“There definitely seems to be a double standard at play. I mean”
I get your point Santino, and it can be frustrating, but i’m not sure if i would describe it as a ‘double standard’ exactly. With an auteur, you have a ready made critical framework handy to evaluate their works individually, or the entire corpus as a whole. Naturally there will be adjustments made along the way, esp as more subtle developments occur—and the best auteurs evolve subtly, or even explicitly, over time, make no mistake—but you roughtly have an idea of how to assess their work. Now depeneding on the motives of the assessor, this can either be used to understand the work more ‘objectively’, at least in terms of basic mechanics and what it appears to be actually doing, or it can be used to make excuses. Excuse makers are not limited to fanboys on message boards. Even respected academics play this game, and pile on the academic crystal like it’s going out of style.
However, if a non-auteur, or at least not an obvious or consistent one, makes a few mediocre films, they will be judged by the standard of what they have done previously, so it’s not a blank slate approach every time. It’s just harder to judge the work against what they have previously done in any meaningful way. Unless they tend to be operating within specific genres, and then the ‘auteur’ tag is often liberally, sometimes incorrectly, applied.
So while it’s easier to judge auteurs, essentially because you are judging them against themselves, against an abstract set of criteria established through close text analysis, it does not mean that the director making a whole bunch of films with no immediate links is more ‘complex’ because of it. Occasionally i get the feeling this is what you are trying to say Santino, i could be wrong. or at least that you think the process of analysis is more ‘complex’.
Anyway, the advantage of auteur=stylistic/thematic unity. Although this is an imperfect analogy, it’s like when you meet a person that has a well thought out view of the world, compared to someone that just has the occasional thought or sees the universe as random or whatever. ‘anything goes’. Who are you going to take more interest in? I think auteurs tend to have more of a complex understanding of the world, as well as cinema, and that’s why cinephiles gravitate towards them. whereas, say, ‘craftsman’ types may have a strong view about one or two subjects that they parlay into one or two films, but that’s about it.
So it’s not that the critics are being ‘lazy’ necessarily, they just don’t have as much to work with when attempting to evaluate film makers who don’t fit into the auteur mold.
Also, as a parting thought, how many non-auteurs have gone on to reshape the face of cinema? Barely any.
The preference for auteurs, no matter how annoying, limiting, or exclusionary it may seem, in my opinion, is justifed by historical observation, by virtue of the sheer impact they have exerted on the medium itself.
“Or at least that you think the process of analysis is more ‘complex’.”
Yes, I think it is more complex. And sometimes I wonder if the auteur tag is merely a shortcut for analysis, which is kinda lazy to me. For one, I don’t think most filmmakers go about thinking they are an auteur or not. It’s a fabricated concoction created from people outside the world of production. So I therefore have trouble with this statement:
“I think auteurs tend to have more of a complex understanding of the world, as well as cinema, and that’s why cinephiles gravitate towards them. whereas, say, ‘craftsman’ types may have a strong view about one or two subjects that they parlay into one or two films, but that’s about it.”
I think in certain cases this might be true but it seems to general to hold much weigh in reality. I mean, if we’re to assume someone like Tarantino is an auteur and Lumet is not, do you think Tarantino has a more complex understanding of the world? Or if you don’t like Lumet as an example, pick someone else. Sydney Pollack, maybe.
“So it’s not that the critics are being ‘lazy’ necessarily, they just don’t have as much to work with when attempting to evaluate film makers who don’t fit into the auteur mold.”
Well I would say that if you don’t have “as much to work with” and you take an easy way out, you’re being lazy. I’m not saying it’s easy to evaluate a non-auteur. But I just think each filmmaker should be evaluated on their own merits and not based on whether there’s a bunch of preconceived criteria that some random person developed fifty years ago.
And I should say, most of my favorite filmmakers are probably considered auteurs. So I’m not anti-auteur. But I think people miss quite a bit when they limit themselves to appreciating elements that are more often found in auteurs than non-auteurs.
Really the wider useful role auteur theory has provided cinema criticism and the world is to draw attention to the role of a director as something other than a ‘mere’ craftsman, even if the attempt at defining that role as a ‘stamp’ has been debated to the point of near meaninglessness. Since the director makes ‘all the decisions’ on how a movie ‘looks,’ auteur theory gives the director craftsman or indie arthouse or experimental alike authorship of the piece. Note that ‘all the decisions’ really sort of means ‘final decisions’, since a director typically allows individual collaborate elements to do their own thing such as production designers to decide on set design and props for a coherent ‘look’ or DPs to choose the right lighting to communicate ‘what the director wants’. So contemporary critical auteur theory can indeed misunderstand the role of director in the production by neglecting the very real and very important to understand side of directing, which is basically middle management between the producers and the crew.
In that sense I sympathize with Santino’s point about not understanding the reality of production, but I rarely find auteur theory to be what I would call ‘lazy’. Since the director DOES get final decision, it’s useful to treat everything that appears on screen as the director’s decision. If the director is particularly open about collaboration and lets, say, the DP choose all the angles and shots (happens all the time), that decision is still his decision so he’s responsible for what the DP chooses. Where it’s incomplete is where a critic doesn’t understand the role of the DP, or the production designer, or even sometimes the editor, in the final visual look of the film.
^I agree with that. I don’t mean to say that auteur theory is lazy but more to suggest that it’s somewhat limiting if in fact it deems auteurs more worthy than non-auteurs.
Eh, those are just the same arguments as the arthouse/Hollywood, commercial/independent, entertainment/art, blockbuster/personal false dichotomies using the language of auteur theory. You’ll find it in whatever form, so whatever.
Lol@using Tarantino to refute a generalisation when your boy Lumet utilized a structure for devil knows that only became prominent in a post Tarantino world for crime related films!!!
Pollack doesn’t deserve any more attention than what he gets.
And the auteur theory is very useful for directors that operate outside the studio system, and they are generally(not always) the only ones worth analyzing anyway, at least nowadays.
If most of your favourite directors are auteurs then your complaint seems pretty pointless to me Santino. Maybe you should just take a chill pill and relax!! Nobody here ignores non auteurs it is just that they arent as impressive, hence why most of your favs are auteurs!!!
I rest my case. :-)
What if I told you most of my favorite films were made by non-auteurs? Would that make your head explode?
Nah we can just look at those films individually.without necessarily attributing their success to the competency or brilliance of the director! :-)
Thats when other frameworks.become extraordinarily useful :-)
“how many non-auteurs have gone on to reshape the face of cinema?”
Considering that auteur theory only came about in the late ’50s/early ’60s? Probably quite a few.
Hmmm…a negative tautology.
The lack of circular logic doesn’t feed into itself?
er . . . more like “not x is not x”.
“. seriously, though, that’s a bit of a negative tautology, dontcha think? Anyone who is deemed to have significantly “reshaped” cinema is at some point going to be critically retrofitted with auteurism”
not if the theory is being applied with any degree of rigour.
when the theory came about is irrelevant.
“not if the theory is being applied with any degree of rigour.”
When was it applied (in the way you’re suggesting) with any degree of rigour? Polemics, yes. Theoretically rigour, no.
Rigourously speaking, auteur theory states that it is the director that is the author of a work by providing his or her own stamp. It states director = author. Stephen King is the author of his books just the same as Thomas Pynchon, and both have their styles, but them being ‘author’ doesn’t justify that King is a better/worse/as good author as Pynchon, even if we could distinguish styles as well as decide if we wanted to look into how King has affected the history of writing (which, under our current frame of reference, he has).
The 60s auteurists looked at Hollywood production to make their claims. So if we want to use auteur theory rigourously to justify levels of competence in whether or not a film looks good, claiming ‘auteur’ directors versus ‘non-auteur’ directors is nonsense. If we want to use it non-rigourously, we can use the more popularized modern method of ‘auteurism’ to dictate that an auteur is defined by a competent director that makes good films, in which case Parks’ tautology is present.
Jim Emerson wrote a nice piece on Sarris the other day and this quote from Sarris jumped out at me:
“My own interpretation of the auteur theory was based originally on the weird notion that good movies did not just happen by accident; nor were they the products of some mindless beehive of activity.”
I agree completely with this and I think I appreciate this most about the proliferation of the auteur theory. If a film is good, it’s usually not an accident and more often than not, the credit should go to the director, especially if they’ve established a pattern of consistency in their films.
However this next statement is where I think Sarris is limiting himself:
“I proposed instead a pattern theory in constant flux to explain certain stylistic signs of personal creativity in what had otherwise been dismissed as an industrial assembly line.”
Specifically, I think my issue is Sarris pointing to “certain stylistic signs” as evidence of a director’s stamp. While this can certainly be true and like I said, if you look at a larger body of work and see a pattern, one can surmise it must come from the one constant, which is the director. However I don’t think this is always the case and this is where I think some critics/academics are misguided (although I’m not sure Sarris is one of them as he seemed a lot less dogmatic than his reputation appeared) because it feels like some critics think if those signposts don’t exist or can’t so easily be identified, than the filmmaker either isn’t that great or isn’t an auteur. And that sucks for them because they’re stupid and wrong.