@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.
Woah sorry quad post. Phones amirite? I also don’t know how to/if I can delete them from my phone, but some body should if they can.
…when we watch a movie is a plausible account of the directors intent seems to me to be not only empirically false.
WelI no, I am not saying that either. I know nothing of the director’s intent when I watch it – just the style.
auteurism = directorial “personality” within the films
intentionalism = directorial “intentions” outside the films
So it seems like what the last two posts agree on is that auteur theory is more or less a claim about style, is that right? Here’s my issue with distancing that claim (granting for the moment that that is what auteur theory actually is, which may or may not be right) from intentionalism. Isn’t the claim that there is a particular style to a film that is ultimately traceable back to the auteur predicated on a claim about intentionality, namely that the director INTENDED to do a film or set of films in a certain style? If not, then doesn’t that just reduce auteur theory to the observation of a pattern? And if that’s all auteur theory is, then why is that interesting?
This from David Cronenberg, discussing auteurism with Andrew O’Hehir. I admit that this quote comes note directly from the interview, but from Jim Emerson’s blog, which discusses aspects of the interview.
As a director you’re literally making 2,000 decisions a day, and no one else is going to make those same decisions. So it’s definitely going to be your movie, in the sense that everything filters through your nervous system and your sensibility, and you don’t have to worry about it beyond that. Whether it’s obviously what people think of as a Cronenberg movie or not is irrelevant. And when I’m making a movie I forget all my other movies. It’s as if they don’t exist, other than the craft and the experience, which of course is there. As I say ad nauseam, the movie tells you what it wants, and you give it what it needs, in terms of style, in terms of what lens you choose for the close-ups — the classic long lens, or the more interesting wide-angle lens where the camera’s closer to the person and the background is more in focus than it would be otherwise.
Cronenberg seems to be indicating that overall intention is not necessarily a part of his process. The movie is filtered through the director, which means that his/her imprint is guaranteed regardless of anything else.
So, I think it might be interesting to see directors as filters. We don’t need to latch on to the idea of pattern, because each movie – as Cronenberg indicates – exists as its own thing; if it is connected to other movies it is through…the filter.
Yeah, auteur theory isn’t science with a set of concrete principles. It is observable and verifiable. When I think of Tarkovsky, I think slow tracking shots. I expect that when I watch his films and there isn’t gong to be a lot of rapid editing. Nonetheless, his shot duration dropped after Andrei Rublev, but it is not like I noticed it. I know the neighborhood where he lives, but that doesn’t mean he is always home.
Right, in fact it’s not a proper “theory” per se (it only became that in translation), it’s a politique. It’s a matter of what one chooses to emphasize as a viewer.
" Isn’t the claim that there is a particular style to a film that is ultimately traceable back to the auteur predicated on a claim about intentionality, namely that the director INTENDED to do a film or set of films in a certain style?"
Is personality completely intentional?
Well you’ve ignored the second part of that dilemma, namely that if auteur theory is merely observing a pattern, which I’m pretty sure you guys have reduced it to, then I don’t know why that’s interesting.
Why emphasize a pattern of personality over your own phenomenology? That’s a second major worry for me, because it does seem like you need to put your own experiences on the backburner in favor of the personality (or whatever you want to call it, style, whatever) of the director if you’re an auteurist.
I’m not sure what the science issue brings to the table here, but if it’s observable and verifiable it does seem like it could potentially be a science. Just a thought.
“Why emphasize a pattern of personality over your own phenomenology? "
How would this be any different from apply any critical theory to a work in retrospect? If I watch a bunch of John Ford films and starting making connections between them (regardless of theoretical apporach), I’m still starting from my own experience of the films.
Since this thread has been rejuvenated recently, let me comment on a few things:
1. The original auteur “theory,” especially as translated into English by Andrew Sarris and Peter Wollen, emphasized Style and THEME. The past few posts have mainly discussed cinematic Techniques, to the exclusion of meaning. Thus, Tarkovsky may be identified by his signature “slow tracking shots” and recurring motifs but also by his spirituality and metaphysical themes.
2. An artistic “personaliy” is different from a “personal personality.” For instance, many filmmakers evince humanistic personas in their themes and technqiues but may be sons-of-bitches in their private lives. So, we shouldn’t necessarily be looking for personal qualities or psycho-biographical aspects of a director’s REAL life (although that sometimes figures in); what is more important is his/her REEL life: what we see and hear on screen as evidence of a directorial “vision” or artistic persona. This is maybe why Wollen started referring to auteurs as “Hitchcock” or “Lang” (in quote marks) to differentiate the artist from the flesh-and-blood human being.
3. Regarding intentionality, I still rely on D. H. Lawrence’s maxim: “Trust the tale and not the teller.” maybe point #2 above takes account of this but I don’t usually look for a director’s conscious INTENT (either in interviews or in his/her films); instead, I look for a film’s meaning and method (Theme and Style) in what I see and hear on screen. I may spot “patterns” — some obvious and some subtle — but that is not a negligible activity.
4. As for the “phenomenology” of the viewing experience, that is a BIG subject with a vast literature behind it, and much disagreement. Serotoninrodin seems to be using the term in the subjective, almost intuitive “feel” or “psychological” reaction one feels when watching a movie. Bazin and Dudley Andrew are the chief exponents of this methodology; Vivian Sobchack is the best representative of the Merleau-Pontyian school of cine-phenomenology, and Alan Casebier and Frank P. Tomasulo represent the Husserlian side. That latter “school” looks at film as a dialectic between screen and spectator, with an emphasis on the dialectic, not on the auteur OR the viewer.
More to follow…
Matt I agree that drawing connections between films is fine and all that and that it can be drawn from your experience regardless of approach, but I think the key question is about attribution. That is, do you care whether or not it is the case that those connections are ultimately traceable back to the particular individual who directed the films? For example, if someone unearthed some old Ford interview where he specifically stated “That connection was utterly unintended and should not be read as meaningful” would you give a shit?
Frank, good stuff through and through. I kind of feel like the meat is in #‘s 3 and 4, since 1 & 2 can absorbed into my questions, mutatis mutandis. That is, I could just as easily ask what the significance is in noticing that Tarkovsky has a specific thematic pattern or preoccupation (instead of simply a stylistic one), other than as a bit of history. To put it another way that more directly addresses #2, I could ask what the significance is in noticing artistic personality pattens. Again, I think the more important question is put counterfactually, as I suggested in my response to Matt. I’m worried about how our interpretive options can or cannot be limited by what we know about the director’s intent, or even what we know about how she generally operates.
I actually take myself more or less to be Husserlian here, though I admit that my views on Husserl are controversial (namely, I think he was basically an internalist and there isn’t a lot of room to read externalism [or strongly object-dependent intentional content] in anything he wrote. at the very least, I take his internalist-leaning insights to be most interesting and important). I think, though, that you made a somewhat sneaky slide in your final sentence there (I assume unintentionally). You say you look at film as a dialectic between screen and spectator, which I think is patently the right way to look at things, but then you go on to immediately suggest that the screen and the auteur are one and the same when you say that the emphasis is on the dialectic rather than either of the two parts, auteur or spectator, which suggest the identity of the screen and the auteur. It’s THIS move that I want to reject. I agree that the important thing is the relationship between the screen and the viewer, but I also think that the relationship between the auteur and the viewer, if there is one, is A) certainly not identical to this former relationship, and B) has little or nothing to do with the former.
If auteur theory is somehow distinct from intentionalism, then someone needs to explain why.
That specific why has been explained in hundreds of treatises. You’re half-armed with some undergrad Continental philosophy classes and you’re on fire. So stop, drop, and roll.
The auteur theory is not a theory; it’s a polemical tool that revolutionized filmmaking and film discourse. Your claim that current cinema academia ignores the auteur theory is a lie, because current cinema academia obsessively reacts to the auteur theory.
Why emphasize a pattern of personality over your own phenomenology?
“Your own phenomenology” !!!! Does this sit in your shelf next to your own physics, your own psychiatry, and your own religion?
namely that if auteur theory is merely observing a pattern
I guess they’re still teaching “Squares and Circles” in film school…
For example, if someone unearthed some old Ford interview where he specifically stated “That connection was utterly unintended and should not be read as meaningful” would you give a shit?
Please tell me that you know that Ford stated this exactly in every interview that he ever gave. And nobody gave a shit.
@ Serotoninronin: Yes, you caught me in a slide I didn’t intend to make in semi-equating the auteur with “what’s on the screen.” From a practical perspective, though, in SOME cases we can attrribute what’s on the screen to the director. especially in avant-garde cinema.
As for Husserl, wasn’t his watchword "_Zu den Sachen selbst_’’ (To the things themselves)? That, plus his critique of psychologism, would suggest an “externalism,” as you call it. Yes, for Husserl, objects were “intended objects,” but they were still objects — not subjective illusions. The same might be said about cinema: we can’t just project subjectively into them, willy-nilly, without mistaking the nature of the filmic object. (We are certainly FREE to use film however we wish — including an emotional reaction — but a strict Husserlian phenomenological “grasping” is a different sort of aesthetic experience than the vague appreciation and “gut reaction” emphasized by Dudley Andrew and others.)
Whoa boy Jerry. You mad? I guess I’ll just take it from the top.
1) I would be interested to know how you divined my personal intellectual history, but I have no interest in doing the credentials thing here, so I won’t bother correcting you. That’s cool that this has been just beaten into the ground ad nauseam by an uncountable number of treatises. Hook me up with one bro and this will all totally go away. So let me get this totally straight: the theory is NOT A THEORY. That’s some deep shit man. Are self-contradictory claims totally in right now? Of course it revolutionized criticism and filmmaking. Did I say that it didn’t somewhere? That was never my question. And congratulations you caught me in a poor choice of words. Instead of “ignores” I admit I probably should have said something like “rarely explicitly advocates.” And if you’re going to accuse me of lying, please provide evidence that I had explicit knowledge that I was saying something false and intended to deceive.
2) Interesting. Phenomenology is like physics now? Last time I checked, phenomenology was pretty much definitionally subjective. Why doesn’t it make sense to refer to something like that as “your”? One of these things it not like the others (religion probably doesn’t fit either).
3) Please note the “if” in the sentence.
4) You seem to be a generally uncharitable dude, but this is particularly egregious. I was addressing a specific individual about his specific views in a specific counterfactual scenario. I wanted to know if, if Ford had explicitly denied MATT’S SPECIFIC INTERPRETATION, if MATT would have cared. I didn’t ask if Ford had ever commented on any interpretations of any of his films.
So I see that you’re in Lubbock. We should get together and chat this out over a beer or some shit.
True, everyone says that films are an auteur medium. To contradict this seems absurd. But…at the same time mainstream films from the States are made as if the auteur theory is nonsense.
Film is a medium only in existence for a little over a hundred years, yet the amount of lost films and, more pertinent to this discussion, unrealised projects, are innumerable. In other words, I may sit in my film executive’s office and say that Carl Theodor Dreyer is a genius, but am I going to give him the money he needs to make his film about Jesus? Hell no. It’s this gap between theory and production that is so vast in films in a way it isn’t in, say, literature, because the funds needed to make even a very simple film are huge.
“I wanted to know if, if Ford had explicitly denied MATT’S SPECIFIC INTERPRETATION, if MATT would have cared. I didn’t ask if Ford had ever commented on any interpretations of any of his films.”
My answer would be no because, as Jerry said, Ford did not publicly embrace such readings of his work (to put it mildly).
“I’m worried about how our interpretive options can or cannot be limited by what we know about the director’s intent, or even what we know about how she generally operates.”
Again I have to ask, how would this be any different from any interpretive approach? Or, how even would this be different from simply seeing a number of films by the same director? To paraphrase Robert’s Tarkovsky example, we see a few of his films, and we start to have certain expectations about themes, style, and techniques, which shapes our interaction with films of his we see in the future. This would be limiting our interpretive options too, wouldn’t it?
“It’s THIS move that I want to reject. I agree that the important thing is the relationship between the screen and the viewer, but I also think that the relationship between the auteur and the viewer, if there is one, is A) certainly not identical to this former relationship, and B) has little or nothing to do with the former.”
OK, but this is really just quibbling over terminology, which might be important if we’re doing formal aesthetics, but that’s not really what “la politique des auteurs” was attempting. It was a polemic against “a certain tendency” in the status quo, not a Grand Theory meant to explain everything.
When are you going to write something about Deleuze as you promised, Serotoninronin? :(
@Howard: One of the points of the original politique des auteurs was to valorize Hollywood directors whose vision shown through DESPITE the pressures of the production system. They were aware that many potentially brilliant films would never get made because of commercial considerations but they wanted to praise the filmmakers who demonstrated consistent Themes and Techniques from within an admittedly restrictive studio apparatus.
@Matt: Regarding “OK, but this is really just quibbling over terminology, which might be important if we’re doing formal aesthetics, but that’s not really what “la politique des auteurs” was attempting. It was a polemic against “a certain tendency” in the status quo, not a Grand Theory meant to explain everything.” I know you’re not saying that we have to rely on the original thinking of the “Founders,” but that sort of “strict constructionist” view of Truffaut, Godard, etc. has been expanded and reinterpreted over time (a la the New Testament and the U.S. Constitution) to be more than a “politique.” It’s come to be a method for viewing individual films, their directors, and the cinema as a whole — what Sarris called “the forest and the trees.” That broader view is subject to criticism and revision (and it has been subject to both), but that, it seems to me, is the version of auteurism we mainly deal with today, at least in the U.S. The Founding Fathers’ intentions are often “duly noted” but they are decidedly NOT treated as holy writ. That’s why the phrase “auteur THEORY” has some staying power, even if — by the strict constructionist definition — it’s not appropriate.
ON INTENTIONALITY: I recently met the Coen Brothers and mentioned to them that many of their films utilized an age-old pattern of camera movement — to wit: panning left to right to indicate a positive situation; panning right to left (against the grain, so to speak, because it is the opposite direction of the Western human eye in reading) to connote or foreshadow a negative outcome. They replied that they were not aware of that perceptual theory, even though it is routinely taught in film schools and in aesthetic textbooks. (In fact, they said that they often argue about which way to pan the camera in pre-production and even on set!) My point is that, assuming that pattern is valid for their movies, I would have no problem saying something like, “The camera pans right to left, thereby foreshadowing the character’s demise.” I’m not specifically stating a directorial intentionality to the camera movement but I’m hinting that it has an effect and a meaning. Besides, even IF the Coen Bros. did not CONSCIOUSLY intend the shot to have that meaning, it may well be that their accumulated decades of movie viewing has “taught” them this lesson, whether a professor or a textbook mentioned it or not.
" That broader view is subject to criticism and revision (and it has been subject to both), but that, it seems to me, is the version of auteurism we mainly deal with today, "
Sure, Frank, you’re right there are have been many critiques and permutations. I was simply trying to suggest a way of separating an auteurist approach from formal aesthetics without having to recap the complete history of this mode of thinking. It didn’t start out as academic discourse . . . neither Sarris nor Truffaut were academics, nor were they particularly strongly aligned with one another in subsequent practice, so already you have a somewhat irreconcilable branching of interpretation (not really all that unusual in big theories—see the histories of Freudian psychoanalysis, Marxism, deconstruction, etc.).
@ Matt: I’m sort of puzzled by your answer to my question. So you wouldn’t care if Ford specifically denied a particular interpretation you had because he generally denied those kinds of interpretations? I don’t quite follow. And let me change the example again then. What if Ford generally had allowed for interpretive freedom of his work, but had still denied your specific interpretation, would you care then?
It may turn out to be the case that just watching a bunch of films by one director can come to shape what we expect from them (though personally, whatever effect there is seems pretty limited), but what I have a problem with is making that shaping the conscious goal of watching films. I mean here’s an example of what I’m talking about, and it leads to a bigger issue that I still think needs addressing; I’ve always read Cannibal Holocaust as essentially a structuralist film. However, Deodato never made any other films that could conceivably be considered structuralist or avant garde in any substantive way. Indeed, most of his other films are pretty by the numbers genre flicks; the film is unique in his oeuvre even to the point of running counter to many of what we might normally think of as his stylistic and thematic allegiances. There’s a sense, I think, in which it seems like AT is going to say I shouldn’t think of the film that way, since mostly everything else I know about his “artistic personality” fails to come through in the film.
That leads to an issue which I tried to raise before but never really got addressed, namely the question of whether AT is normative or descriptive. It seems to me that it has certainly turned into something, as Frank said, of a method for looking at discrete films rather than remaining as a sort of loose ideological alignment. But if it’s the case that AT can be used as an analytic tool for specific films, then I wonder if it prescribes a certain interpretation or certain set of interpretations that are the only acceptable ones (grounded in some sense in who directed the film) or if all AT can tell us is, more or less, THAT someone directed a film (because these thematic patterns are present or this style is utilized, etc.). Again I think this brings us to a dilemma. First, if it’s normative, there is a further question that must be answered, namely "why should I think that the individual who directed the film has anything to do with (let along authority over) the interpretive options available to me as a viewer. If, on the other hand, it is merely descriptive, then I’m still not convinced that this is intrinsically interesting in any contentful way, other than historically. Here’s a concrete example: Say I watched Cannibal Holocaust for the first time, I missed the opening credits because I was in the kitchen making popcorn and so never saw who directed it (assume I have to run into the bathroom as soon as the final credits start and so I miss it there too). I watch the film and I interpret it in a certain way, say as a structuralist film. I now have my interpretation of the film in hand. Imagine then that, maybe a month later, I find out that it was indeed Deodato who directed the film, and imagine that I have even seen a couple of his other films, and knew that he had made those films. It strikes me that learning this new fact has little impact on the interpretation of Cannibal Holocaust that I had in hand already. I may say something like “Wow, how interesting that Deodato made a structuralist film” but this is, it seems, more or less a purely historical sentiment. A key point: This new knowledge may OPEN UP new interpretations of the film or his other films, and I’m fine with that, but my only concern here is whether or not it has the potential to invalidate the one I already have, and I don’t see how it does.
“What if Ford generally had allowed for interpretive freedom of his work, but had still denied your specific interpretation, would you care then?”
Nope. Art is not an entirely conscious process, so it’s not unusually for an artist to not fully grasp/not be able to completely articulate what they’re doing/have done in a work. Ford liked to mess with people, so you would have to take anything he said about his films seriously at your peril.
“This new knowledge may OPEN UP new interpretations of the film or his other films, and I’m fine with that, but my only concern here is whether or not it has the potential to invalidate the one I already have, and I don’t see how it does.”
I don’t see how it would invalidate an established reading . . . unless one wanted to insist upon applying only one theoretical approach, and that only one reading could be valid at a time (which would be silly).
More on Intentionality or, as it’s called in academe, “the Intentional Fallacy”:
Herman Melville was once asked what Moby-Dick was all about and he said it was “a fish story.”
Do we have to take his word for it? Are we wrong if we see it as an allegory about God and Mankind, or Good and Evil, or as D. H. Lawrence saw it:
“What then is Moby Dick? He is the deepest blood-being of the white race; he is our deepest blood-nature.
And he is hunted, hunted, hunted by the maniacal fanaticism of our white mental consciousness. We want to hunt him down. To subject him to our will. And in this maniacal conscious hunt of ourselves we get dark races and pale to help us, red, yellow, and black, east and west, Quaker and fireworshipper, we get them all to help us in this ghastly maniacal hunt which is our doom and our suicide.
The last phallic being of the white man."?
W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley wrote the ground-breaking essay “The Intentional Fallacy” in 1946 (and revised it in 1954). They say, “The design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art.”
In cinema, Fellini often lies (or misremembers things) about his films; Ford denied any deep meanings; Antonioni kept telling me that it was THE CRITIC’s job to analyze his work, not him; Hitchcock avoided discussing his movis in depth UNTIL he was discovered by the Cahiers crowd, and Leni Riefenstahl claimed that her intention was NOT to make Nazi propaganda films. Who ya gonna believe? (And please don’t answer “Ghostbusters”!)
I’m totally in favor of directors who stay mum on meaning. Same with musicians, such as Dylan. and, well, any type of artist. Them being cagey about it is a good idea.
Girlfriend: Bob Dylan was once asked — I think in a Playboy interview — what his songs were about.
And he said that it varied: some were about 4 minutes and others were 8 minutes. One, Desolation Row, was about 15 minutes! Talk about “mum on meaning”…
^ In the mid-Sixties he and Warhol were both on the same wavelength on how to do interviews.
Sorry but I just have to break my vow of silence here on the idea that artists should shut the hell up about their work.
If they want to talk about it, talk about it. If they don’t, then don’t.
I personally find that some people talk very eloquently and revealingly about their process, sometimes in a a wonderfully oblique but comprehensible way, for example, even if they do not talk much about what inspires them (that is personal anyway, and I wouldn’t go very far about being specific in that department myself only because it isn’t relevant to anyone but myself).
But come on, just say you don’t feel comfortable discussing into your work and stop with the pretentious bullshit games that you are “above” your interviewer. That can be so annoying. Be honest and down to earth, for Chrissakes. No one is going to steal your damn soul by asking you about your work.
Warhol was all about playing games on a certain level. Really, BIG deal.
Sorry that sort of stuff just makes me feel hostile to the conception of the “genius artist” that tends to rise up from the mystery of the jerky interview situation. A load of crap.
It’s come to be a method for viewing individual films, their directors, and the cinema as a whole — what Sarris called “the forest and the trees.” That broader view is subject to criticism and revision (and it has been subject to both), but that, it seems to me, is the version of auteurism we mainly deal with today, at least in the U.S.
Among the biggest movers of today’s version of auteurism are Tag Gallagher, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Fred Camper, and Bill Krohn. I would be very interested to read any criticism or revision of these auteurists’ writings.