THE IMPACT OF AUTEURISM
To a great extent, the academic study of film in English-speaking countries arose from auteurism. The premise of individual artistic expression proved congenial to scholars trained in art, literature, and theater. Moreover, auteurism's emphasis on the interpretation of a film called on skills already cultivated by literary education.
During the 1960s, auteur-based courses began to appear in the American college curriculum. Trade publishers launched book series that translated French monographs and gave a forum to the Movie critics and their American counterparts. University presses started publishing academic studies such as Donald Richie's The Films of Akira Kurosawa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965) and Charles Higham's The Films of Orson Welles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970). In the mid- to late 1960s, colleges and universities started film study programs, often emphasizing individual directors. The process by which auteurism helped lay the groundwork for contemporary film study is discussed in David Bordwell, Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).
AUTEURISM AND THE AMERICAN CINEMA
Only certain versions of auteurism proved controversial. Critics had been ascribing films to their directors since at least World War I. In the 1950s, no one doubted that the films by the eight auteurs we discuss in this chapter could be treated as "personal expression" in some sense. But the young critics of the British journal Sequence and of the French magazines Cahiers and Positif, and later writers like Andrew Sarris and the Movie group, urged that Hollywood filmmakers who might have no input into their scripts could also be treated as expressive artists. Look at the body of their work, the critics urged, and you will see recurrent themes, stylistic patterns, and narrative strategies. In this light, not only Howard Hawks and John Ford but Otto Preminger and Vincente Minnelli could be revealed as sophisticated filmmakers with distinctive artistic visions. The "French revolution" in critical thought revealed artists in what most English-speaking intellectuals disdained as uniform, mass-produced entertainment.
By the early 1960s, French publishers were devoting entire volumes to Minnelli, Anthony Mann, and other American filmmakers. The breakthrough in English-language criticism came with Sarris's special 1963 issue of Film Culture on American cinema. Here he constructed a vast reference text on Hollywood directors, modeled on Cahiers's encyclopedic special issues on American cinema. Sarris grouped filmmakers, ranking them as "Pantheon Directors" (John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, D. W. Griffith, Josef von Sternberg, et al.), "Second Line" (George Cukor, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk, et al.), "Fallen Idols" (Elia Kazan, Fred Zinnemann, et al.), and so on. Each entry was accompanied by a brief discussion of the director's career.
The Film Culture issue was expanded into Sarris's book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions (New York: Dutton, 1968), one of the most influential volumes on film ever published. Sarris's career surveys provided the point of departure for many in-depth analyses, and auteurism became the overwhelmingly dominant approach to studying the history of the Hollywood cinema—a status it has never lost. The most diversified revision of the Sarrisapproach is Jean-Pierre Coursodon and Pierre Sauvage's two-volume collection American Directors (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983).
Auteurism changed in the late 1960s. A group of writers associated with the British Film Institute sought to make the approach more rigorous by incorporating insights from structuralist linguistics and anthropology. Now an auteur's themes could be seen as organized around oppositions (e.g., desert versus garden). The oppositions might then be reconciled by mediating images or narrative actions. An early example of "auteur structuralism" is Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's Visconti (London: Secker and Warburg, 1967); the theory was most fully systematized in chapter 2 of Peter Wollen's Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (London: Secker and Warburg, 1969; rev. ed., 1972).
Auteur structuralism was soon surpassed by a revision in Cahiers's policy during the late 1960s (see Chapter 23). The new generation of Cahiers critics adopted a Marxist position that treated auteur films as unwitting expressions of social ideology. The most influential formulation of this view was a 1970 essay by the Cahiers editors on John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln. Here John Ford's direction was said to "rewrite" a script that could have simplistically celebrated the Lincoln myth. The conflict between the script and Ford's personal themes and motifs resulted in a film full of discordances; these in turn expressed contradictions within dominant ideology. For a general account of the Cahiers position, see Jean Narboni and Jean-Louis Comolli, "Cinema/ Ideology/ Criticism," a 1969 essay reprinted in Bill Nichols, ed., Movies and Methods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 22–30. The Young Mr. Lincoln study has been widely reprinted. (See Nichols, Movies and Methods, pp. 493–529.)
Cahiers's new approach to authorship was extended during the 1970s by writers in the British journal Screen and other publications of the British Film Institute. Examples are several essays in Laura Mulvey and Jon Halliday, eds., Douglas Sirk (Edinburgh Film Festival, 1972); Phil Hardy, ed., Raoul Walsh (Edinburgh Film Festival, 1974); and Claire Johnston, ed., The Work of Dorothy Arzner (London: British Film Institute, 1975).
Some historians have accused the auteur approach of concentrating on individual innovation rather than institutional processes. Nonetheless, a notion of directorial authorship has remained central to most film scholarship. The development of auteur debates is traced in John Caughie's anthology Theories of Authorship (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981). For personal accounts of the rise of auteurism in the United States, see Emanuel Levy, Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001).
1950s AND 1960s MODERNIST CINEMA
As we have seen, non-American auteurs were often identified with a modernist trend in postwar cinema. During this period, several English-language critics examined this trend. Their discussions document art cinema's rise to authority in western film culture.
Penelope Houston's The Contemporary Cinema (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1963) and John Russell Taylor's Cinema Eye, Cinema Ear: Some Key Filmmakers of the Sixties (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964) typify the response of mainstream British criticism to European and Asian auteurs. David Thomson's more offbeat Movie Man (New York: Stein and Day, 1967) incorporates both American and European auteurs within a tradition of inquiry into the nature of the "visual society." More explicitly than many of his contemporaries, Thomson made the issue of reflexivity central to modernist cinema. In addition, Parker Tyler recast modernist arguments for an American readership; see his essay "Rashomon as Modern Art" in The Three Faces of the Film (Cranbury, NJ: Barnes, 1967) and his influential popularization Classics of the Foreign Film (New York: Bonanza, 1962).
More recent and historically framed surveys of modernist cinema are Roy Armes's The Ambiguous Image: Narrative Style in Modern European Cinema (London: Secker and Warburg, 1976) and Robert Phillip Kolker's The Altering Eye: Contemporary International Cinema (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983). Armes's discussion stops around 1968, while Kolker's moves into the late 1970s. More recent accounts are John Orr's Cinema and Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993) and András Bálint Kovács, Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema 1950-1980 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). All of these studies retain a broadly auteurist approach in tracing distinct strands within the modernist cinematic tradition.