Frame By Frame: Auteur Theory
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Frame By Frame: Auteur Theory

September 24, 2019

Hi. I’m Wheeler Winston Dixon, James Ryan professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and this is Frame By Frame. And I want to speak for a few moments about the “auteur theory.” Amazingly, in America, which is kind of the capitol of film production in the world, or one of the major film capitols. And up until the 1960s, thee major capitol… Films were not considered as being made by directors or by producers or even studios. They were a “Clark Gable film” or a “Bette Davis film” or a Boris Karloff film,” or a Marx Brothers film,” or a genre film… a western, a science fiction, a horror… what have you. It was only in the 1940s that a film theorist named Andre Bizen founded a journal called “Cahiers du Cinema,” the notebooks of cinema, literally. And a group of young critics… people like Jean Luc Goddard, writing as Hans Lucas, Eric Rohmer, Francois Truffaut… began writing about films from the point of view that the director is the primary creator of the film, and that each director’s individual signature is distinct, but also that each director has thematic preoccupations that go throughout their work. So just briefly, in John Fords films “professionalism” is something which is foregrounded. In Howard Hawk’s films, you have the Hawkian woman, who is a pre-feminst construct in all of his films… a woman who can hold her own with the men in the picture. Alfred Hitchcock’s films offer an incredibly bleak world view. Frank Capra’s films have a theme of small town populism and optimism running thru all of them. And this kind of distinction of the director as the primary creator of a film was something that only crossed to the United States in 1963, when Andrew Sarris, an American film critic in New York, wrote a book called “The American Cinema,” which listed for the first time the major film makers and their major preoccupations. Auteurism is now almost taken for granted. People consider a film an “Alfred Hitchcock film,” a “Howard Hawks film,” an “Ingrid Bergman film,” a “Bernardo Beutilluci film,” a “Quentin Tarentio film.” And in most cases, the director IS the primary force behind the making of a film. Movies are a team effort. But without one vision to guide them, films basically collapse. And so the director’s input into a film is absolutely essential, and autueurism has become the dominant way now of looking at films in theory and criticism. I’m Wheeler Winston Dixon, and this is Frame By Frame.

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