The concept of authorship has been a topic of multiple discussions in film theory during the last several decades. Its idea is to analyze the work of directors and authors, investigate their roles, and compare their contributions to a final product. In his article, Naremore says that modern motion pictures are the result of a collaboration between several people, including photographs, choreographs, and writers, and their contributions cannot be ignored as all of them may be called as authors (9). However, despite the volumes of work done, a director is usually the one who is associated with film authorship in a production process. Therefore, film theorists and researchers find it necessary to develop specific approaches in understanding authorship and the distinctions the representations of an auteur or an author in different movies. In this report, attention will be paid to such American and European films like Sullivan’s Travels, Le Mépris, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The value of film authorship theory lies in the importance of explaining the role of a director compared to the work of other participants and evaluating the quality of decisions in a filmmaking process.
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The Essence of the Theory of Film Authorship
During the last several decades, many people who are involved in film studies aim at discussing the idea if it is correct to consider a movie as a commercial benefit or an art form. To introduce one strong opinion, multiple theories were developed at different periods, and a theory of film authorship was one of them. However, after reading the article by James Naremore, one should admit the author’s position is that “the study of authorship is not in itself a theory, only a topic or theme” (9). First policies emerged in France during the 1950s and 1960s and were known as the “politique des auteurs” to canonize “directors in the name of art” (Naremore 9). As soon as Hollywood reached Europe after the German occupation, many French critics, who were also involved in directing, like Astruc, Truffaut, or Godard, were eager to share their attitudes towards the properties of moviemaking. According to Naremore, such auteurists tried to move “from critical writing to filmmaking” (11). Therefore, film authorship was identified as an approach to analyze movies, enhance criticism of directors’ work, and understand the worth of contemporary film studies.
The Value of the Theory
The necessity to introduce film studies as a critical element of moviemaking cannot be ignored. The attempt made by Naremore to discuss the value of the film authorship theory demonstrates how multi-faceted the concept of authorship can be. On the one hand, the author explains why some people believe that authorship and directors should “signify not only persons but also traditions, theories, and genres” (Naremore 9). On the other hand, new manifestations of the auteur theory have to be developed to investigate how different internal aspects could influence filmmaking. One of the lessons shared by Naremore is based on the fact that any author is as real as money, and this position should not be changed even if a director is socially constructed (22). There are many ways of how the “relationship between institutions and artists” are developed, and the concept of authorship includes a dialectical consideration of its dynamics (Naremore 22). The value of the theory under analysis is recognition of the author’s (director’s) skills to combine a variety of elements and factors within one frame that is a movie.
Another aspect of the theory of film authorship is the evaluation of a movie itself, not just the work of a director. According to Naremore, the studies about authors create an opportunity of understanding and differentiating films “more precisely” (22). In the article under analysis, to support his position, the author mentions the names of Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra, the two outstanding American film directors. The application of the authorship theory shows how these individuals introduced their styles and new cultures in moviemaking. Both of them were the directors of silent films, mysteries, and dramas, but their approaches differed. Therefore, the auteur theory is valued due to a thorough investigation of their legacies, visions, and influences on people worldwide.
Identification of an Author
The identification of a single author of a film is a difficult task because it touches upon a variety of issues, concerns, and judgments. In literature, a story is usually written by one person, who has an evident right to be called an author. In cinema, the creation of a movie is a collaborative process with a number of people, including directors, screenwriters, performers, and editors, who perform their tasks and roles according to the deadlines. Regarding the idea of the authorship theory, a film is a result of the director’s work, and it is expected to be a single person. A director remains to be the most important person whose contributions to filmmaking cannot be ignored (Dixon and Foster 187). For example, there is a group of editors, sound engineers, or composers who work on the same movie. When some point has to be clarified, all of them address one person, a director, because he or she is aware of the current state of affairs and knows what is better for this project.
Taking into consideration the discussion of Naremore or other writers about authorship, there is no doubt that the role of a director is impressive for any movie. Nowadays, millions of people like to evaluate movies before they actually see them and analyze their expectations by discussing the names mentioned in filmmaking. For example, when it is Tarantino’s movie, a person wants to see the elements of violence, brutality, and even insolence that are perfectly chosen and presented. In Hitchcock’s works, classical mystery and unpredictability catch the eye. Talking about Burton’s project, one should mention the beauty of craziness and expression. Such discussions are possible because all these directors are the authors of their movies, with their unique styles, approaches, and understanding of what people want to see. Therefore, answering if it is possible to identify a single author of a movie, one should say “yes” and use the theory of film authorship as proof.
Film Director as an Auteur in Movies
Analyzing the representations of film directors as authors, it is hard to predict the results of such discussions because freedom and personal judgments remain subjective. However, auteur theory serves as a solid background for film studies where the goal is not to identify the author but to explain why a director is the only actual auteur or author of the chosen work. In the middle of the 1900s, many Hollywood movies entered the French and British markets and vice versa. As a result, critics from different parts of the world were able to compare filmmaking approaches and share their opinions. In France, the approach known as “le politique des auteurs” was promoted to evaluate the efforts of directors (Dixon and Foster 187). Relying on the same technique, this report aims to compare the representation of the role of film directors as authors in movies like Sullivan’s Travels (by Preston Sturges), Le Mépris (by Jean-Luc Godard), and O Brother, Where Art You? (by Coen brothers). The choice of these films is explained by the possibility of studying directing as a theme of the movie, as well as a moviemaking technique.
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Sullivan’s Travels is a movie about a director and his attempts to create a new, memorable project in the world of cinema. John Sullivan, the main character, wants to introduce a picture as “a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man!” (Sullivan’s Travels). However, as soon as he discovers that he knows nothing about poverty and how people live with problems and challenges, he decides to experience new emotions as a poor man with no support and backup. The representation of Sturges, the director, in this movie is powerful. This profession is discussed through the prism of the characters, their decisions, and actions, on the one hand, and via camera work, the plot, and mise en scène, on the other hand. The film director is the one who creates a story and chooses the most effective methods to transform it on screen.
O Brother, Where Art You? is another good example about the role of film directors in cinema. This title was firstly mentioned in Sullivan’s Travels as the first documentary work by Sullivan. At the end of the movie, Sullivan tells that making people laugh “isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing” (Sullivan’s Travels). Coen brothers follow this piece of advice and use the title for their own crime comedy. According to Everett, one of the main characters, a leader has to be “the one with the capacity for abstract thought” (O Brother, Where Art You?). This idea turns out to be a great representation of a director in a filmmaking team.
In Le Mépris, the discourse of authorship is also present to explain the responsibilities of directors and the team. Godard is good at giving clear definitions and examples of how filmmaking should look like. The first rule is to set the goals and use personal ideas “instead of stealing them from everyone else” (Le Mépris). The second recommendation is to understand the boundaries and opportunities because “in the script it is written, and on the screen it’s pictures” (Le Mépris). In fact, this movie is full of powerful phrases, which proves the skills of the director. Despite the presence of celebrities and an excellent job of editors, Le Mépris is a story created by Godard, with his authorship and impressive omniscience.
In general, the analysis of the chosen movies shows that the concept of authorship is complex and influential. Being a result of the collaborative work of many professional people, Sullivan’s Travels, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Le Mépris remain the project of single authors with their visions and interpretations. According to the theory of film authorship, a director has to be the only creator of movies because of decisions and contributions being made. Such differentiation of roles and ranks has a background, and auteur theory that came from France in the middle of the 1900s improves American and world cinema in the 21st century.
Dixon, Wheeler Winston, and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster. A Short History of Film. 3rd ed. Rutgers University Press, 2018.
Le Mépris. Directed by Jean-Luc Gogard, performances by Bridgitte Bardot and Jack Palance, Embassy Pictures, 1963.
Naremore, James. “Authorship.” A Companion to Film Theory, edited by Toby Miler and Robert Stam. Blackwell, 2004, pp. 9-24.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, performances by George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, Universal Pictures, 2000.
Sullivan’s Travels. Directed by Preston Sturges, performances by Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake, Paramount Pictures, 1941.