Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘eraserhead

Critique and Development of Auteur Theory

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Astruc, Bazin, Truffaut, and Sarris.

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.”

 

References

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!)

Auteur Theory in Film Criticism from the BBC

Short Film, ‘An art form in themselves,’ by Suchandrika Chakrabarti

The Grandmother (1970)

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If there’s any one filmmaker that could define auteur cinema for me, it would have to be David Lynch. I saw Eraserhead (1976) of course, a few years back, and now after having seen its predecessor in this film, perhaps I’m making a bit of progress as a film student. The similarities abound in theme, Spartan imagery, and most notably, that “creeping dread, that beautiful paranoia” (Coilhouse) that his films build slowly. The aesthetics of The Grandmother and Eraserhead are quite different, but the Lynchness of tone persists.

The story of how this movie was made is pretty incredible. Given $5000 to fund the project by the American Film Institute, Lynch painted the third floor of his Philadelphia house entirely black and used his friends as actors. He collaborated with Alan Splet, who would also work with him on Eraserhead and Blue Velvet (1986) for the sound effects, which take the place of any dialogue. His original allowance ran out before he had time to finish the film, but after screening what he had so far, the AFI agreed to fund its completion. The total cost was $7200. The Coilhouse blog writes this of the soundtrack:

The lack of dialogue, with everything conveyed through guttural noises, barking, and a score from a local group, Tractor, compliments the stylized, stripped down atmosphere that’s since become the Lynch standard.

For me, analyzing his style and themes felt like a recitation of various bodily fluids. The child’s parents abuse him for his incontinence, in response he uses his own ejaculation to grow a grandmother. While a grandmother’s love may be the only source of unconditional love and support the boy could come up with, for the audience I think the idea of that love and its birth on the boy’s bed is an intensely uncomfortable experience. From the Lynchnet.com write-up:

There’s something about a grandmother…It came from this particular character’s need – a need that that prototype can provide. Grandmothers get playful. And they relax a little, and they have unconditional love. And that’s what this kid, you know, conjured up.

All in all, I can appreciate David Lynch. Enjoyment is a separate issue.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 13, 2011 at 6:38 pm

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