Auteur Theory

When investigating this theory, can we really call certain directors the true author of the film? Do they handle the camera like a pen, controlling all aspects of the finished product. Honestly, the answer is yes and no.

Looking at music, rather than cinema to start – let’s use Bruce Springsteen as an example. Bruce is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, harmonica player and pianist. He does not play the saxophone, drums, bass or countless other instruments that appear in his music. However, the final song that we hear is perfected by Springsteen. Every single instrument is orchestrated by Springsteen to sound exactly how he wants it to. He would often spend months recording one song. Band members hated him, but respected his talent so much they couldnt walk away. He was such a perfectionist, that when his manager, Mike Appel played him the finalized version of the Born to Run Album, he chucked the record out the hotel window and told him he never wanted it released. Springsteen is an auteur of music. He perfects his musical vision and controls all elements, even if he isn’t actually capable of playing certain positions.

The same is true for many directors in Hollywood. I would like to argue that it is important for a director to write the screenplay for the film they direct in order to be considered an auteur, but there are exceptions to even that rule. Thus, I feel the only way to accurately define an auteur in the truest sense is to use Springsteen as an example. Does the director sit with the cinematographer, the editor, the actor, the crew, and the writer and have final authority over every single element? Are they able to work with each collaborating team member and instruct them to create his vision so perfectly that the final product is from the director’s mind (thus making his team members his employees rather than colleagues)? I think when a director has that kind of control, they really are an auteur. But there is more to it… they need to have distinction to their work. You know a fincher film when you see it. You know a Kubrick film, a Tarantino film, etc. But do you know a Michael Bay film? A Joss Whedon film? NO. Why? Because ever though those directors may have incredible authority for the final product, they have yet to distinguish themselves as having a recurring thematic aesthetic and tone to their work. Thus, I feel it is only fair to classify a director as an auteur when they meet the criteria above. To make matters more complicated, however, I think there are directors throughout history who have produced incredible films, consistently, that don’t have a DIRECT element that makes it truly theirs. My favorite example is Mike Nichols. He directed my favorite movie of all time… The Graduate. Is he an auteur filmmaker? I honestly might not classify him as such. Which is really interesting because he is one of the greatest creative talents in history (EGOT winner). So in conclusion, I think you can be a great director without necessarily being an auteur filmmaker and I think you can be an auteur filmmaker without necessarily being a great director.

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