Posts Tagged ‘auteur film’
David Lynch, like many burgeoning directors, started his career making short films. From 1966-1974, he created four of film history’s most memorable shorts, leading up to his breakout, oft-critiqued feature, Eraserhead (1977). His style is defined by the dark, the grotesquely physical, and the bizarre. Many of his shorts included animation. Sound and music for films was also of utmost importance to the paranoia-filled atmosphere of his works. The dark and the bizarre were aspects he would carry over to his television show, Twin Peaks, which aired for two seasons in 1990 and 1991.
Previously, I have analyzed his short The Grandmother (1970) for your reading pleasure.
His other shorts, including Six Figures Getting Sick (Six Times) (1966), The Alphabet (1968), The Amputee (1974), and The Cowboy and the Frenchmen (1988) (a special case, originally aired on TV) all follow his particular brand of anti-Hollywood cinematic dread. Lynch chooses to subvery normal Hollywood narrative structure. Six… and The Amputee could be gallery installations, with their cyclical narrative structure. The soundtracks in those as well as The Alphabet are meant to put the audience on edge, seeking comfort in a tidy ending and receiving none. David Lynch’s unique brand of filmmaking – his Lynchness, if you will – has had a profound impact on film and television today, and I hope he continues to make films that both inspire and creep us out.
I want to leave you with The Cowboy and the Frenchman, my favorite off The Short Films of David Lynch anthology, for its lighthearted bizarro and marked contrast to The Grandmother. I hope you enjoy!
You can find information on David Lynch’s shorts and features here!
Roman Polanski made short films from 1957-1962, during his time at Poland’s prestigious National Film School in Lodz. He technically never graduated from the film school, but from the lasting mark his work has made on the film industry, I’d say he’s doing all right. Polanski’s style is defined by voyeurism and violence, two things that many critics hypothesize Polanski himself struggles with. Crew members that have previously worked with the director have marked him as notoriously hard to work with; many stories have arose wherein if Polanski could not achieve the shot he wanted while making a film, he would take out his frustration on his crew verbally or physically. Even the props suffered.
The very first short he released, though it is barely over a minute long and entirely silent, tells us much about his work and the controversy that would later surround his career. Here is 1957’s Morderstwo, or “Murder.”
Simple, yet the cinematography and mise-en-scene are brilliant for a student director. Here is another of his shorts, Lampa (1959).
Personally, my favorite film of his is the feature The Pianist (2002), a story of the survival of a Polish Jewish pianist during the Holocaust played by Adrien Brody. More information on his body of work is available here.
A complete list of his short films can be found here.
And as always, everything you could ever want to know resides here.
Jean-Luc Godard emerged with post-war cinema and the French New Wave, right when Truffaut was defining what we now recognize as auteur films. Godard had weighty political and social influences that cropped up in all of his works, as subtle flavors in earlier shorts and later as major plotpoints. He began, as most auteurs have, by making short films. His very first short work was Une Femme Coquette (1955), in which he was credited as Hans Lucas. He began with this pseudonym when he was writing for several film periodicals as a critic, along with his friend, Francois Truffaut. He dropped the false name soon after.
Godard’s filmography is extensive, and his name is universally recognized among cinephiles. Though he was born in December of 1930, he continues to make films today, at the ripe old age of 80. What defines Godard’s style as an auteur? That would be quite a long discussion, but an article from the New York Times movie website sums it up nicely:
Crafted with a rough-and-tumble, home-movie-like quality, it dodged all accepted notions of narrative and visual storytelling, adopting a freeform hipness unlike anything before it and sparking a revolution in low-budget, on-the-fly independent filmmaking. Seemingly overnight, Godard was revered as the most important cinematic talent of his generation. Quickly, however, Godard’s refusal to be pigeonholed became apparent, and despite a few works of lesser quality, his work over the course of the upcoming decade was a remarkable period of innovation, experimentation, and sustained genius.
The author is speaking specifically of A Bout de Souffle, one of his later features, but I think its applicable to much of his work. The same style and themes are present in a short of his that I analyzed earlier in the semester, De l-origine du XXIe siecle (2000). Undoubtedly, Godard has made a lasting impression on the film industry by simply attempting to subvert it in every way.
Below is an interview with Godard where he discusses his themes and his goals as a director, describing specifically a film he released in 1972. Enjoy!
The overarching theme of Francois Truffaut’s article was that film should be analyzed as its own artform, with its own set of techniques, themes, and discoveries. Filmmaking before the French New Wave (again, I refer back to post-war cinema and the anti-Hollywood, independent film movement) was defined by adaptations of classic literature and other stories that were already familiar to the popular culture machine. Indeed, we still see films made of these same beloved stories today. I’m thinking specifically of Grimm’s fairytales, classic stories originating from books like Robin Hood and Tarzan, and costume dramas based on historical legend such as Arabian Nights or King Arthur. Truffaut was writing from the perspective of the avante-garde, the surreal, and the simply unique: every movement that was just beginning to blossom in film that stemmed from the art world and not from literature.
Truffaut wanted film to push the audience’s boundaries rather than cater to their norms.
Harry Tuttle wrote a fabulous article that supplies a historical context for Truffaut’s thoughts as well as analyzes them for their value. He says:
“The accomplishments pre-war French cinema was praised for (‘talented adaptation’ and the ‘faithfulness to the spirit of the novel’) are seriously questioned here to highlight the absence of filmic expression which must differentiate Cinema from Literature.”
The whole basis of auteur film is that filmmakers took what Truffaut wrote (and produced in his body of work) and created their own form of filmic expression. It is their consistency of expression and exploration of film as a medium that defines great filmmakers as “auteurs.”
Polish scholar Andrew Sarris wrote a much-studied article in reaction to Truffaut’s work on the auteur theory titled “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962.” He defined the three essential aspects of auteur work: technique, personal style, and interior meaning. To clarify:
“[The] three premises to ‘auteur’ theory: the technical competence of the director, the director’s distinguishable personality and interior meaning. He says that three concentric circles can represent the three premises, of which the outer one represents technique, the middle one – individual style and the inner one – interior meaning. The director’s interrelated roles can be designated as the roles of the technician, stylist (metteur en scene) and the ‘auteur’ respectively.” (Sarris)
As I continue to highlight the work of great auteurs, it will become clearer how specific techniques and personal styles of filmmakers enhance their films. For instance, think of David Lynch and his feature films like Eraserhead or his 1990 television series Twin Peaks. If we refer back to some of his short films, from the late 1960s into the 1970s, it is obvious how his personal style informs every project he has had a hand in. But more on the Lynchness of David Lynch later.
Andrew Sarris continues his analysis by making some bold statements on how the work of auteurs has affected the film industry. He hypothesizes that auteur theory makes it impossible to think of a bad director making a good film or a good director making a bad film. And in a statement that I feel makes a perfect summary of auteur film:
“The way a film looks and moves should have some relationship to the way a director thinks and feels.” (Sarris)
Therefore, I want to explore the work of a few distinct, celebrated auteurs and discuss how their work is indicative of how they think and feel.
Also, as we transition into looking specifically at auteurs of short film, I would like to leave off with a comment on the beauty of short film from director Guillermo Del Toro, behind the popular movies Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth:
“I think that a short film is a perfect nugget of a film. A seed. The perfect pitch that a producer can promote and push for people to ‘get a glimpse’ of the film that lies there.”
Truffaut’s manifesto: La Politique des Auteurs by Harry Tuttle
“Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” by Andrew Sarris
Additional Sources (not referenced, but helpful!)
Short Film, ‘An art form in themselves,’ by Suchandrika Chakrabarti
Here are the first few segments of an American Film Insitute documentary, Hollywood Mavericks. Though not specifically focusing on short films, this documentary is incredible valuable for auteur studies because of its emphasis on film history, Hollywood ideas and anti-Hollywood sentiments, and the philosophy of auteur filmmakers. Some of these sound bites will be essential as I highlight some of the master auteurs recognized by the short film industry today. Many of the filmmakers and critics featured in this documentary focus on how “mavericks” (i.e. auteurs) revolutionized the film industry with their unique vision and central themes.
And skipping along, specifically to 4:40 in this next part…
You can find this entire documentary posted on YouTube, and it is definitely worth viewing the whole thing! It’s some of these ideas of “iconic” filmmaking and filmmaker uniqueness that I want to underline with my research on auteur films.
The word auteur is simply the French word for “author.” The essential idea behind auteur theory is that a filmmaker exercises an authorship over his work, and this authorship is present in every film he (or she) makes. The theory was born with the French New Wave cinema, from 1958-1962, with a group of French filmmakers headed by Francois Truffaut. I’ve previously analyzed two of his short films, Antoine et Collete (1962) and Les Mistons (1957). The French New Wave was one of many film movements that sprung up around the world in protest to Hollywood’s monopoly of popular film in the post-World War II years. You can read more about post-war cinema and the anti-Hollywood sentiment on Eric Elie’s blog.
At a mere twenty-one years old, Truffaut wrote the defining article for auteur film, titled “Une Certaine Tendance of Cinema Francaise” (“A Certain Tendency of French Cinema”), first published in the magazine Cahiers du Cinema in January 1954. Since then, a horde of scholars and critiques have added their thoughts to the tenets of auteur film, and a even greater horde of filmmakers have added their mastery to the history of the art. Here I hope to highlight a few of those scholars and many more of those excellent filmmakers.
Truffaut’s “Certain Tendency”
When he originally wrote the article, Truffaut was writing in protest of the filmmakers who were receiving critical acclaim at the time for their well-crafted, however voiceless, literature adaptations. He termed this group of screenwriters and filmmakers who translated the ideas of previous writers the French “Tradition of Quality,” complimenting them for their adept filmmaking as he also criticized them for having no personal vision to deepen their films. Truffaut says in the article:
“The war and the post-war years have transformed our cinema. It has evolved through internal pressure and in the place of “poetic realism” – which can be said to have died out, closing behind itself The Gates of Night (The Portes de la Nuit) – “psychological realism” represented by Claude Autant-Lara, Jean Delannoy, René Clément, Yves Allgret and Marcel Pagliero, was substituted.”
He was advocating for filmmakers including their own experience in their films, their own “psychological realism,” rather than the work of literary masters. Film, as its own artform, deserved storylines and themes that were crafted specifically for visual storytelling. Truffaut condemned the tradition of the screenwriter having the greatest control of the story a film told; he thought the director should have more creative power. He saw the creative process as so emotional and personal for a filmmaker, he should feel himself as if he were on display. He goes on to write:
“The artist cannot always dominate his work. He is sometimes its God, other times its creature. One knows the modern play whose main character, in peak form when the curtain rises, finds himself fully amputated as the play ends, as a successive loss of each of his limbs has marked the changing of acts.”
As with many artists, Truffaut was advocating for total mastery of the filmic art. Just as a painter cannot help adding his own personality to his work through his paintbrush, Truffaut saw a filmmaker as having no choice but to displaAs with many artists, Truffaut was advocating for total mastery of the filmic art. Just as a painter cannot help adding his own personality to his work through his paintbrush, Truffaut saw a filmmaker as having no other choice but to display his deepest emotions onscreen for the judgment of an audience. Thus, he condemned the soulless process of literature adaptation not for its lack of technical skill but for a lack of psychological truthfulness. One last quote from Francois:
“I do not believe in the peaceful co-existence of the Tradition of Quality and the cinema of auteurs. At base, Yves Allegret and Jean Delannoy are but caricatures of Henri-Georges Clouzot or Robert Bresson. It’s not the desire to cause a scandal that leads me to deprecate a cinema so praised elsewhere. I remained convinced that the unduly prolonged existence of ‘psychological realism’ is the cause of the public’s incomprehension when confronted by works as new in concept as…”
… and he goes on to list several underappreciated films by his friends and colleagues that he feels defines his outline of an auteur. His analysis of good filmmaking seems a bit self-serving, but it is his ideas and films we remember and study today, while those of the “Tradition of Quality” he comdemns have fallen to the background of film history.
Truffaut’s manifesto: La Politique des Auteurs by Harry Tuttle
Next up, I will outline some of the critique and further development of auteur theory.
Cinema cannot make the world better, but more aware, yes. – Gaspar Noe
This is the overarching theme of the 8 No Time Left campaign, in which eight filmmakers produced eight short films about the Millenium Development Goals set by the UN in September of 2000. By 2015, they hope to cut world poverty in half. The issues the filmmakers explore include poverty, education, equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and development. (You can read more about the No Time Left project on their website.)
I’d like to focus on two of the films included in this project, by two auteurs with distinct filmmaking styles, Mansion on the Hill (2008) by Gus Van Sant and The Water Diary (2006) by Jane Campion.
Honestly, I’m not sure I see the connection between a skateboarding montage and child mortality. The information Van Sant includes in the film is startling, and I can appreciate the simple way he reveals his purpose to the audience – with statistics in bold white lettering across a montage of young adults testing their limits. The only connection I could reach for is that many children will not get the chance to try things like skateboarding, because they’ll never reach the age to do so. In developed countries we take advantage of our time for leisure and ability to try any activity, while Third World countries struggle to meet the physiological needs of their younger generations. The simplicity, short length, and nonfictional nature of this short stands in stark contrast to Jane Campion’s short.
This film blew me away. Campion tells a much larger story about resources and sustainability through the eyes of a child dealing with the hardship of extreme drought and global warming in a diary format. The film has incredible pathos to move people to action; it is fiction, but it is believable fiction that represents a coming reality. The film includes great visual effects, like the scene where the children are leaping over clouds formed along the ground. My favorite part of this film is the way Campion framed many of the wide shots; when the protaganist finds out her parents had to kill their horses, the camera is so far away that the conflict between characters is going on down in the bottom left corner of the screen, while the audience can see the barren landscape these people exist in. She frames another scene, of Felicity playing her viola, through the window of her house at night, beautifully focusing our attention on this central figure offering hope to her community. The last shot, where Felicity plays on the hill as the clouds behind her gradually darken, offer the audience a glimpse of ambiguous hope (I’m thinking of the very last scene of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception) even as it visually suggests “dark days” are still ahead. This film is one of my favorites from this entire semester.