Site MapHelpFeedbackNotes and Queries
Notes and Queries
(See related pages)


The auteur theory of film criticism and history held the individual director to be the primary source of the film's formal, stylistic, and thematic qualities. This theory, reinforced by the prominence of postwar directors in Europe and Asia, was applied by Cahiers du cinéma to Hollywood directors as well, and Andrew Sarris introduced it to English-language readers (see "Notes and Queries," Chapter 19). Collections of interviews such as Sarris's Interviews with Film Directors (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967) and Joseph Gelmis's The Film Director as Superstar (New York: Doubleday, 1970) reinforced the impression that the director was the central figure in the creation of a film. By the 1980s, this belief was taken for granted even in mass journalism and fan magazines.
      Many directors who came to prominence in America during the 1970s and 1980s knew the auteur theory through its promulgation in film schools and the popular press. Young directors self-consciously sought to create personal films modeled on European art cinema or the Hollywood classics of Hitchcock, Ford, and Hawks. The results of this strategy are discussed in Noël Carroll, "The Future of Allusion," October 20 (spring 1982): 51–81, and David Thomson, Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking (New York: Morrow, 1981), pp. 49–68.


American filmmakers' new awareness of film history coincided with a growing need to safeguard the country'smotion-picture heritage. During the 1970s and 1980s, nitrate copies were decomposing and Eastman Color prints began to fade. There were new efforts to preserve films (that is, keep good negatives and prints in archival conditions), to restore films (to bring deteriorated material back to something approaching its original quality), and to reconstruct films (to gather lost or discarded footage to enable viewers to see more complete or more original versions of films).
      The American Film Institute, founded in 1967, took as part of its charter the preservation and restoration of films. The Library of Congress, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Museum of Modern Art, the George Eastman House, and other archives saved hundreds of films with the financial assistance of the AFI. During the 1980s, the UCLA Film Archive restored Becky Sharp and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and MoMA reconstructed Intolerance. (See Robert Gitt and Richard Dayton, "Restoring Becky Sharp," American Cinematographer 65, no. 10 [November 1984]: 99–106, and Russell Merritt, "D. W. Griffith's Intolerance: Reconstructing an Unattainable Text," Film History 4, no. 4 [1990]: 337–75.) Individual specialists also took part. Ronald Haver found new footage for a longer version of A Star Is Born (1954; see A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration [New York: Knopf, 1988]), and Robert Harris restored Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus ("HP Interviews Robert Harris on Film Restoration," Perfect Vision 12 (winter 1991/1992): 29–34). Martin Scorsese helped finance the 1993 restoration and rerelease of El Cid (1961, Anthony Mann).
      The 1980s also saw a new public for older films, made available at special events or on video. Kevin Brownlow's series of silent films for Thames television led to gala theatrical showings of new prints of The Wind, Greed, and other classics. Brownlow and David Robinson discovered precious material from Charles Chaplin's outtakes and made them available in video formats as The Unknown Chaplin. Hollywood companies, recognizing the financial benefits of rereleases, cablecasting, and video versions, have become more willing to preserve and restore their films. The rise of DVD has led studios to prepare high-quality master prints that can be transferred to whatever formats may appear in the future.


Since the 1970s, exploitation movies have become cult items. Some fans find hilarity in the overblown dialogue, stiff performances, and awkward technique. This so-bad-it's-good attitude was popularized in Harry and Michael Medved, The Golden Turkey Awards (New York: Putnam, 1980). Other aficionados consider the exploitation films a direct challenge to the idea of normality presented by the Hollywood mainstream. Arising at the time of Punk and No Wave music, this notion of the subversive potential of rough technique and bad taste was exemplified in the "fanzines" Film Threat and That's Exploitation! With the new availability of exploitation items on video, a "psychotronic" subculture grew up around violent films, both old and more recent.
      "Incredibly Strange Films," Re/Search 10 (1986) gathers information on exploitation items of the 1960s. The magazine Video Watchdog specializes in comparing versions of exploitation horror films. Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (LosAngeles: Feral, 1992) compiles attractively odd interviews. Autobiographies of more successful exploitation filmmakers include William Castle, Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America: Memoirs of a B-Movie Mogul (New York: Pharos, 1992 [originally published in 1976]); Roger Corman (with Jim Jerome), How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (New York: Random House, 1990); and Sam Arkoff (with Richard Trubo), Flying through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants (New York: Birch Lane, 1992).

Film History 3eOnline Learning Center

Home > Chapter 22 > Notes and Queries