Auteur and Genre Theories

We spoke a bit yesterday in class about how genre theory emerged partially in reaction against auteur theory. While I can see why this would occur, I also wonder if it is possible for the two theories to work in harmony. Specifically, in the genre theory chapter of Understanding Film Theory, one theorist is highlighted that suggests this possibility. On pages 26-27, the chapter focuses on Edward Buscombe, who wrote about genre theory in the 70s. According to the textbook authors, Buscombe was interested in the semantics portion of a film as a means of assigning it to a genre. However, Buscombe calls the semantics “the outer form” or “formal elements.” The definition, however, remains the same as the one we discussed in class; the outer form is the “setting, clothes, tools of the trade, and miscellaneous physical objects” of a film (27). The authors then write that “these four interlinking elements impact on the narrative framework and dictate to a certain extent how stories are told” (27). Thus, it is the mise-en-scene (or outer form or semantics) that situate a film firmly in one genre. The authors then go on to say that “Buscombe claims that genre enables good directors to excel” (27). Thus, good directors use genre, and its accompanying outer forms, as a blueprint for the film; if they are making a Western, directors know what essential props, costuming, etc. are needed and came work within the narrative framework. They excel when they push the boundaries of a specific genre and approach it in an original manner.

I am wondering, though, if we an extend Buscombe’s argument to reach a connection between genre and auteur. If we were to apply Buscombe’s argument that good directors can excel when working within the confines of a specific genre, one that possesses specific outer forms, to the inner form, or the central themes or ideas, what would happen? Take Scorsese’s body of work for example. As the auteur theory chapter asserts, Scorsese’s films are connected due to their preoccupation with Catholicism. That, I believe, qualifies as a specific inner form or recurring theme across a number of films. While not all of the Scorsese’s films look the same, could they still be contained within the same genre? Could a qualification for an auteur therefore be that they oftentimes work within one specific genre, based on the inner form/theme/syntax of their films? Or, is the outer form of a film more indicative of a genre and taking the themes of an auteur director not enough to say that a director works within one genre?

Dr. Strangelove

This was my third time viewing Dr. Strangelove and like many others, I was constantly picking up on film techniques and important aspects of the mise-en-scene that I missed out on the first time around. One of the devices I noticed this third time around was the use of a non-diegetic score every time the film cut to the scenes in the bomber plane. Whenever the stakes were heightened a fast-paced military type score was heard that served to heighten the tension and create an atmosphere in which danger was immenient . Using this device allowed Kubrick to easily show the audience the severity of their Cold War situation without any of the characters having to outwardly say that the decisions they were about to make were important. Another device that Kubrick used to highlight important moments in the plot was quick zooms. Kubrick employed this technique when the message for the bombing first comes in on the plane and then features this again when the pilot of the plane is double checking the bombing request with his code manual. Using the camera in this way allowed Kubrick to create a sequence that was both visually interesting and informative.
Another cinematic element I focused on while watching the film was the coloring of the mise-en-scene. As many people pointed out in class, Kubrick shot the entire film in black and white, an artistic choice that I believe fit the subject of the film nicely. The grey landscape featured in the film is representative of the bleak outlook many had on life duing the Cold War because it was a time in which the main subjects on people’s mindset were nuclear war and death. Had this film been shot in color it wouldn’t have conveyed the seriousness of this moment in history in the way that a saturated black and white mise-en-scene does.


Gone with the wind as a tragedy.

According to Aristotle a tragedy is defined as a “the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in appropriate and pleasurable language;… in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish a catharsis of these emotions.”

He also goes on to say that there are six distinctive elements of tragedy: i) plot, ii) characters, iii) diction, iv) song, v) thought and vi) spectacle.

In class I raised the question…does there have to be death to have something be a tragedy?  I used the example of Gone with the Wind. Branching off of that, I will go through the steps that determine whether or not Gone with the Wind is.

i) plot.  There certainly is a plot in this film and it revolves around big moments and themes — marriage, death, longing, loathing, and of course the Civil War.

ii) characters. There are relatable and strong characters in this film, but maybe this film would have a different outcome if the characters are different.

iii) diction. The diction of the film is that of the time, and there is very dramatic language and tones, which correlates with Aristotle’s idea of diction.

iv) song. There’s a score to the film.

v) thought. Many speeches and monologues reveal the inner nature of the main characters (namely Scarlett).

vi) spectacle. Gone with the Wind is easily one of, if not, the most highly regarded spectacles of all time. It draws viewers in with its flashy sets and costumes, and the amount of people it took to produce such a film.

After going through the pieces that create a tragedy, and the fact the film ends on a heartbreaking/melancholy (yet hopeful) note, I would say that Gone with the Wind is a tragedy.

Expressing a view point from Friday

In lieu of the discussion we had on Friday I would like to bring in an outside source that was given to me by a friend with a similar universally objective take on things in life. He gave me this article from the Washington post The article has, what I’d like think as, a nice take on Identity Politics that sometimes feel as though they been become overly absorbed into our everyday lives. When, or rather if you choose to read this article I would ask that you keep one of the key arguments in Jean-Louis Baudry’s Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus  in mind; the argument which expresses the need to objectively study the cinematographic apparatus. Believing that the ideological surplus that comes with concealing the work lens could be used to dangerous ends if, as spectators, we forget the concealment of the work lens. In the spirit of that fear this article, in my opinion, serves as a wonderful example of the possible consequences in choosing to focus too heavily on identity politics when studying, for the sake of our class in this case, the cinematographic apparatus.

Genres and Sub-categorization

Corrigan and White discuss the utility of breaking down how genres came to be a staple of the film experience by identifying commonalities between films of similar subject matter, collecting them into groupings called genres.  One can find that movies with similar narratives are usually under the same genre because they follow the same “blueprints” as to how characters, settings, etc., are used within the context of the film.  In relation to auteur theory, it is through genres I think that those who are Auteurs can better  define themselves because of the certain privileges and limitations that genres provide.  A movie can fall into any genre, but it is because of that principle that, in reverse, when using the syntax and semantics of a genre as building blocks to a film, an auteur has already been provided the seeds needed to try and stand out from the generic exemplary films of a genre.

I thought Aristotle’s point about the construction of a tragedy added an alternative perspective to how we determine a genre.  He said that a tragedy was a full action that delivered a message and that if not for the correct positioning of events, then the tragedy wasn’t pure.  I find that genre based on construction of a movie is like another filter added to a Netflix search and that, as time has moved on, how genres are perceived have changed as such.  Now instead of looking at the order of events in a tragedy, we look at if a movie has the correct semantics (and loose syntax) to be labeled a tragedy.

It is with this change in distinction of how we determine what genre a movie fits into that I believe we can find an auteur.  Because we know from Aristotle that the order of events of an action are important, and from C&W that there must be some familiar semantics involved to dictate a genre, the combination of both is how I find that an auteur can develop him/herself.  Just as a cook can be distinguished by the order of ingredients s/he uses to what degrees, an auteur can become distinguished in the same way, but instead of using a recipe and eggs and milk, the auteur has Aristotle’s model and Rick Altman’s Semantic/Syntactic approach.

Dr. Strangelove

This was the second time I’ve watched Dr. Strangelove, and I’m sure if it was the 10th time I’d still pick up something new that Kubrick has subtly put in the film. This is one of my all time favorite films for so many reasons. It’s funny, exciting, was expertly crafted, and had a very powerful and meaningful plot. Made during Cold War times, this film is terrifying in the idea that we could fall into nuclear war.

One thing I notice when watching Dr. Strangelove is that it’s in black and white, when it did not have to be. Kubrick also did this in Path’s of Glory.  Which makes me believe that Kubrick is trying to make us focus on sounds. The music was a big part of Strangelove. Every time the B52 bomber was shown, a song was playing that I’m pretty sure is called “The ants are marching on” which would mean that soldiers are like ants. Something that may go unnoticed.

There’s almost too much subtlety to cover in this film. Something not as subtle was the billboard saying “peace is our profession.” During the firefight.

I was completely fooled by Peter Sellers’ portrayal of the president. I knew previously that he played two roles, but he is very talented.

The end to this film is one of my favorite scenes in any film ever.  Now, I am a huge Simpsons fan, and I saw this:

before I saw Dr. Strangelove, and when that happened in the film I was very excited. My favorite film we’ve watched so far.

Dr. Strangelove and Auteur Theory

Firstly, Dr. Strangelove is one of my favorite Kubrick films – it is expertly shot, written and performed. Each time I watch, I pick up something new. Kubrick is no stranger to brilliance… Paths of Glory, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, 2001 to name a few establish him as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. But is Kubrick an auteur filmmaker?

Perhaps the answer to that question is based on personal opinion. Honestly, if we are looking at the classic definition of auteur filmmakers, where there is an overlapping theme, element, or motif that appears throughout the auteur’s life work,  then Kubrick might not fall into the classically defined category. But let’s avoid definitions… The man does bring a common theme to his films… they just don’t glare at us like Hitchcock’s films might.

Obviously, Paths of Glory is quite unlike A Clock Work Orange which is very different from 2001 which does not even come close to the Shining. But what Kubrick does so masterfully is create stories that are character driven, playing off against a strange, yet recognizable world around them. He also begs each of his protagonists (or Anti-heroes) to question their own morality, question the world they live in, and bask in the unique alternative cinematic reality they have found themselves in. Perhaps that is why Kubrick is an auteur. The absurdity of the punishment in Paths… or the lunacy of the War Room in Strangelove does go hand in hand with the dystopia London Alex De Large resides in during Clockwork or the spaceship Dave calls home in 2001. None of these characters react to the world they live in. That satirical approach to the absurd, often masked in not only beautiful images, but hyper violence, intense sexuality, and aggressive language only forces the illusion to go further. His characters stand out even more given their vast backdrops.

Thus, I would argue Kubrick is an auteur. He made 13 films in his career, nearly all of which are critically acclaimed. Whether we look at the opening 40 minutes of Full Metal Jacket or the final scene of Spartacus, Kubrick’s common theme throughout his films is how his characters (often larger than life) respond to the world around them (often so riddled with troubling absurdity) that we can’t help but see the point glaring us in the face. Coming back to Strangelove, the satirical characters allow us to see the scary absurdity of nuclear war or even war in general! Kubrick basically asks us to look at these people and say “Really? What the hell is the point?”

Ripper and Mandrake in Dr. Strangelove

I love the names in the film. General Ripper is, appropriately, revealed to be Jack D. Ripper, and his obsession with bodily fluids reflects the manner in which the historical Ripper committed his crimes. Another that comes to mind is the British Mandrake. Perhaps the least hegemonically masculine men in the film, his name is the union of “Man” and an alternate word for Dragon, a highly masculine mythical creature with typical traits reflecting masculinity taken to the extreme. Meanwhile, Mandrake is averse to conflict, speaks in a higher tone and has a more “urban” vernacular and accent. Not to mention he is rather short and well-groomed. The juxtaposition of his name and his character is really amusing, opposed the appropriately-named and much more hegemonically masculine Ripper. Really a very interesting comparison and conflict between the two, and their ends! Ripper takes the “coward’s way” and kills himself, while Mandrake has to assert his authority and force the other man to allow him to do his duty.

Kubrick, Auteur

I was reading up on Kubrick on IMDb, and came across a list of 30 of his “trademarks”, which could arguably distinguish him as an auteur. Here’s the list, as taken from IMDb (

1. Narration:
Nearly all of his films contain a narration at some point (2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)) contains narration in the screenplay, as does the screenplay for Eyes Wide Shut (1999), and The Shining (1980) has some sparse title cards.
2. Adaptation:
Adapted every film he made from a novel, excluding his first two films: Killer’s Kiss (1955) and Fear and Desire (1953) (both from original source material), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
3. Human Nature:
His films often tell about the dark side of human nature, especially dehumanization.
4. Symmetry:
Symmetric image composition. Often features shots down the length of tall, parallel walls, e.g. the head in Full Metal Jacket (1987), the maze and hotel corridors in The Shining (1980) and the computer room in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
5. Conflict:
Constructs three-way conflicts.
6. Shots:
Otfen uses extreme close-ups of intensely emotional faces.
7. CRM 114:
He often uses the sequence CRM114 in serial numbers. CRM-114 is the name of the decoder in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), the Jupiter explorer’s “license plate number” in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is CRM114, and in A Clockwork Orange (1971) Alex is given “Serum 114” when he undergoes the Ludovico treatment.
8. Bathroom:
All of Kubrick’s films feature a pivotal scene that takes place in a bathroom.
9. Long Takes:
Known for his exorbitant shooting ratio and endless takes, he reportedly exposed an incredible 1.3 million feet of film while shooting The Shining (1980), the release print of which runs for 142 minutes. Thus, he used less than 1% of the exposed film stock, making his shooting ratio an indulgent 102:1 when a ratio of 5 or 10:1 is considered the norm.
10. Beginning with Voice Over:
Paths of Glory (1957), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and A Clockwork Orange (1971) all begin with a voice over, and The Killing (1956) features narration.
11. Involves his wives in his movies:
His first wife, Toba Etta Metz Kubrick, was the dialogue director for Stanley’s first feature film Fear and Desire (1953). His second wife, Ruth Sobotka Kubrick, was in Killer’s Kiss (1955) as a ballet dancer named Iris in a short sequence for which she also did the choreography. Kubrick’s third, and final, wife, Christiane Harlan Kubrick, appeared (as Susanne Christian) in Paths of Glory (1957) before she married him as the only female character (a German singing girl) in the movie. She also did some of the now-infamous paintings for A Clockwork Orange (1971) and some more for Eyes Wide Shut (1999). In addition, her brother, Jan, was Stanley’s assistant for A Clockwork Orange (1971) and the executive producer for all of Kubrick’s films starting with Barry Lyndon (1975) and going through The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Also, his daughter, Vivian Kubrick, is the little girl who asks for a Bush Baby for her birthday in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
12. Music:
Almost always uses previously composed music (such as The Blue Danube and Thus Spake Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
13. Shooting Ratio:
Preferred to shoot his films in the Academy ratio (1.37:1). The exceptions were: Spartacus (1960), in Panavision, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), in Cinerama. Much of his films consist of wide-angle shots that give the impression of a wide-screen movie, wide up-and-down as well as wide sideways. From The Killing (1956) onward, his films looked increasingly odder, bigger, and more properly viewed from the rows closer to the screen.
14. The Glare:
One of his signature shots was “The Glare” – a character’s emotional meltdown is depicted by a close-up shot of the actor with his head tilted slightly down, but with his eyes looking up – usually directly into the camera. Examples are the opening shot of Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971), Jack slowly losing his mind in The Shining (1980), Pvt. Pyle going mad in Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Tom Cruise‘s paranoid thoughts inside the taxicab in Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Even HAL-9000 has “The Glare” in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
14. First-person:
Uses the first person viewpoint (the character’s perspective) at least once in each film.
15. Credits:
Credits are always a slide show. He never used rolling credits except for the opening of The Shining (1980).
16. Aspect Ratios:
Varies aspect ratios in a single film. Apparent in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and A Clockwork Orange (1971).
17. Tracking Shots:
In almost every movie he made, there is a tracking shot of a character (the camera following the character).
18. End Credits:
All of his films end with “The End”, when this became out of style in later years because of the need to run end credits, he moved “The End” to the end of the credits.
19. Musical Irony:
Often uses music to work against on-screen images to create a sense of irony. In A Clockwork Orange (1971), Alex sings “Singin’ in the Rain” while raping Mrs. Alexander. In Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), images of nuclear holocaust are accompanied by the song “We’ll Meet Again”. The final scene in Full Metal Jacket (1987) has the battle hardened Marines singing the theme to “The Mickey Mouse Club”.
20. Dark humor:
All of Kubrick’s films, especially “Dr. Strangelove”, have elements of black humor in them.
21. Mono Sound:
Preferred mono sound over stereo. Only three of his movies – Spartacus (1960), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – were originally done in stereo sound.
22. Duality:
Kubrick’s last five films, minus The Shining (1980), are structurally split into two distinct halves, most likely to mimic the nature of duality in the characters of his films. For example, A Clockwork Orange (1971) shows Alex (Malcolm McDowell) as a sadistic rapist and murderer in the first half of the film and a mind-controlled guinea pig in the second half. In Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Bill (Tom Cruise) travels amidst sexual temptation in New York at night in the first half of the film and rude awakenings during the day in the second half.
23. Plot:
Almost all of his films involve a plan that goes horribly wrong.
24. Contrast:
Frequently uses strong primary colors in his cinematography and sharp contrast between black and white.
25. Characters:
Often features mellow, emotionally distant characters.
26. Themes:
His films often tackle controversial social themes.
27. Symbolism:
Very strong visual style with heavy emphasis on symbolism.
28. Slow-paced dialogue:
often had actors pause several beats between line delivery. Also, rarely (if ever) did his dialogue overlap.
29. Shots:
Slow, methodical tracking shots.
30. Actors:
Often cast Peter Sellers, Kirk Douglas, and Philip Stone.