Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Early Adventures in Auteurland: Rereading the Classics of American Auteurism and Anti-Auteurism
One of the fundamental aspects of intellectual culture and its child academic culture is that, as Foucault and others before him note, humans tend to think in binary terms. This binarism is in our very cultural DNA. When we create identities of any kind we create identities which mark ourselves off from those who aren't us. In the West this intellectual binarism is also built into our very cultural heritage since the Christianity that so influenced and impacted Western intellectual culture has tended toward the binary, its binary of good versus evil being just one of many examples of this either/or tendency in human thinking.
This binarism, not surprisingly, has also done its cultural work on film and television theory. For many early critics of cinema and television, particularly Hollywood film and television, Hollywood film and television were not art forms because they were not authored in the same way a book, a painting, or a piece of classical music were "authored". Instead for the mass culture critics of the right and the left cinema and television were not arts because they were the mass produced products of an industrial system that either eroded high values in the name of the lowest common denominator or supplied the opium needed to make the masses happy with the unequal world made by the economic powers that be in which they found themselves.
Auteurism, of course, swung Foucault's pendulum in the other direction when it argued that there were film auteurs even in Hollywood whose art deserved as serious a consideration as a painting by Picasso, a piece of music by Brahms, or a short novel by Voltaire. But, as Andrew Sarris notes in the 1985 afterward to his famous and now infamous, at least in some circles, book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), "The Auteur Theory Revisited", cinema auteurism has never been a unitary phenomenon (pp. 271-276). Historically speaking modern auteurism may have originated in post-World War II France but there have also been British, and American variants of modern auteurism in post World War II Britain and the United States.
The hearth of post-World War II auteurism--Vachel Lindsay, Jean Epstein, Louis Delluc, Dilys Powell, Georg Svensson, and Gerd Osten polemicised for a directorial auteurism before that in France--lay in France. The origins of French la politique des auteurs, French directorial authorship as a policy auteurism, as Sarris notes in the introductory chapter in The American Cinema, "Toward a Theory of Film History", lies in the wannabe filmmaker polemics of French critics like François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette who, borrowing conceptions of authorship from literary and theatre studies, applied notions of authorship from other disciplines associated with the study of art to film (p. 29). With its auteur policy in place French cinema auterists began to construct hierarchies of authorship arguing, for instance, that the personal films of Jean Renoir were better, were of greater aesthetic value, than the films of the critically revered papas, Marcel Carné, for instance, of the French film past. Eventually, the auteurist rebels at Cahiers du cinéma and Positif after watching if not always fully comprehending the English of the Hollywood movies they viewed, turned their gaze toward Hollywood and began to polemicise for taking the great Hollywood auteurs, particularly the mise-en-scene of the great Hollywood auteurs, wherein lay, they maintained, artistic intent, seriously.
In the wake of the social and cultural efflorescence of the mid to late 1960s, the auteurism that had once been rebellious suddenly looked, thanks to, so its critics claimed, its romantic individualist assumptions, traditional and staid to many of the new academic professionals who found jobs teaching film within the recently established Film Studies and Cultural Studies departments, and the once tradition laden departments of English in the US. Now that Film Studies was a part of the ivy covered walls of the academy many traded in their ideologically incorrect auteurism for such new "radical" theoretical "paradigms" as structuralism, semiology, Gramscian Marxism, deconstructionism, postmodernism, and colonialism. This brief essay attempts to pull back from the caricatured and stereotyped portrayal of auteurism that has become so prominent in contemporary film studies and film theory since the late 1960s. It attempts to do this by returning to the texts of several early leading auteurists and several of auteurism's leading critics to see what they actually said, textually speaking, about auteurism particularly in the United States in the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s. This paper, in other words, attempts, in its exploration of the early history of auteur theory, to be more more historical than polemical.
French Auteurism Comes to America
The rise of auteurist film criticism in the United States is now, thanks in large part, to the professionalisation of film studies and the rise of academic programmes in film, historically linked, rightly or wrongly, with one of America's most famous film critics of the early 1960s, Village Voice film critic Andrew Sarris. Professionalisation, it appears, almost always leads to historical reflexivity. American auteurism, arose, in large part, as a reaction to the notion that the Hollywood cinema, since it was the mass produced entertainments of "capitalists" or "philistines" with its boy meets girl and good guy fights bad guy and wins girl generic happy endings, was not art (p. 21). Many critics of Hollywood cinema, as Sarris notes, counterpointed Hollywood low brow entertainments with European art films, the avant-garde, the documentary, and polemical social realist films like John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath and the films of Stanley Kramer (High Noon, The Defiant Ones, Ship of Fools, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), "real art", in other words.
Sarris's first somewhat systematic and somewhat analytic excursion into auteur theory, his now infamous and widely anthologised essay "Notes on the Auteur Theory 1962". "Notes", first published in Adolphus and Jonas Mekas's film journal Film Culture in the winter of 1962-1963 (p. 1-8), was one moment in a vibrant, intellectual, and polemical debate taking place over film authorship and film theory in the pages of Cahiers du cinéma and Positif in France, the pages of Movie, Sight and Sound, and Screen in the United Kingdom, and the pages of the Village Voice, Film Culture, and Film Quarterly in the United States in the late 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. Film criticism and film theory as an Atlantic phenomenon.
Sarris' essay was a polemical response to and a polemical rejoinder to an earlier essay by one of the giants of French film criticism and film theory of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Andre Bazin. Bazin, one of a number of prominent critics who wrote for what was one of the leading film journal polemicising for auteurism in France in the late 1950s, Cahiers du cinéma, praised auteurism for its fertile enough results ("On the politique des auteurs" in Jim Hillier (ed.), Cahiers du cinéma: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press), p. 249, original in Cahiers du cinéma, 70 (April 1957)) while also pointing out, in subsequent pages, what he saw as problems in the pioneering auteurist polemics of his Cahiers colleagues François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, and Jean Domarchi.
For Bazin there were and are several key weaknesses in auteurist theory, weaknesses which have become the stock in trade of critics of auteurism ever since. Auteurist critics, he claims, elevate auteurs over individual films (p. 249). They assume, in other words, and in tautological fashion, that every film made by a member of the auteur is a genius club is a major work of art because each and every film by an auteur, is made by the same artistic genius and as such is filled with the same themes and moral judgements of every other one of his or her films (pp. 249-250, 255). By extension, as Bazin points out, auteurists maintain that films by a metteur en scène, a "director" who isn't an auteur, are not of as much inherent interest because they are made by "directors" rather than auteurs (pp. 249-250, 255). In auteurist theory then, a film made by an auteur is always more interesting and always of superior quality than a film by a "director" even if that film is a Hollywood B film because it was made by an auteur (pp. 248, 250, 256, 257). More tautology.
Underlying this la politique des auteurs are, according to Bazin, several problematic assumptions and practises. Cahiers auteurists, he writes, fail to explore the nexus between ideologies of authorship and capitalism (pp. 250, 251). They fail to explore the fact that one can enjoy a work of art without knowing who the author is (p. 251). They fail to recognise that film is different from the other arts because it, like architecture, is more an industrial and hence collaborative form of art than the other arts, particularly in its Hollywood variant (pp. 251, 253, 254). They fail to recognise that even literary auteurs like Flaubert had their off days (p. 252) and that "directors" can, thanks to a fortunate combination of circumstances, can make films of genius (pp. 252-253). They fail to explore the sociological aspects of film production, the free enterprise and capitalist aspects of Hollywood film production, for instance, that make that national cinema the best in the world (p. 251). They fail to recognise that the great auteurs of the past can decline not because of old age or senility but because of the changing technical nature of the cinema to which they cannot or will not adapt to (p. 253). They fail to recognise the important role film culture, in particular genre, plays in providing templates or clays for those who work in Hollywood (p. 257).
Sarris's "Notes on Auteurship 1962" (in Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), pp. 35-45) is a response, as I noted earlier, to Bazin's criticisms of French auteur policy. While Sarris takes note of Bazin's criticisms of Cahiers auteurist polemics in "Notes" the essay is largely an attempt to counter most of Bazin's criticisms of auteurism (pp. 37-40). Sarris admits that there is truth to some of Bazin's criticisms of Cahiers auteurism and urges a return to what he calls the chaos of common sense auteurism (p. 36). In a fig leaf to Bazin Sarris admits that auteurists can make bad films while bad directors don't always make bad films (p. 42). He goes on, however, to assert that all auteurists, unlike directors, have distinct personalities that can be discerned by studying all their films (p. 43), that the films of auteurs have an interior meaning that is the product of the tension between a directors personality and his material and which distinguishes them from non-auteur film directors (p. 43) and that this is why film auteurs and their films are generally superior to those of non-auteurist directors (p. 35-36). Sarris distinguishes between three different types of directors by drawing three concentric circles around them: the outer circle of technique, the director as technician, the middle circle of personal style, the director as stylist, and the inner circle of interior meanings, the director as auteur, the director who expresses the elan of his soul, his own inner personality, in his cinematic oeuvre (p. 43).
Speaking of the elan of auteurist souls Sarris lists the following as auteurs--Hitchcock, Chaplin, Ford, Welles, Griffith, Sternberg, von Stroheim, Hawks, Lang, Flaherty, Ophuls, Renoir, Mizoguchi, Dreyer, Rosselini, Murnau, Eisenstein, Bresson, and Vigo (p. 41). He says, however, that this list of auteurs must be seen as being less as a "fixed Ptolemaic constellation" than as a list that must always be in a "constant state of flux" (p. 44). And this is why, at least in part, Sarris calls for further research in order to rescue individual achievements in film from the chaos of "unjustifiable anonymity" (pp. 44-45).
Despite Sarris's advocacy of a historical approach to film it should be kept in mind that Sarris regards his approach to film history and his advocacy of auteurism as more a "disorganised credo" than a manifesto (p. 36), a disorganised credo that controversially maintains that American commercial cinema is superior to European art cinema, that Hitchcock's films are artistically superior to those of Robert Bresson (pp. 41-42). Sarris, in other words, remains very much, in so many ways, a disciple of la politique des auteurs.
Pauline Kael, one of America's leading film critics of the 1960s and 1970s, was not the first film or movie critic to raise questions about Sarris's auteurism. Long time film critic Dwight MacDonald, in two pieces in Esquire, the magazine he reviewed for at the time, "The Birds" (October 1963) and "Film Criticism: A Note on Method (October 1964), criticises Sarris for the Procrustean categories he devised in order to classify film directors aesthetically (p. 307 in On Movies (New York: Da Capo, 1969, 1981) in which these two reviews from Esquire are reprinted), a classification scheme, he claims, which made the artistic evaluation of movies even more difficult than it had been previously, for Sarris's overemphasis on the visual aspects of film, an emphasis, MacDonald claims, which has led Sarris's into the dark alleys of romantic primitivism (p. 156, 157)--MacDonald instead emphasises that movies are a hybrid form of art mixing the plot and dialogue of the novel with composition and tonal values paintings, and the rhythms of montage of music--and for Sarris's praise of low grade Hitchcock and Preminger films (p. 156).
Though Kael was not the first critic to take on Sarris's auteurist theory, she was the first to take on Sarris's auteurism at length and in a somewhat analytically fashion. Returning full circle, so to speak, Kael, returned to the gentle criticisms that Andre Bazin once aimed in a friendly way at his auteurist brethren at Cahiers du cinema, but, in the process, she turns these once gentle criticism into square battering rams aimed at the "mystical" auterist circular ramparts of her fellow Manhattan film critic, Andrew Sarris. Where Sarris saw auteurs as directors who were technically competent, stylistically interesting, and those able to express their personalities in Hollywood films despite the limitations inherent in such seeming entertainments, Kael contended that directors who were not technically competent, like Jean Cocteau, and directors who would not be able to handle the routine assignments of the Hollywood studio system and who would thus not be able to express their personal obsessions in their films because, or so auteurists contended, there were no tensions between their personalities and the materials they were forced to use, like Michelangelo Antonioni, were, nevertheless, contrary to auteurist opinion, great directors.
For Kael ("Circles and Squares" in Kael, I Lost it at the Movies (London: Marion Boyers), pp. 292-319, original in Film Quarterly 16:3 (Spring 1963), pp. 12-26) criticism is not a formulaic science, it is an art. (p. 295), an art that, she argues, should concentrate more on individual films, as she did in her years as a critic, than the works of celebrated auteur directors. If Sarris distinguishes the various variants of auteurism from one another, Kael puts them all through a blender and treats them, including Sarris, as one. For Kael the problem with auteurism, French, British, and American (p. 311), is their focus on auteurs (p. 297), their focus on directors who, or so auteurists claim, express their personalities in their films, particularly in the mise-en-scene (p. 302) of their films. The stylistic practises auteurists claim to find in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, for instance, claims Kael, are perhaps less personal obsessions than a marketing strategy (p. 298). She criticises auteur theory for its contention that auteurs, since they are auteurs, since they are by definition great directors, can never make a bad or uninteresting film (p. 297). How can, Kael asks, auteurists ignore the bad films of one of their cherished auteurists Fritz Lang and denigrate the great films of the writer-director John Huston (pp. 299-300)? Apparently, writer-directors like Bergman and Huston need not apply for Olympian auteurist status (p. 304). She criticises auteurism for its selective celebration of specific directors and its celebration of supposed auteurist B directors like Robert Aldrich (pp. 302-303). She criticises auteurism for its dismissal of non-commercial directors like Ingmar Bergman because of their supposed lack of technical skill (p. 304). She criticises auteurism for its dismissal of the role the screenwriter plays in the making of a film (pp. 315-316). How, Kael asks, can auteurists ignore statements made by directors like George Cukor in which he said he made good films when he had a good script (pp. 304-305)? She criticises auteurism for its celebration of a commercial industry, Hollywood, and for its celebration of mindless and repetitions Hollywood industrial product over art (pp. 306-307). She criticises auteurism for its hermeticism, for its interest in little else than the films of cherished directors themselves (pp. 310, 312-313, 316).
Only toward the end of "Circles and Squares" does Kael separate out the various strands of auteurism she has previously blended together in order to try to understand the cultural conditions that gave rise to French, British, and American varieties of auteurism. French auteurists, claims Kael, in a pendulum swing away from the socially conscious films praised by their critical predecessors, found psychological and intellectual meanings in American action films turning trash into art (p. 311). American auteurists, hipsters that they were, like the pop artists cousins, found to their great relief that the films they had been taught were nothing but poisonous commercial trash were actually art (pp. 312-318). As to the cultural conditions of British auteurism Kael refuses to even hazard a guess because she is, or so she claims, too far from that scene though she earlier talks relatively authoritatively about the various critical approaches of English film magazines and journals (p. 310, 314). Despite separating out the various threads of auteurism so she can delineate their various cultural conditions Kael, at the end of "Circles and Squares", once again treats Atlantic auteurisms as the singular product of a similar demographic process, nostalgic adolescence. For Kael auteurism is the product of an Atlantic adolescence. Auteurists, Kael claims, are trapped in a "virile" adolescent mental world that celebrates the films and the directors of their youth (pp. 318, 319). Auteurism, like the films of Howard Hawks, is, according to Kael, a male preserve (p. 319).
Sarris never refers to Kael by name in the introduction to his second go round at developing an auteurist theory in his criticism à clef The American Cinema. Despite the absence of she who must never be named, however, Sarris appears to have taken some of Kael's criticisms of his circles to heart. Despite Kael's claims that criticism is an art and not a science, Sarris's auteurism, part two, is even more historically oriented than in his first go round at auteurism (p. 19). Sarris, writing at a time when there was little systematic historical and academic study of film, polemicises for a historically sensitive, analytical, and systematic approach to film and a science of the cinema that studies film in its totality (p 26-27, 34). Sarris, of course, was writing at a time before totalism, the idea that everything had to be studied, cataloged, classified, and synthesised, became the dirty word it seems to have become since the late 1960s. He was writing in an era when totalism, a concept with a long historical pedigree that threads its way through Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Georg Lukács, many theorists of the Frankfurt School, and Jürgen Habermas, still seemed desirable even if, as Sarris fully recognises, it may not be entirely possible (p. 34).
In his Introduction to The American Cinema Sarris calls his reimagined auteur theory "a tendency", a Kierkegaardian "inner picture", a "critical instrument" (p. 278), "an attitude", "a table of values that converts film history into directorial autobiography" (p. 30), a tentative "theory", a "theory" always in a state of flux (p. 34). Because Sarris's auterism part two strives to be historical and totalistic Sarris's auteurism part two is not, contrary to popular intellectual and scholarly opinion, an auteurism that regards the director as someone who creates in a social and cultural vacuum, something that should make the sociologically oriented film critic and the film is collaboration partisans jump for joy. Sarris notes that all directors, like artists in general, are imprisoned by "conventions", in the film directors case by the studio system, the conditions of their craft, the public, and by the social and cultural contexts in which they work (pp. 31, 32, 36), and that cinema is a window that looks outward on the real world (p. 31). Sarris, in other words, does not argue that cinema is a completely personal art (p.32. 36). Nor does Sarris argue that only directors are auteurs or that every film by an auteur director is a "good" film (p. 35). Sarris notes that screenwriters and actors might be seen as the auteurs of certain films as well (p. 37). Sarris doesn't even argue that all directors are auteurs (p. 37). Sarris lists thirteen Hollywood auteurist Olympians--Charlie Chaplin, Robert Flaherty, John Ford, D.W. Griffith, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Max Ophuls, Jean Renoir, Josef Von Sternberg, and Orson Welles--in order to establish what he calls a set of priorities for film historians (p. 27) which should guide their historical foray into the Hollywood cinema.
The Cinephile as Auteurist: Peter Bogdanovich
One of those auteurists Sarris mentions who didn't always agree him was almost certainly Peter Bogdanovich, who wrote extensively on film particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. Bogdanovich had all his film bases covered. He was a cinephile (Peter Bogdanovich, Who the Devil Made It (NYC: Knopf, 1997, p. 26), an actor and student of famous acting teacher Stella Adler (Made It, pp.3-4, 13,16), a theatre director (Made It, pp. 3-4), a film revivalist at the New Yorker and at the Museum of Modern Art, where he made deals with film studios Paramount and Universal to put on Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock retrospectives (Made It, p. 18, 25), a film critic who did interviews of film directors including Hawks, John Ford, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Hitchcock (reworked and reprinted in Made It), and others, who wrote pieces, from the 1960s to the 2000s, on film, directors, actors, and screenwriters for Ivy Magazine, Frontier, Film Quarterly, The Film Scene, Film Culture, Movie, and Esquire (Made It, pp 18 and 20, reworked and reprinted in Bogdanovich, Pieces of Time (New York: Delta, 1973) and Bogdanovich, Who the Hell Was in It (New York: Knopf, 2004)), a writer who helped compile an interview book on Orson Welles (Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum (New York: Da Capo, revised edition, 1998)), whose great defender along with Rosenbaum he became, and who went on, like several of his auteurist critic forebears at Cahiers du cinéma, to become a noted film director (Made It, pp. 27-28, 29) even making a documentary on John Ford (Directed by John Ford, 1971, revised 2006).
Like Sarris Bogdanovich was influenced by the auteurist critics at Cahiers du cinéma (Made It, p. 22). Like Sarris Bogdanovich argued that there were director-auteurs whose films revealed their directors visual style and personality (Made It, pp. 6-8, 38, and 80). Like Sarris Bogdanovich created a pantheon of director-auteurs which included John Ford, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, Buster Keaton, D.W. Griffith, Jean Renoir ("A Few Favorites" in Pieces, pp. 146-147, original in Esquire, June 1972). Like Sarris Bogdanovich was willing to admit that screenwriters could be and sometimes were, as in the case of Preston Sturges, Paddy Chayefsky, and sometimes Neil Simon, auteurs ("Screenwriters and Preston Sturges" in Pieces, p. 212, original in Esquire March 1973). Like Sarris Bogdanovich had a preference for Hollywood films but his tastes also extended to English language films ("A Few Favorites" in Pieces, p. 144, original in Esquire June 1972) and he preferred silents to talkies seeing the latter as more purely cinematic (Made It, pp. 38-41). Like Sarris, Sarris put B-movie directors like Robert Aldrich, Samuel Fuller, Anthony Mann, and Nicholas Ray in his "Far Side of Paradise category right below his Pantheon Directors in his The American Cinema (pp. 83-121), Bogdanovich celebrated B-movie directors like Edward Ulmer, Samuel Fuller, Budd Boetticher, Don Siegel, Joseph Lewis, Andre de Toth, Phil Karlsen, and Alan Dwan who, because they worked on low budget films and worked fast, often had more freedom and had to be more resourceful and imaginative than their A-movie cousins ("B-Movies" in Pieces, pp. 148-149, original in Esquire September 1972). Unlike Sarris Bogdanovich was less a systematic film theorist than a thoughtful and polemical film critic ("A Few Favorites" Pieces, p. 141, original in Esquire June 1972).
The directorial auteurism of Sarris and Bogdanovich was not the only brand of auteurism out there in film criticism land in the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1960s and in the early 1970s Richard Corliss, who wrote reviews for a number of publications including the conservative National Review, Sarris's own Village Voice, and Film Comment, the journal of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, peppered the pages particularly of the latter with essays arguing that it was not, generally speaking, the director of a film who was its auteur, but that it was the screenwriter. Corliss eventually brought his Film Comment, National Review, Village Voice, New York Times, Cinema, Film Quarterly, and essays he published in the book The Hollywood Screenwriters: A Film Comment Book (New York: Avon, 1972) together in his magnum opus of screenwriter auteurist criticism, Talking Pictures: Screenwriters in the American Cinema (Woodstock, NY: Outlook, 1974).
In his introduction to Talking Pictures, "Notes on a Screenwriter's Theory, 1973", a play, of course, on Sarris's "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962", Corliss criticises Sarris's 1962 essay in praise of the director as auteur for taking critical attention away from the role screenwriters, cinematographers, art directors, and actors play in the collective medium that is the Hollywood cinema (p. xviii). What seems at first to be an argument for collaboration, soon becomes in Corliss's introduction, a kind of argument for a different type of auteurism, the screenwriter as auteur. Corliss concedes that a director is akin to a conductor or an architect (p. xx) who uses his screenwriter or screenwriters, his cinematographer, his art director, and his actors in the same way a conductor uses his musician or an architect used his engineers (p. xxi). Most directors, however, argues Corliss, are not the ones who provide themes to Hollywood's films. Themes in Hollywood films, claims Corliss, are the province of Hollywood's screenwriters (p. xxii).
Corliss recognises the complexity of the role the screenwriter plays in Hollywood. He notes that a screenwriter may be given credit for screenwriting work he or she didn't do and denied credit for work he or she did do (p. xxiii). He notes that screenwriters sometimes adapt the work of others for the big screen (p. xxv). He notes the paucity of critical works on Hollywood screenwriters making it difficult for those doing research on Hollywood's screenwriters (p. xxvi). He notes the role ego can play in screenwriters, an ego mechanism that magnifies a screenwriter's achievements (p. xxv). But, in a display of inductive reasoning, Corliss argues that if a critic finds again and again that one screenwriter is associated with a number of his favourite films and if that critic can discern a common style in these films, the authorial personality of the screenwriter can be delineated. In the what is good for the directorial as auteur goose is even better for the screenwriter as auteur gander, Corliss offers, just as Sarris did for directors before him, his list of his Parthenon screenwriter auteurs, a list of the greatest of the great screenwriters whose themes he has discerned in film after film: Borden Chase, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Ben Hecht, Nunnaly Johnson, Garsin Kanin and Ruth Gordon, Howard Koch, Frank Nugent, Samson Raphaelson, Preston Sturges, and Billy Wilder, the last two writers who became prominent directors (p. xxvi).
Corliss ends his introductory essay by circling back to Hollywood as a collaborative medium. Corliss argues that Hollywood films are the products of "a complex weave of talents, properties, and personalities" (p. xxv), and that the most successful and highly praised Hollywood films are the films in which writer, director, actors, and other craftspeople work together in a collaborative way (p. xxviii). Hollywood, he says in closing, is both art and entertainment, corporate and solitary, interpretive and creative (pp. xxviii and xix). But Hollywood is an art and an entertainment in which, on occasion, screenwriters give themes to Hollywood's artistic and entertainment products.
The Semi Hollywood Insider Screenwriter as Auteur: Gore Vidal
In his "Who Makes the Movies" (in Barry Keith Grant (ed.); Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), pp. 148-157, original in New York Review of Books, 25 November 1976, pp. 35-39) writer and political critic Gore Vidal, who was a contract screenwriter at MGM in the 1950s, makes a claim similar to Corliss arguing that the age of the director, by and large, ended when talking movies began (p. 148). When movies began to talk, writes Vidal, the age of the Hollywood screenwriter began (p. 148). Directors are generally, claims Vidal, mere technicians, technicians who are "summoned" by the producer and assigned work on a film, and who, in the making of films, are less important than the cameraman during filming and the editor after filming (p. 150). The supposed style auteurists discover in the work of particular directors--Vidal does note that there are a few examples of director-auteurs like Ingmar Bergman (p. 148, 155), Jean Cocteau (p. 155), Alfred Hitchcock (p. 149), and perhaps Howard Hawks (p. 151)--is more the product of practicality, as at Warner Brothers where the darkness of many of its films was more the product of the Warner Brothers trying to save money on electricity (p. 150), and the demands of the script, long shots, medium shots, and closeups, were written into the script by most of MGM's writers when Vidal was there in the 1950s (p 152).
So if the screenwriter is more the author of films than, as auteurist lore has it, the director, why don't screenwriters get the attention film directors have since the 1950s? Vidal provides a couple of answers to this question. Writers, says Vidal, see films largely as a way to make money (p. 151). Producers, knowing how critical writers are to films--Hollywood's boy producer Irving G. Thalberg once reportedly said "[t]he writer is the most important person in Hollywood but we must never tell the sons of a bitches"--choose writers to work on his film who don't mind anonymity or assigns multiple writers to a script making attribution of the script's authorship difficult (p. 151). Despite the attempts of producers and more recently directors to take credit for their films, occasionally, despite the usually successful efforts of producers and directors to take credit where credit is not due, the screenwriter auteur will out as in the case of Paddy Chayefsky one of Hollywood's greatest, or so says Vidal, auteurs (p. 153).
While Sarris's auteurism was becoming more historically oriented, more theoretical, and more totalistic, Kael's approach to film was becoming more ethnographic and historical. In her 1966 essay on the making of the 1966 film The Group, “The Making of The Group” (in Kael, Raising Kane and Other Essays (London: Marion Boyers, 1996), pp. 50-94, original in Life, 1966, reprinted in Deeper Into Movies (London: Marion Boyers, 1973) commissioned by Life magazine, Kael goes where few other film critics or historians have gone before or since, into the realm of how a film is made.
The question Kael wanted to answer in “The Making of The Group” is why American films in the early 1960s were so mediocre (p. 50). Did Hollywood, she wondered, foster mediocrity? In “The Making of The Group” Kael, in the descriptive and normative language that was so typical of Kael, observes how Hollywood movies are made as she follows The Group from packaging (pp. 50-56) through casting (pp. 57-64), writing (pp. 69-73), planning (pp. 64-69), rehearsing (78-85), and filming (pp. 73-78 and 85-89). What Kael found during her observations and occasional participations in the making of The Group were several things: it’s all about the money (p. 54) whether it was the executive producer trying to increase the value of the book he had just purchased the rights to (pp. 50-51), hiring a television director without a hit because he worked fast and was cheap (pp. 53, 54 and 93), hiring someone who had been a model for the lead role not because she is familiar or interested in the source material the because she is beautiful and sex and beauty sells (pp. 56, 59-60), and hired actresses because they unknowns who can be turned into stars who could be made profitable thanks package deals (p. 52). Kael found a Hollywood in which producer and director worked as quickly as possible so they could get on to their next project (pp. 64-65), a Hollywood in which the producer-writer let the director make most of the decisions (p. 80), a Hollywood where books were turned into warnings about the dangers of being a pushy woman (pp. 67-69), and a Hollywood in which everything was more gamesmanship than art and where everyone, including supposed auteurs like Jean Renoir, were turned into hacks (p. 66 and virtually every successive page of the essay) making every one of them indifferent to what the film they were making (pp. 85-89 and 93).
Critiquing auteur theory yet again may not have been uppermost in Kael’s mind in “The Making of The Group” but critiquing auteur theory Kael indirectly did in “The Making of The Group” when she saw what director Sidney Lumet did and didn’t do during the filming of The Group. What Kael observed that what she saw of Lumet at work hit at the heart of the claims of auteurist critics. Where auteurists saw the director as a reflective genius Kael found Lumet unreflective and vulgar (pp. 55 and 76). Where auteurists saw director-auteurs as obsessed with themes Kael found macho Lumet totally uninterested in the Mary McCarthy novel on which the film was based (pp. 67, 81-82). Where auteurists saw director-auteurs as expressing their vision particularly in the mise-en-scene of their films Kael found Lumet to have no interest in the mise-en-scene of The Group (p. 83) and found his mise-en-scene, as a result of his television training, to be all surface and no depth (pp. 83). Where auteurists saw their director-auteurs providing a sense of their characters to their actors Kael found Lumet totally uninterested in filling in the character blanks for the actors hired for The Group and interested only in The Method as filtered through his own background (pp. 78 and 81-83). Where auteurists saw their auteur-directors as artists Kael found Lumet simply obsessed with getting The Group finished as quickly as possible—he planed the camera shots (p. 65)—which meant that there were faults in the film’s timing, rhythm, acting, and sound (pp. 76-77). Where auteurists saw their director-auteurs as the authors of their films, as those who provided the rhythm for their films, Kael observed that it was the editor who provided, or tried to provide, a rhythm to The Group in post-production (pp. 66, 76-77, 84, and 88).
One of the problems in seeing Kael’s takedown of Lumet in “The Making of The Group” as yet another takedown of Sarris’s auteur theory is that Sarris never argued that Lumet was an auteurist. Sarris, in fact, put Lumet in the film history hell of “Strained Seriousness”, those with talent but who were uneven and suffered from the cardinal sin of seriousness, in his The American Cinema (p. 189). For Sarris The Group never rose above “a well-modulated mediocrity”, (p. 198).
Kael would take on the auteur theory more directly in her 1971 essay “Raising Kane” (reprinted in Kael, Raising Kane and Other Essays (London: Marion Boyers, 1996), pp. 159-299, original in The New Yorker, 1971 in two parts, and in Pauline Kael (ed.), The Citizen Kane Book (Boston: Little and Brown, 1971). The subject of that essay, the 1941 film Citizen Kane, is Kael’s second direct attempt to take down auteur theory though this time in historical fashion, because Orson Welles, the director of Citizen Kane, was regarded by the auteurists as the author of Citizen Kane and one of the great film auteurs of all time. Sarris, for instance, put Welles in his pantheon of film auteurs, those directors who “transcended their technical problems with a personal vision of the world” and who were able to “find the proper conditions and collaborators for the full expression of their talent” (p. 39). Presumably Kael thought if she took Welles down she would take the entire edifice of the auteur theory down in the process as well.
Kael seems to want to set the record straight about several common myths that have grown up around Citizen Kane in “Raising Kane” though it is hard to tell since the essay is far from systematic. Mining primary sources, including at least two scripts of the film, and secondary source material, though Kael doesn’t always properly reference these secondary source materials, Kael explodes what she thinks are several myths about Citizen Kane.
So what did Welles, according to Kael, actually bring to Citizen Kane? He brought to the film the sensitivity to sound he learned in the theatre (p. 256). He brought to the film the gift of theatrical illusion as in Kane’s crowd scenes (p. 227). He brought to the film an interest in the gothic and horror (p. 222). He brought his gift of acting to the film (p. 239).
Myth Number Two: Citizen Kane’s Charles Foster Kane and Susan Alexander are based on the real William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. Citizen Kane, Kael notes, is only partially about the real William Randolph Hearst and the real Marion Davies (pp. 237, 252, and 253), two figures Kael has apparently been obsessed with since she literally bumped into both of them on a dance floor at a hotel in San Francisco in 1938 (pp. 251-252). Mankiewicz knew Hearst and Davies and had been their guest at their castle of San Simeon (pp. 166 and 183). The necessity to turn Hearst and Davies into the stock villains of populist lowest common denominator film drama (pp. 236 and 239), however, something Kael decries, meant that Mankiewicz had to transform his dramatic and ironic “The American”, the original title of the film, into a melodrama (p. 238) where the rich villains of the morality tale were punished for their wicked past with a lonely life of lovelessness (pp. 253-254). This, however, was not what happened to either Hearst or Davies. (pp. 251-252).
Myth Number Three: Citizen Kane was damned by a press frightened by the power of Hearst when it was first released. False, writes Kael. Kane, Kael points out, garnered a number of good reviews in some of America’s elite newspapers and magazines (pp. 208-214) upon release in 1941. One critic, John O’Hara writing in Newsweek, urged cinemagoers to go to their neighbourhood exhibitor and ask why he was not showing Kane and urge him to show it because it was so good (pp. 211-212).
Myth Number Four: Citizen Kane was original and novel. In actuality, writes Kael, Citizen Kane drew on Progressive era muckraking satire and leftist criticism of elite power (pp. 161 and 190). It drew on Mankiewicz’s theatre journalist past (pp. 170-171, and 223). It drew on the fast talking newspaper comedy film tradition that included The Front Page (1931). It Happened One Night (1934), Wedding Present (1936), and The Front Page remake His Girl Friday (1940) (pp. 169, 180-182, and 219). It drew on Preston Sturges’s 1933 film about a newspaper tycoon, The Power and the Glory (p. 201). It drew on the 1933 film I Loved a Woman about a tycoon's mistress who sang opera at the Chicago Opera House (p. 201). It drew on another 1933 film about a lumber tycoon Mankiewicz’s wrote, John Meade’s Woman (p. 201). It drew on Jean Renoir’s use of deep focus in a number of his 1930s films (p. 226). It drew on 1939’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy use of the newsreel as a summary of today’s news (p. 230). It drew on the cinematography of Hollywood veteran James Wong Howe (p. 257). It drew on German Gothic expressionism thanks to Toland’s work on the film Mad Love (1935) with Karl Freund, who had been a cinematographer on a number of important German expressionist films in the 1920’s (pp. 257-259). It drew on theatrical traditions (pp. 227 and 237). It drew on an earlier idea Mankiewicz had for a script on John Dillinger which told the tale of that American criminal from several different points of view (p. 200). Where Kane was unique, writes Kael, was in Mankiewicz’s and Welles’s intention to do something startling and in its moviemaking bravura (pp. 196 and 224).
Myth Number Five: Citizen Kane is a masterpiece. Kane, Kael claims, thanks to its pop Freudianism of Rosebud and childhood trauma (p. 250), it’s kitchiness (p. 254), it’s comic book characters (p. 253), and its Freud plus scandal narrative structure (p. 254), is flawed. Despite its flaws, however claims Kael, Kane is a flawed masterpiece. It is a masterpiece because Welles made his audience aware of the film technique and Kane and made his audience sense Kane’s cleverness (pp. 237-238). And, more importantly, it is a masterpiece because Welles created an environment of collaboration on the set of Citizen Kane. He worked closely with Mankiewicz, Toland, and crew in the spirit of cross-fertilisation to produce, for the only time in his cinematic life, a great film (pp. 255-256). He would spend the rest of his life trying to live down the label of Hollywood’s biggest loser that had been attached to him after Kane (p. 216). So much, at least from Kael’s point of view, for auteur theory. Film, at least Hollywood film, is a collaborative medium.
Sarris took on Kael's "Raising Kane" directly in his review of Kael's long two part essay in the Films and Focus section of the Village Voice on 15 April 1971 (Volume XVI, Number 15). In his brief review of "Raising Kane" Sarris takes Kael to task for several things. First, for her extravagant claim that Citizen Kane was alone among a morass of mediocre Hollywood talkies that was fresher today than when it first appeared. There were, he says, a number of classic Hollywood films that were as fresh today as Citizen Kane. Second, Sarris chides Kael for suggesting that Kane was entertainment in the popular style of Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934), La Règle du jeu/Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939), and Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950). Sarris notes that neither Man of Aran or Rules were popular anywhere and that Kane and Rashomon were only popular when they reached the right audience. Sarris criticises Kael for her anti-Welles and pro-Mankiewicz polemicising in "Raising Kane". He points out that it is impossible to isolate what was Mankiewicz's in Citizen Kane and what was Welles's, notes that Mankiewicz as scriptwriter drew on other sources for his screenplay including Ferdinand Lundberg's Imperial Hearst, who sued RKO for plagiarism and received a settlement, something Kael "pooh poohs" in order to salvage Mankiewicz's authorship of the film, and John Dos Passos', whose USA contained a great deal of muckraking reporting about Citizen Hearst, and that Welles, just like Kael, who, despite incorporating large numbers of quotes and paraphrases into "Raising Kane", shaped the material making it his own. Sarris notes that much of what Kael says in "Raising Kane" is not new and that scholars like Joseph McBride had said many of the things about Kane long before "Raising Kane" appeared in print including that Mankiewicz wrote the script of Citizen Kane. Sarris condemns Kael for conveniently eliding the fact that John Houseman, who worked with Welles in the theatre and on radio, and who helped Mankiewicz with the scripts for what became Citizen Kane including editing them during his recuperation in Victorville, California, claimed that Welles turned Mankiewicz's scripts into a film and that the dynamics and tensions of Citizen Kane, the cinematic effects, and the visual and aural invention of the film was Welles's. Finally, Sarris chides Kael for her inability to see that Hollywood films could be art, could be more than simply entertainment.
Where Sarris raised questions about “Raising Kane’s” accuracy and its aesthetics in short form Peter Bogdanovich went directly for what would turn out to be “Raising Kane’s” Achilles heel, its presentations of suppositions as facts (p. 28) in his “The Kane Mutiny” (in Ronald Gottesman (ed.), Focus on Orson Welles (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976), pp. 28-53, original in Esquire October 1972). Bogdanovich, drawing on well documented interviews with Orson Welles, Welles’s secretary Katherine Trosper, Kane’s associate producer Richard Barr (formerly Richard Baer), Kane composer Bernard Herrmann, screenwriter and Marion Davies’ nephew Charles Lederer, and primary source material from RKO and Mercury Productions, Welles’s production company, found several errors and several possible errors in Kael’s “Raising Kane”.
Error Number One: Kael claims, on the basis of an interview with screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, that Welles offered Herman Mankiewicz a $!0,000 dollar bribe in exchange for him giving Welles full screenwriting credit on Kane , a claim Johnson wasn’t even sure of since when Kael asked him if he believed that Welles did offer a bribe to Mankiewicz, he replied “I’d like to believe he did” (“Raising Kane”, pp. 221-222). Charles Lederer, like Johnson a friend of Mankiewicz and also of Welles, however, told Bogdanovich that he didn’t believe Welles offered a bribe to Mank (pp. 29-30).
Error Number Two: Kael’s claim that Mankiewicz, fearful of having authorship of Kane stolen from him by Welles, went to the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) with evidence of his authorship of Kane (“Raising Kane”, p. 205). According to Charles Lederer in an interview with Bogdanovich, however, the case of Kane’s authorship never came before SAG (p. 42). Welles, in fact, actually gave screenwriting credit to Mankiewicz though he probably didn’t have to claims Bogdanovich (p. 42). And the fact that in 1940, the year before Kane came out, only the directors and producers of 5 of 590 films were given writing credit and that Welles was given writing credit on Kane the next year shows that, at least to SAG’s satisfaction, Welles did co-write Kane (p. 41).
Error Number Three: According to Kael Charles Lederer showed a copy of the script for Citizen Kane to Marion Davies (“Raising Kane”, p. 215). Lederer in an interview with Bogdanovich, however, says he never showed Mankiewicz’s script to his aunt (p. 33). Lederer goes on to speculate that he didn’t think Davies would have been upset had she seen the script (p. 34).
Error Number Four: According to Kael Citizen Kane was always about William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies (pp. 159 and 239). Lederer, in an interview, with Bogdanovich claims that the script he saw was based on the life of Chicago newspaper baron Robert McCormick and his second wife Gauma Walska who McCormick tried to turn into an opera star. Welles, in an interview with Bogdanovich, admitted to him that his original idea for what became Kane was based on what he knew about McCormick, and to a lesser extent, Samuel Insull as a result of his days in Chicago (p. 35). The idea for what became Citizen Kane, in other words, was Welles’s. Kael as Bogdanovich points out, notes the connection between Kane, McCormick, and Insull only to dismiss it (pp. 33-34, “Raising Kane”, pp. 243-245).
Error Number Five: Kael claims that Masanet’s Thaïs was transformed into Salammbô so RKO didn’t have to pay a fee for the use of Massanet’s opera (“Raising Kane”, p. 245). According to Bernard Herrmann, Kane’s composer who was never contacted by Kael and a letter Welles sent to Herrmann dated 18 July 1940, however, Welles asked Herrmann to write an original opera based on Salammbô for the film (p. 37).
Error Number Six: Kael makes much of Mankiewicz’s inside knowledge of the life of William Randolph Hearst (“Raising Kane”, pp. 182-184, 253-254, 262-263). As Welles told Bogdanovich, however, he knew, thanks to his father who knew Hearst in his younger days, and to an uncle of one of his friends, Ashton Stevens, a lot about Hearst before he met Mank. (pp. 36-37).
Error Number Eight: For Kael the visual look of Citizen Kane was the product of German expressionism and came to Welles through the influence of Kane’s cinematographer Gregory Toland who had worked with Karl Freund, a pioneering cinematographer at the German studio Ufa in the Weimar period, on Welles (“Raising Kane”, pp. 257-259). According to Bogdanovich, however, Kane’s visual style is the product of Welles’s chiaroscuro theatre effects—to be fair Kael did say that Kane drew on theatrical traditions (pp. 227 and 237)—and the dark, stylized, sequences and claustrophobic like interior ceilings he took from John Ford’s Stagecoach (pp. 43-44), an influence Kael snidely dismisses (p. 257). As for Toland, he was actually a rarely used second cameraman on the film Freund directed, Mad Love, and learned a lot from Welles about theatre lighting just as he taught Welles about the tricks of the Hollywood cinematographic trade in short order. Welles actually gave Toland credit on the same Kane title card as himself, something generally unheard of in 1940s Hollywood (pp. 45-47).
Error Number Ten: “Raising Kane” relies heavily on the testimony of John Houseman who co-founded the Mercury Theatre with Welles and worked as script editor for the Mercury Theatre radio plays (pp. 165, 191, 195, 198-199, 202, 204-206, 222, 225, 229-230, 261-263, 266). By the time Kane was in pre-production and production, however, as Welles and Bogdanovich point out, Houseman worked for Welles and had little role, beyond helping Mankiewicz with his script in Victorville, California, in the making of Kane (p. 50-51. Houseman didn’t, in other words, have first had knowledge of the making of Citizen Kane. Additionally, Houseman came to hate Welles and as a result is not a reliable witness on either Kane or Welles (p 51).
Sarris: The Sequels
Sarris's 1972 critique of "Raising Kane" would not be his last foray into film criticism apologetics and polemics. In his 1977 essay "The Auteur Theory Revisited" (in Virginia Wright Wexman (ed.), Film and Authorship (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), also the afterward to the new edition of Sarris's The American Cinema (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 269-278), original in American Film 2:9 (July/August 1977)) Sarris looks back over a decade of polemics over film auteurism. In "The Auteur Theory Revisited" Sarris continues that maintain that auteurism is more a tendency than a theory, more a mystique than a method, more an editorial policy than an aesthetic procedure (p. 29). He continues to decry what he sees as the misrepresentation of his auteurist theory by his critics, particularly Kael and Vidal. He notes, contra Kael, that auteurism despite being a reaction to the social significance and social realist school of film criticisms (p. 23) and despite its focus on the visual structure and personal style of a directors films (pp. 23, 26) has never been a singular phenomenon. Auteurists, as much as anti-anteurists, says Sarris, have never been able to agree on which directors are good and which are bad (p. 23). The auteurists at Positif, for instance, have long preferred John Huston and Federico Fellini to Cahiers's preference for Alfred Hitchcock and Roberto Rosselini (p. 24). Aesthetic preferences, Sarris seems to imply, are, to a large extent, in the eyes of the beholder (p. 23), something that should make fin-de-siecle the death of the author postmodernists jump for joy.
Sarris's reflections in "The Auteur Theory Revisited" aren't simply of a defensive nature. He notes that auteurism is not as novel as its critics maintain. Critics Dwight McDonald and John Grierson, for instance, engaged in a form of auteurism before he came on the critical scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s (p. 24). He asks what he would do if he could rewrite history. If he could revise his theory today Sarris writes that he would place greater emphasis, a la the early auteurists at Cahiers and most of the critics at Movie, on a directors style than on the romantic agony of a directors personality (p. 23). The goal of auteurists, Sarris now says, is to describe the thematic and stylistic epiphanies of their favourite directors (p. 29) by carefully analysing how the cutting, the camera movements, the pacing, the placement of actors, the use of decor, and the content of specific shots in an auteur's films (p. 26).
"The Auteur Theory Revisited" was not Sarris's final reflections on the auteur theory that he had adapted to the American scene in 1962. In 1990 Sarris, in a ruminative mood thanks to his participation in a Film Comment symposium on the state of the film criticism art, looked back in his "Auteur Theory is Alive and Well and Living in Argentina" (in Roger Ebert, Awake in the Dark: Forty Years of Reviews, Essays, and Interviews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 420-429, original in Film Comment July/August 1990) over some forty years of auteur theory and some forty years of his battles with Pauline Kael over the auteur theory. Sarris admits that his 1962 "Notes on Auteurist Theory" was neither new nor original (p. 426), that it was more bluff and instinct than anything else (p. 426), and that Kael's criticism of the essay in her "Circles and Squares" sent him back to the drawing board (p. 422). Sarris, for instance, admits that he underrated Ingmar Bergman and George Cukor (p. 426). He goes on, however, to chide Kael for ignoring the disclaimers in his essay (p. 426) two of which he repeats in "Auteur Theory is Alive and Well", that he has no quarrel with placing auteurs in their broader social contexts (p. 423) and that auteurism is an approach to film history, to the film past (p. 427). And he goes on to do a bit of celebrating. He notes that auteurism was pervasive at the time that he wrote in the 1990s even among the semioticians who had taken over academic film studies (p. 420) and that those directors he placed in his pantheon of auteurs remained Olympian directors even among academic students of film in 1990 (p. 429).
Directorial auteurism, with its claims that film was or could be an art and that its artists were generally its directors, provided one of the intellectual justifications for instituting and expanding the study of film in colleges and universities in the 1960s and particularly in the 1970s just as colleges and universities were experiencing another growth spurt in the post-World War II baby boom period of tremendous economic growth. The increasing popularity of cinephilism among the young probably didn't hurt either. Just as auteurism was having its greatest successes, however, the professionalisaton and academicisisation of the study of film in the academy produced a backlash against the notion that directors were the creative authors of films as academics, impacted by an updated and revived Marxism, structuralism, semiology, a revived and updated feminism, and an updated and revived psychoanalysis proclaimed auteurism hopelessly romantic and out of date. Impacted by these new developments in theory many who taught film in the academy took up the anti-romantic author is dead banner of Roland Barthes (“The Death of the Author” in Barthes, Image-Music-Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978), pp. 142-148, and “From Work to Text”, in Barthes, Image-Music-Text, pp. 155-164) and Michel Foucault (“What is an Author” in Foucault, Language, Countermemory, Practice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 124-127) in film journals like Screen and a "radicalised" Cahiers du cinema.
Academics were not the only ones trying to dump auteurism into the ash heap of history after the 1970s. Some critics outside of academia were also predicting the demise of auteurism as well. Critic David Kipen (The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History (Hoboken, NJ: Melville House, 2006)), for instance, proclaimed the coming death of directorial auteurism and the resurrection of producer auteurism (p. 77) in the pages of a book that revives a number of the standard criticisms of directorial auteurism. Hitchcock's films after Psycho, claims Kipen, aren't very good, film is a collaborative medium, and if anyone is the author of films it is the screenwriter. Kipen also adds some new criticisms of directorial auteurism into the mix. Auteurism, he claims, was a power grab by directors made possible by a number of forces including the break up of Hollywood by the feds in the late 1940s, the impact of TV, the impact of McCarthyism (pp. 77-78), and the rise of directorial auteurism which celebrated the director and didn't really want to take on the hard historical work of studying film as a collaborative medium (p. 39), and satire. Kipen uses his screenwriter with recurring obsessions as auteur argument to show the silliness of an auteurism which claims to find thematic and visual obsessions in the midst of what is clearly a collaborative medium.
Just as auteurism appears to return from the depths of repression in Kipen's anti-auteurist polemic when he, if perhaps not entirely seriously, dedicates his manifesto to a number of film composers who he suggests, like my teacher Harry Geduld suggested to me in conversation sometime in the early 1980s, that if anyone is the author of a film it is the composer (Schreiber Theory, p. 9). On the basis of this evidence I fully expect auteurism, hopefully an auteurism with a greater sensitivity to history and social and cultural contexts, to remain central to debates in film studies and film theory long after I have shed this mortal coil. Where, after all, would film studies and film theory be without the auteurism that it can never seem to fully repress and which so many like to kick around if often in stereotyped and caricatured form?
Notes and Suggested Reading
For an excellent reader on auteurism that contains seminal essays on auteurism by Truffaut, Bazin, Ian Cameron, Sarris, Kael, and Vidal see Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Auteurs and Auteurism: A Film Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008)
For a history of American film criticism, the backdrop and backstory for this essay, a history that, in the final analysis is far too polemical for my taste, see Raymond Haberski, "It's Only a Movie": Films and Critics in American Culture (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001)
For a critique of Kael’s “Raising Kane” and its errors of fact and interpretation see Jonathan Rosenbaum, Discovering Orson Welles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), particularly the essay “I Missed it at the Movies: Objections to “'Raising Kane'”, pp. 16-27. Also see Rosenbaum’s editors notes on Citizen Kane in Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum (New York: Da Capo, new edition, 1998), pp. 513-518 and Bogdanovich’s “New Introduction: My Orson” in Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum (New York: Da Capo, new edition, 1998), pp. vii-xxxix, especially pp. xviii and xx-xxvii. Speaking of Bogdanovich's introduction to the new edition of This is Orson Welles, "My Orson", in that essay Bogdanovich notes that while he did the legwork, research, and interviews for "The Kane Mutiny", Welles had a "strong hand" in revising and rewriting it (p. xxiv).
For a thoroughly documented historical analysis of the scripts of Kane see Robert Carringer, "The Scripts of Citizen Kane", in James Naremore (ed.), Orson Welles's Citizen Kane: A Sourcebook (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 79-121.