Arising in France in the late 1940s, the auteur was a cinematic theory created by Andre Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, and introduced in the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema. Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were the first to coined the phrase “la politique des Auteurs”, suggesting the theory of the director as author. The idea was to advance the cause of cinema as a legitimate art form by awarding the director with the status of an artist. Both Truffaut and Godard believed that directors should use the commercial device of film making the way a painter uses a brush, or writer uses a pen, and, through the mise en scène, impress his or her vision apon the work.
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The idea was that a film is most valuable when it is the product of the director, and his personal style. Thus in film authorship, the influences of the director can be seen through all of his works, often at times exhibiting aspects of their personal life portrayed through out each film. Ideally, one could watch a film without previously knowing who directed it and then be able to identify who was responsible for its creation. Simply put, the auteur theory acts to describe the mark of a film director on his films and a style that he distinctly owns. Much like one can look at a painting and tell if it is a Picasso, if a film director is an auteur, one can look at his film and tell by its style and recurring themes that a certain director made it.
According to the authorship theory, it does not matter whether or not the director writes his own films, the cinematographer, actors, and others involved in its creation are of secondary if any consideration. The film is said to reflect the vision and the mind of the director through the choices he makes in his film, including his casting of crew and actors. Naturally, a great deal of criticism surrounds such a suggestion. As Philip Halsall (2002) points out “film is clearly a collaborative process, even in the smallest of productions, and to elevate the status of the director is to belittle the contributions of other creative personnel such as the cinematographer, the editor, the sound man, and the actors”.
For a director to be considered a true auteur, Andrew Sarris declared, (“HYPERLINK “http://www.britishfilm.org.uk/lynch/biblio.html#sarris”Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962HYPERLINK “http://www.britishfilm.org.uk/lynch/biblio.html#sarris””) a premise must exist whereby “the distinguishable personality of the director is a criterion of value. Over a group of films, a director must exhibit certain recurring characteristics of style, which serve as his signature”.
One notable auteur, whose filmography has expanded over three decades, is David Lynch. A David Lynch film produces distinctly notable traits readily observed by the amateur, and commanded by the aficionado. His individual surrealist style has defied description thus necessitating the creation of a new term of classification, aptly titled – ‘Lynchian’.
Lynch’s films are aesthetically progressive with inherently conservative subject matter hidden behind a postmodern veneer.
Thematically repetitive, a David Lynch film involves parallel worlds both literally and the metaphorically contrasted elements of evil and innocence, weirdness and normality, the absurd and the macabre.
The use of duplicity, extensive use of dreams and dream like nightmarish sequences, an obsession with the clandestine, extreme graphic violence and sadistic masochistic sexuality are all fixtures in some form.
Lynchian created protagonists are tortured souls constructing illusions to escape their reality, when these fantasies unravel, in the case of Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, The Elephant Man and Eraserhead, the only alternative is death. For those characters that manage to survive a Lynch film, the idea of a happy conclusion is parodied in a contrived manner, the image of the ‘mechanical robin’ in Blue Velvet mocking such an improbable end.
Lynch’s juxtaposition of the homely and the eccentric is re-occurring fixation. Nothing is ever as it seems, there is always a more ominous existence lying beneath the surface or hidden behind the curtains. In Blue Velvet, Lynch created an idyllic suburbia drawing on conventions from teenage movies of the 50’s, “he presents a Happy Days/American Graffiti nostalgia to the point of parody, to give a contrast to the dark ‘other world’ that is inevitably co-existent”. (Philip Halsall (2002)
The idealised picturesque world is contrasted with a more sinister dystopian one by employing Lynch’s continuing engagement of conventional noir aesthetics.
The picture perfect ‘Grease’ type dynamic in Blue Velvet – including the demure blonde debutante Sandy, is balanced by an exceedingly disturbing and menacing underbelly, centred on a dangerous and fairly unstable femme fatale.
The femme fatale and its iconography can be scene in almost all Lynchian films. The portrayal of a highly sexualised woman, she is the figure of danger and unattainable desire. She is often filmed in a distinctly voyeuristic manner as scene in Blue Velvet when Jeremy hides in a cupboard and watches Dorothy undress, and in Lost Highway when Alice is forced to strip for Mr Eddy.
Lynch utilizes duplicity of characters and motifs as a tactic to reinforce the parallel and to suggest alternative realities. The use of doubles is a traditional convention of dream like realities that can be seen as far back as characters from the Wizard of Oz, a film that Lynch is a self-proclaimed admirer of.
Lynch also engages in acts of cinematic self-referentiality. The Black Lodge in Twin Peaks is resurrected in different forms in both Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. The magical box is Hellraiser, a central ingredient to the narrative returns as the blue box in Mulholland Drive, symbolic of a portal between two worlds.
Curtains are an interconnected motif and similar form of self-referntiality. They can be seen in the Elephant Man as he is revealed on stage, draped heavily almost engulfing Fred as he wanders down the dark hallway in Lost Highway and consuming the opening sequence of Blue Velvet – the use of curtains points to looming darkness, the sinister undertone of what’s hidden behind them.
Lynch’s films offer an artistic form to the contemporary efforts of post-classical Hollywood. Lynch has developed a signatory approach of unconventional narrative, consistent thematic expressions and a distinctly visual style recognizable to both audiences and critics worldwide.
However, this cannot be proclaimed so evidently for all of Lynch’s films. Dune (1984) was both a critical and commercial disaster and perceived as the least ‘lynchian’ of his films. Shunned even by Lynch himself, Dune epitomises the constraints and compromises of artistic expression by the commercial demands of auteurism.
“I didn’t really feel I really had permission to make it [Dune] my own. That was the downfall for me. It was a problem. Dune was like a kind of studio film. I didn’t have final cut. And, little by little, I was subconsciously making compromises – knowing I couldn’t go here and not wanting to
go there. (Rodley 1997, 119-120)”. – David Lynch quote
For David Lynch and many other auteurs, the focus on a film’s potential for box office returns, by the studios and the financial backers, becomes the catalyst for tremendous artistic limitation.
There is a “contradiction in cinema between the commercial need to maintain the ideology of the creative artists and a simultaneous need to redefine ownership in terms of capital, rather than creative investment”. (Theories of authorship, Caughie, pg 2. Brecht and the film industry, Screen 16, Ben Brewster, pg 16-33).
The auteur as a commercial oddity coincides with the contemporary status of the auteur as a celebrity. Contemporary auteurs are for the most part, labelled by their commercial status and their ability to promote a film. The idea of the auteur-star alternates the director in place of the actor as the main drawcard. As much as an actor’s acclaimed performance can carry or redeem a script, the auteur-star has the ability to carry and redeem any sort of textual material. (The Commerce of Auteurism, A Cinema Without Walls: Movie and Culture After Vietnam. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1991, pg.104)
The auteur as a business entity is less a matter of artistic accomplishments and more about attaining a status that sells both the film to the audience, and the director to a studio. (New Hollywood cinema: an introduction, By Geoff King pg.115)
The idea of the auteur-star is seen commercially as a means of publicity and advertisement. Meaghan Morris noted that today “the primary modes of film and auteurs packaging are advertising, review snippeting, trailers, magazine profiles – always ready in appropriation as the precondition, and not the postproduction of meaning. ” (pg 91 Film theory: critical concepts in media and cultural studies, By Philip Simpson, Andrew Utterson, Karen J. Shepherdson Taylor & Francis, 2004) Our primary access to the auteur is not seen directly through his/her films but through controlled media mediums such as television, websites, and award ceremonies. (An introduction to film studies, By Jill Nelmes, pg.139)
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Before David Lynch’s Twin Peaks hit mainstream America it was backed by an explosion of teaser advertising, it was hailed as “the show that would change the face of network television forever” on the September 1989 cover of Connoisseur magazine, long before the pilot had gone to air. Overnight, it seemed, there were board games, guidebooks and even ‘Bart Simpson Killed Laura Palmer’ T-shirts.
The constant marketing and promotion of an auteur film communicates information to a large number of audiences who may know the makers reputation but have never seen the films. The auteur is then seen as commercial tactic for promoting associations and controlling audience reception. By listing a director in the films title, as some kind of brand, guarantees a relationship between the audience and the film and conditions the way it will be viewed and received. (The Commerce of Auteurism, A Cinema Without Walls: Movie and Culture After Vietnam. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1991, pg.102)
To react to a movie as primarily a Lynch film, for example, is the refusal to form any evaluative response. For the audience, much of the enjoyment lies in already being able to know the gist of the film as a product of the creator’s generated public image.
3. Textual auteurism
4. Critical auteurism as a category
Auteurism is a critical category, in the sense of understanding the author as a critical construct rather than a person.
The ability to identify “Hitchcock” as a group of structuring principles that could be engineered from a critical examination of films, but bearing no necessary relation to the small, fat, male person who routinely appeared in each of these movies.
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