Sunday, 4 March 2012

'Is the tradition of the director as Auteur in film-making coming to an end. Is there room for individual style within modern film making?'

To begin my analysis, I first aimed to produce a paragraph that highlighted the attitudes for the tradition of the Auteur. I quoted sources from books regarding what some believe to be modern day film auteurs like David Lynch. I touched on the notion that by acknowledging this idea of an individual creative mind behind a film, the film itself can be taken as expressive rather than comparing it to reality. I then touched on the idea of the collaborative force and the concerns that perhaps credit is taken away from a production team when the directer is so highly praised. For the the third paragraph, I summarized a forward on the collaborative work of Scorsese and Di Niro. In my opinion this was a middle ground argument, as it acknowledged a collaboration as an auteur-like force. To add some of my own analysis, I wrote about a sequence from the movie 'Drive' by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film in my opinion demonstrates individual style and auteurism in modern day film. I came to the conclusion that in my view, we can still recognize the tradition of the auteur and find individual flare in modern cinema. Although the tradition is still celebrated, I did also acknowledge the fact of this collaborative truth in film and agreed that the production team should also be given credit. Below is the essay itself, as well as the bibliography:

Name: Andrew Bailey.
Course: Digital films, games and animation (Level 4).
Context of practice tutor: Garry Barker (OUDF401).
Essay Title: Is the tradition of the director as Auteur in film-making coming to an end. Is there room for individual style within modern film making?

This essay seeks to explore whether the tradition of the auteur in film is coming to an end, and whether there is room for individual style within modern filmmaking. In order to investigate the issue, this essay will focus on the tradition of the auteur itself, and also the criticism that film production requires a collaborative force, and the argument that one person cannot be solely responsible for a film’s creation.

Originally, the idea of the ‘auteur’ credits the director of a film as its driving force. Directors such as Steven Spielberg and David Lynch bear a sense of ownership towards the films they produce, their original style often seen to be present in all areas of their work. The famous film director Alfred Hitchcock, who was widely considered to be an auteur, has been quoted saying: “Film directors live with their pictures while they are being made. They are babies just as much as an author’s novel is the offspring of his imagination. And that seems to make it all the more certain that when moving pictures are really artistic they will be created entirely by one man” (Spoto, 1992). The message Hitchcock seems to be conveying is that despite the reality of production teams and the need to work collaboratively in cinema, it is still acceptable to recognize the director’s artistic vision as the key to the films existence. When this belief of the auteur is accepted, films can be viewed more as expressive art works. Lewis (1999), speaking about the director David Lynch as an auteur, says: “Auteurs in this sense fill in the gaps of understanding and misunderstanding.” Lewis also goes on to suggest that any historical inaccuracies present in a film, can be forgiven or even accepted, as they are likely the result of the director’s original concept. This again relates to the idea that the auteur’s work can be viewed as expressive, rather than meeting everything that is expected. Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Besterds’ appears to challenge the conventions of a particular genre. When we think of a war-film, we automatically expect a reconstruction of true events (significant moments, real characters). Tarantino takes the premise of the Second World War, and with it creates a fictional narrative. The film is not so much an educational account, but instead a powerful character driven feature. Some of the plot turns could be considered off-the-wall, for example the notion that Adolf Hitler was killed by being violently shot in the facial region by American soldiers. One could argue that this is an example of individual flare being accepted in modern film, where genres seem to be often pinned down and specified. In this sense, it could be argued that there is still room for individual style within modern film.

Alternatively, A number of authors have considered the idea of this collaborative force over the belief that one person can be solely responsible for the creation of a film. Staiger (1988) and Sellors (2010) both comment that credit should be given to the people who the director has collaborated with. For Sellor’s argument, he mentions the director D. W. Griffith, by saying: “It is not unreasonable to think that the success of the post 1913 films that Griffith directed owed a great deal to the particular group of people he collaborated with. Griffith certainly is an author of the films he directed, but not solely.” Although not criticizing Griffith as an author, Sellors is trying to acknowledge this collaborative force. Similarly, Staiger also comments on this cooperative influence, with: “We must also remember that film is most frequently produced collaboratively. Any theory of authorship must accommodate, or at least account for, these facts of production.” However, Sellors also distinguishes the idea of the auteur approach from the collective approach, by suggesting that people within the collaborative group can either follow exact orders without question, or actually consider a film’s ‘utterance,’ helping add to the message of the film as a result. Although Sellors is recognizing this reality that there is often a large production team behind the director, he is also suggesting that there is still possibly room for creativity and original style, even within a large collaboration of people. Nevertheless, it is likely that this acknowledgement towards cast and crew being responsible for the final product of a film that could be causing this tradition of the auteur to be questioned. Although not completely dismissing this idea of one man or woman playing a large part in the creative impact of a film, it seems that these writers are concerned that with the tradition of the auteur, comes the deprivation of credit towards the team responsible for the end result. Feasibly, with the reality of many modern films being created with large Hollywood budgets, the input of such great production teams could mean that there is a highly limited possibility for individual flare, and everything we see is the result of compromise. It could be debated that the idea of the ‘auteur’ stands as simply a fantasy.

Conversely, could the traditional auteur possibly embody a cooperative group? Rausch’s book (2010) discusses the collaborative work of director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert Di Niro. The forward chapter of the book is written by film journalist David Walker. Within this section, he writes of how their films generally followed a gritty and hard-hitting approach, a style of filmmaking which was increasing in popularity around the time of the Vietnam war. This meant that filmmakers could be more frank with their work and depict the ‘decaying American dream’. One of the important points made in the introductory chapter, is that the duo worked well both individually and collaboratively. It is argued that they where the key to each other’s success. Walker stresses that any aspiring filmmaker must find their Di Niro, representative of the person that pushes one to achieve their best. This idea of the filmmaker and the actor feeding off each other creatively defends the notion of recognizing the collaborative force. Interestingly, Walker also praises the results of the collaboration as genius. It is as if Walker acclaims the duo as an individual authority. Even though De Niro and Scorsese are recognized as a collaboration, their work still embodies a sense of individual flair. With this in mind, perhaps neither the tradition of the auteur nor the space for individual style is being lost in modern film.

Furthering this view that both authorship and individual style still exists in modern film, the 2011 movie ‘Drive’ by ‘Nicolas Winding Refn,’ can be considered. In the film, Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed stunt driver, mechanic and getaway driver. There is a scene within the film, which I believe shows Refn really using the style and composition of each shot to convey certain emotions, arguable making him an auteur. When Gosling decides to confront a crime boss after finding his friend dead, Refn really uses his craft to amerce the audience in the pursuit. We first feel sadness, with a high angle shot of Gosling leaning over his deceased friend, complimented by a soft orchestral and vocal performance titled ‘Oh My Love.’ We almost feel as if we are standing over the scene, helplessly looking on, too distant to offer help or assistance. Perhaps the shot is implying that Gosling believes his friend is now watching over him, empowering him to begin a vengeful pursuit. Inversely, the next cut is to a low angle shot, Gosling in frame reaching for a bag from the boot of a car.  Gosling likely feels stimulated by his rage at this point, the low shot suggesting dominance, the contrast the shift form grief to anger. Next, the film cuts to a scene with a pizzeria in frame. This is the shop ran by the crime boss who is being perusing. With a slow pan across to the right revealing Gosling sat in his car, it is established that his sight is fixed on the pizza shop. In the same shot he climbs from his car and opens the boot, to pull out the same bag as before. The panning of the camera contrasts with the previous static shots, suggesting action is now being taken, building on the protagonist’s adrenaline and anger. Despite this, the music remains the same, calm and tranquil. With the shot, there seems to be juxtaposition created with the soft music and subject matter in frame. The camera pans forward through a lively party from inside the pizza shop, the stained glass door almost central in the frame. The glass has a chequered effect, with alternating red stained and hazy glass segments. The central segment however, contains clear glass. Through this small clear square, as the camera continues to pan forwards, a strange bald figure emerges approaching the door. As the figure reaches the glass, the audience realize that it is Gosling wearing a rubber mask he received for a stunt car job. The now masked protagonist scans the room, searching for his victim. At this point, the shot suggests that Gosling is driven by his vengeance, and is on longer the quiet and reclusive character established earlier in the film. In fact, it now seems Gosling has turned into a emotionless killing machine, his human face which before showed purity and warmth, now blanketed by a mask resembling hatred and reprisal. The way that the gentle melodic music contrasts with this threatening imagery creates a powerful sense of unnerving discourse. Kassabian (2001) has written: ‘Music draws filmgoers into a film’s world, measure by measure. It is, I will argue, at least as significant as the visual and narrative components that have dominated film studies.’ It seems that Refn has used music as a tool to capture the audience. A point-of-view shot followed by several over the shoulder shots also give the audience a glimpse through the eyes of gosling, almost inviting us to stalk this crime boss with the protagonist, resulting in the full emersion of the audience.

It seems Refn has taken this sequence, and crafted it into a very captivating and emotional experience for the audience. It would not be wrong to suggest that the director has approached this in a very expressive and individual manner. Refn manages to immediately turn around how we perceive the protagonist, transforming him instantly into a blood lusting anti-hero with the use of shot composition. With the celebration of directors such as David Lynch and the Scorsese Di Niro collaboration, one could easily argue that the tradition of the auteur is still celebrated, and we can still find individual flare in modern cinema. However, there are those writers who believe that the collaborative force is solely responsible, and the idea of one artist being entirely in control is perhaps old-fashioned. In my opinion, I see no fault in celebrating the creative vision of a single director. Although I acknowledge the truths of large production teams, I still believe that the director can watch over his or her film, meaning they will be responsible for the creative direction of the overall product.


Bordwell, D. Staiger, J. Thompson, K. (1988) The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 London: Routledge.

Gunning, T. (1994) D.W Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biography University of Illinois Press.

Sellors, C. P. (2010) Film Authorship: Auteurs and Other Myths London: Wallflower.

Lewis, J. (1999) The New American Cinema United States: Duke University Press.

Collins, C. Radner H.  Collins A. P. (1993) Film Theory Goes to the Movies Great Britain: Routledge.

Spoto, D. (1992) The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of his Motion Pictures, second edition New York: Anchor Books.

Rausch, A. J. (2010) The Films of Martin Scorsese And Robert De Niro Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Kassabian, A. (2001) Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music Great Britain: Routledge.

Grant, B. K. (2008) Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing.

Stam, R. Miller T. (2000) Film and Theory: An Anthology Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

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