Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

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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

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