are after, or at least SHOULD be after, when we watch a movie is a plausible account of the directors intent seems to me to be not only empirically false (if we go with the non-normative version of the claim), but also catastrophic in terms of its implications for everything I value about film. Of course that’s a subjective claim and you’re free to value whatever you damn well please about film, but auteur theory seems to me to commit you to abandoning or at least delegitimating your own phenomenology to an external authority, which simply isn’t my bag. I want to talk about Deleuze, but it will have to wait till I’m not on my phone. For now, suffice it to say that I dispute his definition of language.