An auteur (/ˈtɜːr/; French: [otœʁ], lit. 'author') is an artist, usually a film director, who applies a highly centralized and subjective control to many aspects of a collaborative creative work; in other words, a person equivalent to an author of a novel or a play.[1] The term commonly refers to filmmakers or directors with a recognizable style or thematic preoccupation.[2] Auteurism originated in the French film criticism of the late 1940s as a value system[3] that derives from the film criticism approach of André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc—dubbed auteur theory by the American critic Andrew Sarris.[4][5] The concept was invented to distinguish French New Wave filmmakers from studio-system directors that were part of the Hollywood establishment,[1] and has since been applied to producers of popular music as well as to video game creators.



Even before the auteur theory was clearly defined, the director was considered to be the most important among the people working on a film. Early German film theorist Walter Julius Bloem credited this to film being an art for the masses, and the masses being accustomed to regard someone who gives the final product (in this case, the director) as an artist, and those who contribute before (i.e. screenwriters) as apprentices.[6] [7] Likewise, James Agee, one of the most famous film critics of the 1940s, said that "the best films are personal ones, made by forceful directors".[7]

Around the same time, the French film critics André Bazin and Roger Leenhardt became advocates for the theory that it is the directors who bring the film to life and use the film to express their thoughts and feelings about the subject matter as well as a worldview as an auteur. They emphasised that auteurs can use lighting, camerawork, staging and editing to add to their vision.[8]

Development of theory

The French magazine Cahiers du cinéma was founded in 1951 and quickly became a focal point for discussion on the role of directors in cinema. François Truffaut criticized the prevailing "Cinema of Quality" trend in France in his 1954 essay Une certaine tendance du cinéma français ("A certain tendency in French cinema"). He characterised these films as being made by directors who were faithful to the script, which in turn was usually a faithful adaptation of a literary novel. The director was used only as a metteur en scene, a "stager" who simply adds the performers and pictures to an already completed script.[9] Truffaut argued that the directors who had authority and flexibility over how to realise the script were the ones who made better films. He coined the phrase La politique des auteurs ("The policy of the authors") to describe his view. These discussions took place at the beginning of the French New Wave in cinema.

From 1960, with his first self-directed film The Bellboy, Jerry Lewis was one of the earliest Hollywood studio-system actor-turned-directors to be critiqued as an auteur. His attention to both the business and creative sides of production: writing, directing, lighting, editing and art direction coincided with the rise of the auteur theory. He earned consistent praise by French critics in both Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif. His singular mis-en-scene, and skill behind the camera, was aligned with Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Satyajit Ray. Jean-Luc Godard said, “Jerry the only one in Hollywood doing something different, the only one who isn’t falling in with the established categories, the norms, the principles. ...Lewis is the only one today who’s making courageous films. He’s been able to do it because of his personal genius”.[10]

Popularization and influence

Andrew Sarris coined the phrase "auteur theory" to translate la politique des auteurs and is credited for popularizing it in the United States and English-speaking media. He first used the phrase in his 1962 essay Notes on the Auteur Theory in the journal Film Culture.[11] He began applying its methods to Hollywood films, and expanded his thoughts in his book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929–1968 (1968). The impact of Sarris's work was that critical and public attention on each film focused less on its stars and more on the overall product.[7]

In the 1960s and the 1970s, the filmmaking industry was revitalized by a new generation of directors. Known as the New Hollywood era, these directors were given increased control over their projects.[12][13] Studios showed an increased willingness to let directors take risks.[14] The phase came to end in the 1980s, when high-profile financial failures like Heaven's Gate prompted studios to reassert control. [15]


The auteur theory had detractors from the beginning. Pauline Kael[16] was an early opponent[17][18] and she debated it with Andrew Sarris in the pages of The New Yorker and various film magazines.[19][20] Kael opposed privileging the director and instead argued that a film should be seen as a collaborative process. In her 1971 essay Raising Kane (1971), on Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, she points out how the film made extensive use of the distinctive talents of co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and cinematographer Gregg Toland.[21]

Richard Corliss and David Kipen have argued that writing is more important to a film's success than the directing.[22][23][24] In his 2006 book, Kipen coined the term Schreiber theory to refer to the theory that the screenwriter is the principal author of a film.

Film historian Georges Sadoul pointed out that the main author of a film is not necessarily the director, but can be the main actor, screenwriter, producer, or even the author of the original story (in case of literary adaptations). Also, he argued that the film can be seen only as a work of a collective and not as a work of a single person.[25] Film historian Aljean Harmetz, referring to the creative input of producers and studio executives in classical Hollywood, argues that the auteur theory "collapses against the reality of the studio system".[26]

Some criticize the auteur theory, and the practice of praising auteurs, for being male-dominated. Writing for IndieWire in 2013, Maria Giese noted that pantheons of auteur directors rarely included a single woman.[27] One study says this is merely a result of the broader lack of women directors; for example, in 2016 just 7% of all directors for the top 250 grossing movies were women.[28]


There are references in law,[29] where a directed film is treated as a work of art and the auteur, as the creator of the film, is the original copyright holder. Under European Union law, the film director is considered the author or one of the authors of a film, largely as a result of the influence of auteur theory.[30]

The references of auteur theory are occasionally applied to musicians, musical performers and music producers. From the 1960s, record producer Phil Spector is considered the first auteur among producers of popular music.[31][32] Author Matthew Bannister named him the first "star" producer.[32] Journalist Richard Williams wrote:

Spector created a new concept: the producer as overall director of the creative process, from beginning to end. He took control of everything, he picked the artists, wrote or chose the material, supervised the arrangements, told the singers how to phrase, masterminded all phases of the recording process with the most painful attention to detail, and released the result on his own label.[33]

Another early pop music auteur was the producer-songwriter Brian Wilson,[34] who himself was mentored by Spector.[35] Wilson was one of the first recording artists allowed to act as an entrepreneurial producer, a position he attained thanks to his immediate success with the Beach Boys after signing to Capitol Records in 1962.[36] Before the progressive pop of the late 1960s, performers were typically unable to decide on the artistic content of their music.[37] Wilson became the first rock producer to use the studio as a discrete instrument,[35] thus making the Beach Boys one of the first rock groups to exert studio control.[38] Music producers after the mid 1960s would draw on his influence, setting a precedent that allowed bands and artists to enter a recording studio and act as producers, either autonomously, or in conjunction with other like minds.[34]

Discussing the Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds for The Atlantic, Jason Guriel wrote that Brian Wilson anticipated later auteurs such as Kanye West, as well as "the rise of the producer" and "the modern pop-centric era, which privileges producer over artist and blurs the line between entertainment and art. ... Anytime a band or musician disappears into a studio to contrive an album-length mystery, the ghost of Wilson is hovering near."[39]

Video games

In broadening the use of the terms associated with auteur theory, it has also been applied to the audio-visual environment as encountered in video games. Japanese developer Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear series) is considered to be the first auteur of video games.[40] Those who have been described as auteurs from Japan include Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts series), Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian),[41] Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario series, The Legend of Zelda series),[42] Goichi "Suda51" Suda (Killer7, No More Heroes series),[43] Hidetaka Miyazaki (Souls series),[44] Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy series creator),[45] Yu Suzuki (Out Run, After Burner series, Virtua Fighter series, Shenmue series),[45] and Yasumi Matsuno (Ogre Battle, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics series).[46]

Across the ocean in North America, there have been numerous special video game designers whose games encompassed a wide range of genres. They include Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Psychonauts),[47][48] and Ken Levine (Bioshock, Bioshock: Infinite).[49] Moreover, the auteurs of the time from Europe include Ragnar Tørnquist (Dreamfall: The Longest Journey).[50]

See also


  1. Santas 2002, p. 18.
  2. Min, Joo & Kwak 2003, p. 85.
  3. Caughie 2013, pp. 22–34, 62–66.
  4. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (n.d.). "Auteur theory". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. Sarris, Andrew (Winter 1962–1963). "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" (PDF). Film Culture. 27: 1–8.
  6. Bloem 1924.
  7. Battaglia, James (May 2010). "Everyone's a Critic: Film Criticism Through History and Into the Digital Age". Senior Honors Theses: 32 via Digital Commons.
  8. Thompson & Bordwell 2010, pp. 381–383.
  9. Thompson & Bordwell 2010, p. 382.
  10. Jim Hillier, ed. (1987). Cahiers du Cinema 1960–1968 New Wave, New Cinema, Re-evalutating Hollywood (Godard in interview with Jacques Bontemps, Jean-Louis Comolli, Michel Delahaye, and Jean Narboni). Harvard University Press. p. 295. ISBN 9780674090620.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  11. Sarris, Andrew (Winter 1962–1963). "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962". Film Culture. 27: 1–8.
  12. David A Cook, "Auteur Cinema and the film generation in 70s Hollywood", in The New American Cinema by Jon Lewis (ed), Duke University Press, New York, 1998, pp. 1–4
  13. Stefan Kanfer, The Shock of Freedom in Films, Time Magazine, Dec 8, 1967, Accessed 25 April 2009,
  14. Schatz (1993), pp. 14–16
  15. Final Cut - Dreams And Disaster In The Making Of Heaven's Gate by Steven Bach (Starbrite): Starbite-Internet Archive
  16. The Beginning of the Auteur Theory * Filmmaker IQ
  17. Tommy Wiseau: The Last Auteur-Brows Held High-KyleKallgrenBHH on YouTube
  18. Sarris, Andrew The Auteur Theory-Internet Archive
  19. Powell, Michael (9 July 2009). "A Survivor of Film Criticism's Heroic Age". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 July 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  20. Pauline and Me: Farewell, My Lovely
  21. Kael, Pauline, "Raising Kane", The New Yorker, February 20, 1971.
  22. Kipen, David (2006). The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History, p.38. Melville House ISBN 0-9766583-3-X.
  23. Diane Garrett. "Book Review: The Schreiber Theory". Variety. April 15, 2006.
  24. Weber, Bruce (April 24, 2015). "Richard Corliss, 71, Longtime Film Critic for Time, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
  25. Sadoul 1972.
  26. Aljean Harmetz, Round up the Usual Suspects, p. 29.
  27. Giese, Maria (2013-12-09). "Auteur Directors: Any American Women?". IndieWire. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  28. "Study: Female Filmmakers Lost Ground in 2016". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  30. Kamina 2002, p. 153.
  31. Eisenberg 2005, p. 103.
  32. Bannister 2007, p. 38.
  33. Williams 2003, pp. 15–16.
  34. Edmondson 2013, p. 890.
  35. Cogan & Clark 2003, pp. 32–33.
  36. Butler 2012, p. 225.
  37. Willis 2014, p. 217.
  38. Miller 1992, p. 193.
  39. Guriel, Jason (May 16, 2016). "How Pet Sounds Invented the Modern Pop Album". The Atlantic.
  40. "Hideo Kojima – video gaming's first auteur – Screen Robot". Screen Robot. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  41. Fahey, Rob (9 December 2016). "Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian: The Last of their Kind". Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  42. Paumgarten, Nick (13 December 2010). "Master of Play". The New Yorker. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  43. Williams, G. Christopher (15 February 2010). "Is Suda 51 the Alfred Hitchcock of Video Games?". PopMatters. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  44. Hetfeld, Malindy. "Auteur Theory and Games". Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  45. Minor, Jordan (24 May 2016). "What happened to weird Japanese video game auteurs?". Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  46. blackoak. "Vagrant Story – 1999 Developer Interviews - Ultimania guide book". Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  47. Glasser, A. J. "Brütal Legend: The Auteur's Art". Kotaku. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  48. Rose, Janus (10 February 2012). "Tim Schafer Wants to Make an Adventure Game, the Internet Gives Him $1,000,000". Vice. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  49. Allen, Josh. "Game Changer: Ken Levine". Boston Magazine. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  50. "How the creator of Dreamfall got back to his roots – Polygon". Retrieved 6 April 2017.


Further reading

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