ODI! ODI! ODI!
Ugh. My typos in that post could not be corrected (due to the out of date browser I was using at that moment). Stupid…
And no, you are not dragging me back “in,” House, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw those comments.
Now I will go self-flagellate for breaking my own vow…
It’s okay. We’ll keep you, typos and all.
Stop it. You know you guys are like opium. I won’t inhale!
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.
Start with Bazin’s “What is Cinema?,” parts 1 and 2. Then move on to Truffaut’s “Films of My Life” and Dixon’s "The Early Film Criticism of Francois Truffaut. Next is Sarris’s “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968.” Bordwell’s “On the History of Film Style” places the auteur theory in its proper context, and he practices it himself in his Ozu and Dreyer books. Robin Wood’s Hawks and Hitchcock books. Gallagher’s Ford and Rossellini books. I don’t remember a word about “intentionality” from any of them, except for Gallagher, who finds impish delight in contrasting Rossellini’s statements of intentionality with an output that often embraces the opposite.
There is a very simple reason why university film studies departments are mystified by the auteur theory, which is that cinema academia relies on comparative literature as its model. Maybe it makes sense in literature, as the author has traditionally been king, but in cinema it was the opposite: the director was simply a project manager. How does a project manager with zero infrastructure control make art? Through mise-en-scene, of course. This really threw the crit-lit-clits off, because they wanted to corral mise-en-scene into a category of style, or form. But mise-en-scene is a narrative term, as is metteur-en-scene.
Ask 100 crit-lit-clit professors in a film program: How do doors differ between Lubitsch films and Tourneur films? Tally the answers and give a result of the insights. Then ask the same question of 100 auteurists. Tally the answers and give a result of the insights. The difference will be drastic.
Jerry, I was introduced to the theory through the Sarris book. Am I missing key elements by using him as my source?
Also, add me to the Odi should keep posting list.
Jerry, I was introduced to the theory through the Sarris book. Am I missing key elements by using him as my source?
What Sarris did was amazing: using Truffaut as an origin point, he proceeded to rank all American film directors. He’s the patron saint of Mubi lists. But he’s a small part of the Auteur theory. Bazin seeded it and Truffaut institutionalized it. Those are THE key elements.
Thx for the recs J Money. I’ve been through all the Bazin (including what you cite) that I can stomach, the Truffaut, the Sarris, and the Wood on Hitchcock. Not the others though, so I’ll check them out.
That’s sort of a bummer that none of them mention intentionality, because I thought that you were going to give me some insight into, as you put it, the “specific why” that differentiates intentionalism and auteur theory that has been explained so many times. It strikes me that it might be difficult to get too specific about that why if you never even mention one of the terms. Certainly none of the works you listed that I’ve read do it, but maybe the others do. I mean, obviously I agree that the authorship that we want to attribute to the director is going to be something a bit more nebulous than in the case of literature, say (i.e. something more like a personality). So in that direct sense, I observe a difference between auteur theory and intentionalism. My real concern is with the implications of that claim, because it seems to me to land us in a dilemma, neither horn of which would, I imagine, appear very palatable to auteur theorists. On the one hand, this personality talk might just reduce to intentionality. For example, we might recognize the directors personality in some aspect of the camerawork or mise en scene, but at some point those are just going to have to terminate in intentional decisions made by the director (this seems the more plausible account to me), in which case we’re back to square one. On the other hand, one might just maintain that the directorial stamp that filters through is actually entirely unintentional, and so we can avoid the intentionalist questions/problems. If we go down that route, though, I just wonder what’s left of auteur theory. As you said, auteur theory is supposed to give us an account of how the director, specifically, can be the creator of a work of art, and it doesn’t look like this route can get us that. Presumably, an act of creation, if it is to be proper creation in the sense that we can give credit to a creator for it, must be conscious, and therefore intentional. If the director just happens by chance to have some of himself filter through into the film unintentionally, in what sense have we given an account of the director as the creator of the work? Why should she get any strong form of credit for it, beyond what she would normally receive as project manager? Why is she an artist? Just because we can reliably say “Ah, director X was involved in this film” doesn’t mean that this person counts as an auteur (indeed, it has traditionally been a big project of auteur theorists to figure out who counts as an auteur and who doesn’t). Again, this second option almost doesn’t even make sense to me, since it just seems obvious that ultimately the means by which a film is identifiable as having been made by a specific director are just going to wind up back at intentionality.
I think that’s a good insight into the differences between film and lit-crit folk (why the beef with the lit-critters?). However, I’m not sure that the mistake you point out that was (is) usually made with auteur theory can bear all the weight that it needs to in order to be the main factor in film studies departments beefing with auteur theory. I think it can’t bear this weight for two reasons: 1) It’s not clear to me how prevalent this mistake is these days. Every discussion I’ve ever heard about mise en scene in a film class has seemed to take it as a narrative device, although, 2) it also seems clear that the realms of the narrative and the stylistic are not mutually exclusive and often become very tightly entangled. That is to say, even if it were true that all lit-crit folk treated mise en scene as PURELY stylistic (which, again, I don’t think they do), it isn’t obvious that this would be a fatal mistake, given the degree of overlap that can exist between style/form and narrative.
“Why should she get any strong form of credit for it”
Why shouldn’t she . . . who else are you going to give credit to? Every time one goes to discuss or write about a film, should we try to discuss in detail the contributions of the producer, the screenwriter, the director, the cinematographer, the actors, the editor, the composer of the score, the FX artist, the art director, the costume designer, the casting agent, the stuntmen, the camera operators, the colorist . . .
. . . at a certain point, some shorthand is appropriate.
Also, could you define what you mean by “intentionality” for us, because you seem to be using the term pretty loosely.
Despite being an illiterate cinephile, let me attempt…
Author’s intent: something we ignore
Intentionality: something contained in the expression
An Ozu film for example:
Intentionality: in the expression we see references to alcohol. We consider the relationship of alcohol to the characters and Japanese society.
Intent: if Ozu claims they are there because he is an alcoholic. We ignore Ozu’s claim.
But that would be in a perfect world. In the real world, we have Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.
Intentionality: As read by feminists, a feminist exposé.
Author’s intent: Filmic exposé of temporality
We make the judgment on what to ignore based on the ‘aboutness’ of the expression. If an Ozu film were about the perils of alcoholism, then his claim can be accepted. Jeanne Dielman is less problematic to judge now than it would have been in 1975.
OK, but I think what we’re stuck with is a question of a power dynamic in terms of interpretation—Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” post-structuralism, Foucaultian “archeologies,” etc—who’s in control of discourse about a film.
And note too, all, that, regarding intentionality, language matters here. There are significant differences between the following statements:
“I interpret Jeanne Dielmana feminist exposé.”
“Jeanne Dielmana feminist exposé.”
“Akerman intended Jeanne Dielman as a feminist exposé”
“Presumably, an act of creation, if it is to be proper creation in the sense that we can give credit to a creator for it, must be conscious, and therefore intentional. If the director just happens by chance to have some of himself filter through into the film unintentionally, in what sense have we given an account of the director as the creator of the work?”
What percent of a Pollock drip painting is intentional and what percent is unintentional/accidental? Is there a computation we have to make before we can decide if it’s art or just some drunk dude slingin’ paint at a canvas?
Presumably, an act of creation, if it is to be proper creation in the sense that we can give credit to a creator for it, must be conscious, and therefore intentional.
Well, talking about an improper and unintentional creation, Jeanne Dielman is just the thing:
“A lot of it came unconsciously,” added Ms. Akerman, who is now 58. “When I wrote it, it ran like a river.”
NYT, January 16, 2009
Ok I’m in. I cannot resist.
This is mad talk. Of course artists create with intention – deliberately – and of course they ALSO create in the manner of a river running, naturally and without self-consciousness, without a stated or easily understandable purpose, even to themselves.
What is so novel about this? Don’t people who write about others do the same? You can’t be serious if you think that criticism is not a creative exercise on some level that reveals as much about the author as it does about the person they are writing about. This is NOT fetal pig dissection in biology class after all.
What is up with that?
BTW after my recent unexpected rerun with unpleasantness spilled over from an old conflict that took place on the forum some time ago, I want to caution and say that when I post the way I do above it’s because I feel strongly about something and not because I’m looking to get “taken down” or pick a fight or show that I am “out of my league” or purposefully misunderstand or not have carefully read what was said 3000 pages ago and therefore be a target for ridicule.
I just want to say this because writing never gives the full picture of anything and I am not malicious nor am I looking for a malicious encounter just because I write with strong feeling.
I have to state this, even though it may be obvious. If I have to state this after every post which I make, I will do so. But obviously I won’t be making that many posts if I have to do so because everyone, starting with me, will get tired of that.
So I cautiously test the waters here.
You’re a polemic….get over it and join the club.
The issue might be perception:How do doors differ between Lubitsch films and Tourneur films?
Differences, similarities, feelings, thoughts, words, theories, impressions, expressions and the power dynamics thereof.
Moi, a warlike person? lol polemic: from Greek polemikos warlike, hostile, from polemos war.
Ok, I’ll admit I can have that aspect. But I’ll only fight if I believe in the cause. But eventually, I get tired even of that… :D
But perception is at the heart of everything, is it not?… and now I’ll throw myself into the bath of total confusion…
I was at a gallery opening and I got into a uh,… discussion about art. One of the women standing there said:
" Ugh, fighting over art !"
“There are only two things in life worth fighting over, and one of them is art.”
Road to Nowhere is next !!
The Talking Heads song? Just kidding…
@Matt: Re.: “What percent of a Pollock drip painting is intentional and what percent is unintentional/accidental? Is there a computation we have to make before we can decide if it’s art or just some drunk dude slingin’ paint at a canvas?”
Funny you should mention (and include a photo of) Jackson Pollock (“Jack the Dripper”). When I interviewed Antonioni and asked about his intentions, he said, “You can’t ask Jackson Pollock why he painted one part of the canvas red and another black.”
Of course, most cinema is not as abstract as Pollock AND much more time and energy is spent in scripting, pre-planning, pre-production, and making innumerable decisions (conscious or otherwise) in making a major movie than in drippin’ or slingin’ paint onto a canvas.
On a related topic, Chantal Akerman has been visiting filmmaker in residence this year at CCNY, where I teach. She may have WRITTEN Jeanne Dielman like a river but to actually make the film someone had to light it, focus the lenses, block the scenes, edit the l-o-n-g takes together, etc. Most of those activities are not unconscious, although they may rely on unconscious processes — or artistic sensibility.
^ Ha, Antonioni was being ornery with you.
Sure, Frank, not denying that there’s plenty of intentionality involved in various parts of filmmaking, but SerotoninRonin seemed to be suggesting above that an artist can’t take credit for anything that isn’t obviously a result of a specifically conscious intentionality on the part of that artist, when obviously there is, I’ll hazard to say, always a combination of conscious intent and unconscious processing which “runs like a river.”
What about this: can I watch Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and interpret the “white out” at the end in relation to the rest of the film? Does it matter if I know that this was actually an accident rather than a planned effect?
Well now THIS is exactly it. And even if you did know it was an accident, it was deliberately used in the film and therefore the accident became incorporated into the rest of what was thought out.
That is where the “living” part of creating comes in, at least for the artist while in the process of creating.
Once “it” is created, for me anyway, it becomes a little bit dead. That energy is trapped for others to experience (hopefully, any good art anyway has some energy in it for others to experience, it communicates that energy). Perhaps this is also why at a certain point, it becomes irrelevant for the artist to talk about his work. At one point, it meant something, while it was happening. Once it was out, it became something else.
People talk about the transience of film. Really though, the transience is in any kind of art. For the artist, it’s in the performing of it, as it is for the musician.
Then, it becomes something else. The echo of what went on in its creation is there, but not the real thing.
So, it is shared, people interpret it, with or without the experience of the artist as he was in the process of creating it.
This is why I said before that PROCESS is something an artist can always talk about. In a sense, the act of making something is really where the truth lies. To me, anyway. And since that truth can’t ever be captured faithfully, to the letter, all art after a while becomes hollow. It’s not real. If you want to know what is going on with an artist who creates a specific something, in my mind, you have to ask them about their process. There, you can actually get a clue. If they want you too (Antonioni didn’t seem to be the type to want to, at least as far as what Frank said with the interview experience he mentioned).
From what i remember, the original auteur theorists did rely on intention for their explanations. if not, why did the shift to the emphasis on ‘unconscious structures’ occur? Because it was a way of avoiding the question of intent, obviously, and made the critics job much easier.
“Does it matter if I know that this was actually an accident rather than a planned effect?”
it does if you are attributing it to the ‘genius’ of the director in question, yes, of course. If you are trying to explain how it fits into the totality of the experience, then no.
I do not believe intent can be so easily brushed aside. If a director intends to make a certain film, and it’s bad, or not what he/she wanted it to be, then we should not try to do some fancy footwork on his/her behalf. Just let him/her drown in the sea of his/her own failure.
But intent isn’t everything of course, but i think it’s pure arrogance on the viewer’s part to discard it completely. and we can often find other reasons why the film in question is successful, but perhaps not entirely so.
“Hitchcock avoided discussing his movis in depth UNTIL he was discovered by the Cahiers crowd”
HItchcock claims he wasn’t aware of the meanings until they were pointed out to him, then they started influencing his work more consciously
whether one believes him or not is another story.
^ Great post, Joks.
If a director intends to make a certain film, and it’s bad, or not what he wanted it to be, then we should not try to do some fancy footwork on his behalf. Just let him drown in the sea of his own failure.
Btw, i really appreciate directors that talk about the meanings in their work. I don’t always expect specifics, but at least provide a useful ‘guide’ for interpretation. Angelopoulos does this. Greenaway does this, even Menkes does this(not that i’ve seen any of her films unfortunately but i’ve read interviews). Many others do it too.
^ Agreed. Totally.
I agree with the first half of your fist post Joks 100%, and I’m pretty that I don’t disagree with Matt or Odi in any real substantive way either. The only part that I disagree with, and maybe this puts me at odds in some sense with you other two guys too, is the idea that we should just let a bad movie sit as unredeemable. I agree that we shouldn’t just try to dogmatically save a director if he makes a shit movie and he can and should be faulted when he does, BUT this does not mean that there is no interesting interpretive work to be done with the film. I think the point made by Odi earlier about criticism being as much a creative process as the making of art proper is crucial here. Some (probably most) of my favorite films, and, more importantly, the films that I’ve been able to extract the most from philosophically, are pretty miserable by most traditional measures. The point is that the relationship the director stands in to his creation has, in my opinion, literally nothing to do with the relation that I stand in to that same creation. There might as well just not be any film directors when it comes to interpretation and analysis as far as I’m concerned. That is, the films would be exactly as conceptually rich or poor as they are with directors if they had simply popped into existence without ever having been directed. The interpretive possibilities are either in the film or they’re not, and the director has no say in the matter either way. That’s my position.
On the question of what merits artistic credit, Matt, I do believe (and I think everyone else actually does too) that in order for an artist to be credited as the creator of a work of art in any substantive sense, they must be intentionally related to the object in a fairly robust way. I think it just makes sense to say that we don’t give credit to people for creating something if they created it by accident or unintentionally. If I slip and fall into some mud, and I have a really fascinating and beautiful pattern on my shirt when I stand up, nobody would be tempted even for a second to give me credit for creating that pattern. Really though, I don’t think even you actually believe that any director ever works like this. Again, as Frank said, somebody has to shoot the thing, edit the thing, direct the actors, etc. etc. etc. And even in the Akerman example, and even if we stick just to the part that ran like a river, it isn’t clear to me that that is a case of unintentional creation. Presumably she had to write or type some words on a page, and maybe she even made some errors and had to correct them, and presumably these were intentional acts. I mean, she wasn’t in some sort of hypnotic or ecstatic trance when writing the thing. And furthermore, if she were, then I really WOULDN’T think she should get any credit for it.
I think one important aspect of this particular issue that hasn’t been brought out specifically yet is whether or not ‘unconscious’ and ‘unintentional’ can come apart. You seem to think they can’t, since you’re presenting examples of what you yourself call “unconscious” processes and assuming they have implications for intentionality. I admit that I’ve been talking this way myself, but it’s actually, I think, not a cut and dry issue.
Oh, and here is what I mean when I talk about intentionality, at least roughly. For something to have been done intentionally, it has to be the case that the individual who acts to bring about a state of affairs both has the ability and the desire to bring about that state of affairs. If we had asked the individual before they had acted what the world would look like after they acted, if their action were to go as planned, they would describe something very close to what now actually obtains, if their action went as planned, and would describe it with some degree of specificity. Of course there doesn’t have to be perfect specificity, since nobody would expect Pollock to give the exact placement of every line and splotch before making them, but this doesn’t mean he didn’t desire and act to bring about something very close to what was actually brought about.
I’ve been through all the Bazin (including what you cite) that I can stomach.
I’ve been through all the Balzac that I can stomach. At a certain point, you need to realize that your stomach is lesser than Bazin’s stomach.
“. The only part that I disagree with, and maybe this puts me at odds in some sense with you other two guys too, is the idea that we should just let a bad movie sit as unredeemable. I agree that we shouldn’t just try to dogmatically save a director if he makes a shit movie and he can and should be faulted when he does, BUT this does not mean that there is no interesting interpretive work to be done with the film”
I never meant to imply that there is no ‘interesting interpretative work to be done’, esp in the context of auteur theory, because that would be counterintuitive. If an auteur is really an auteur, simlilarities and connections will be made across an entirely body of work. The problem i have is when this ‘interpretative work’ necessary to establish connections becomes, or least appears to take the form of, an excuse, or a revisionist qualitative judgement thinly disguised behind a veil of objectivity.
“I’ve been through all the Balzac that I can stomach. At a certain point, you need to realize that your stomach is lesser than Bazin’s stomach.”
Aaannnnndddd J$ finally jumps the shark into the warm waters of bald appeal to authority.