Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Auteurism Is a Taste, Not a Theory

No two people who call themselves auteurists will agree on what the term implies. I persist in regarding auteurism as an aesthetic taste, or rather a collection of aesthetic tastes that are somehow related to the concept of film direction. Historically speaking, one can make a strong case that the Cahiers critics, Sarris, and other prime exponents of auteurism advocated real canon change by demoting acclaimed filmmakers and promoting relatively unsung ones. Apart from this evaluative goal, it's difficult to point to tenets of theory that truly belong to the historical auteurist movements.

Nowadays auteurism sometimes seems too obvious to bother proclaiming, and sometimes seems too vague to be worth proclaiming. And yet film direction remains a controversial concept, if one looks at it from the right angle.

If I am about to try to restore some controversy to the idea of film direction, it's not because I want to establish a pure and objective standard for auteurism. I've pretty much given up on that goal: there's no trademark, anyone who wants the word can have it.

Case 1: Gone with the Wind

Depending on your accounting method, Gone with the Wind is either the most popular film ever made, or one of the most popular. As is well known, producer David O. Selznick included the work of five directors, plus a lot of second-unit footage, in the released product. A fair number of theatergoers seemed not to mind.

A few years ago, I posted to the a_film_by group a brief account of my attempt to decipher this bizarre experimental film. (The thread that follows my post contains the usual heated debate about who the "auteur" of the movie is. I am not interested in this issue: I don't believe that a film has a single "auteur.")

Here we have a nontrivial test of the importance of film direction. Possibly as a result of my cinematic indoctrination, Gone with the Wind seems to me positively incoherent. Not that I think it's a bad film: there are some strong sections, and the project in general has an interesting slant. But it feels like different movies from scene to scene. If I were watching a rough cut in Selznick's screening room, I would have said, "David, for God's sake, you can't release this thing! It's all over the place." And yet, for many viewers (and certainly not just unsophisticated ones), Gone with the Wind gives a high level of satisfaction and does not seem incoherent. In this case, monitoring the tone of the direction induces a response that diverges dramatically from the norm.

So I hypothesize that Gone with the Wind creates a significant divide between viewers whose appreciation is closely bound to film direction, and viewers who are at least capable of falling back to a different mode of appreciation.

Case 2: Television Series

Most of the critical acclaim for serial television goes to the series creator, who is often one of the chief writers as well. My impression is that directors are generally engaged on a short-term basis in TV, sometimes for single episodes, sometimes intermittently throughout a season or series.

I don't even have cable, and am not up to speed on TV developments. But, when I do watch TV, I don't seem to be able to suppress my interest in direction, even though the director of a TV series is just a poor thing.

I still think that "Beavis and Butt-Head" is the greatest sustained artistic achievement that I have encountered in the television medium, but, more recently, I've had some very good experiences with "The Sopranos." I first spotted series creator David Chase back in 1986, when he wrote (from a story by Clark Howard) and directed an unusually controlled and expressive episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" titled "Enough Rope for Two." Chase kept a low directorial profile until the excellent pilot episode of "The Sopranos," then didn't direct again until the series' final episode, the enigmatic "Made in America." Whether or not directing is a high priority for Chase, "Made in America" left no doubt that he had become one of the most accomplished filmmakers in America, with a light editing touch, a wild surreal humor conveyed through the slightest exaggerations and dislocations, and a melancholy sense of time slipping away through storytelling holes.

I've seen only two other episodes of "The Sopranos," both written or co-written but not directed by Chase. I thought they were both interesting, but didn't feel as if I was in the same universe as that of the Chase-directed episodes.

Of course, one can't expect that a hired director, presented with an existing story line and characters and presumably unable to influence script and editing, be able to compete with a series creator directing his or her own creation. The criterion I'm interested in here is not quality or freedom, but coherence. Because of my tastes, I can't imagine making general claims about a series: swapping directors creates discontinuities too great for me to regard the series as a unity. And yet a great many sophisticated viewers praise or deride TV series on a larger scale, as if the contributions of the series creators were able to keep series from flying apart as the directors are shuffled. Is this another criterion for separating the stubborn partisan of directorial style from the more aesthetically flexible viewer?


Michał Oleszczyk said...

That's a great post, Dan. I think even Sarris himself knew that what he tried to defent was more of a taste than a stiff set of rules. As he said in a review of EL DORADO:

"The beauties of EL DORADO, like the beauties of RIO BRAVO, are as obvious to one critical faction as they are obscure to another, and never the twain shell meet" (Andrew Sarris, 1967)

Blake L said...

This was very interesting to me, Dan, especially the part about directors working on episodic Television series. I've recently been watching MAVERICK (1957-1962) on the Western Channel. In formative years, it was my favorite TV show, though for some reasons I know and others I don't, I didn't actually see most of the episodes at the time. The show was created by Roy Huggins, a writer-producer, who did direct one single theatrical movie, which, as it happens, is excellent--that's HANGMAN'S KNOT (1952), a Randolph Scott movie that in a few specifics though not in any of the most profound ways anticipates the Ranown cycle of Budd Boetticher (interestingly, Boetticher directed the first three episodes of MAVERICK, and very capably, but I didn't find them intensely personal and don't think he did all that much to define the show). A few years after MAVERICK, Huggins created THE FUGITIVE (unlike MAVERICK, he didn't actually write any episodes for this one though). In talking about THE FUGITIVE Huggins made some very insightful observations, especially that the hero's situation (he is a man on the run unjustly convicted of murder) allowed him to be involved with many different women while having a good excuse not to stay with any of them.

MAVERICK, a show in a much lighter vein--it has many dramatic episodes, a few of them pretty dark, but found its individuality in the comic tone that star James Garner basically built his career on (and co-star Jack Kelly who came on as his brother was deft with this tone as well, while the two had great chemistry when they appeared together)--also plays to this male fantasy (if that's what we need to call it and I guess we do) in contrasting tone, and that's part of its appeal, along with the general freedom of the Maverick brothers who are gamblers, very self-knowing and at times bemused by life, rather than especially heroic in the manner of older Western heroes.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Huggins found two successes because he knew how to conceive something that had a kind of built-in psychological appeal. Even without hands on creativity for these series, he could be considered the auteur.

And yet, as a student of directorial style like you are, I find myself very aware of the directors who come and go on MAVERICK, a number of whom directed a lot of episodes. I tend to like the stories well enough that I can enjoy episodes directed by Leslie H. Martinson or Richard L. Bare even though I don't see either man as especially inspired. Their mise en scene is functional but gets the job done. Douglas Heyes, a writer as well as a director, is a little more ambitious in his approach, and I usually find his episodes (often the more dramatic ones though not always) to not only have good scripts (some of which show knowledge of movies like GILDA and JUBAL, which he cleverly reworks) but an abundance of interesting directorial touches, even given the same stringent shooting schedules faced by Bare or Martinson. Arthur Lubin was brought on midway through the series and did many episodes, most of them comedies (he had a long and successful, and not negligible record with comedies in theatrical features, and I think he was an interesting, individual talent), but the other day when the final credits came on to one atmospheric and poignantly romantic episode, I was surprised it was him (we auteurists must keep an open mind);
the same talent turned in another direction.

But the revelations involve directors most people here will know. There is an episode both written and directed by Robert Altman ("A Bolt from the Blue")--very broadly comic, and it is as one might expect, inventive, but it also treats coarsely and with a certain bemused contempt every character except the hero Beau (a Maverick cousin who came in after Garner left, played by Roger Moore); they are all grotesque, and even the situation is unusually cynical. At the same time, the visual style is pretty plain--Altman had a personality but hadn't developed his style. This gets auteurist marks, though not in a positive way for me. Please note I don't say I never like Altman--I have come to appreciate him and value some of his films--and I even enjoyed this in a way but it was perhaps my least favorite episode, even more than the most conventional ones.

By contrast, by far the best episode I've seen--"The Burning Sky"--was directed by Gordon Douglas, and rather remarkably, while made during his Warner Bros. tenure (they produced the show), it is the ONLY hour of episodic television he ever directed. I've found myself wondering why--was this a cutdown, revamped version of a script he had at one time planned to do as a feature? It certainly could have been. In any event, I don't believe any student of directorial style, and his in particular, could miss how artful he is in every shot, in his organization of space within the severest limitations (for most of the script's length, a group of diverse characters including Bart are pinned down by Indians), finding an abundance of expressive camera angles that never seem haphazard and always tightly related. And what is more, the attentiveness extends to making the most of the characters, everyone of whom--male and female--transcends cliche though they all begin as types; in fact, Gerald Mohr's Mexican good/bad guy is especially interesting, almost against the odds that he could possibly be (in other shows, Mohr
played characters cast more to his own ethnicity). At his best, and he actually is at his best here, Douglas could find the heart of a drama not only in the highly dramatic way he composed, but in a patience with teasing out character nuance, and his attitude toward characters and relationships can be wonderfully mature.

So here's my point--and sorry I took so long getting to it. I believe on some level any director is always an auteur--he may be a boring one, and one who is generally interesting may be dull and uncreative in some circumstances, but these things too will affect the work, will in some way define it, even if that way is very subtle.

Of course, I don't say that any of these directors set the overall character of MAVERICK--none of them did. Directors of television episodes are as you say they are, Dan. Yet the way a specific episode plays is inflected, and it's an auteurist inflection. That Gordon Douglas episode of MAVERICK proves it--it's a real lesson in auteur theory.

Mike Grost said...


Many auteurists believe directors have a personal style. Lang or Mizoguchi or Rossellini have their own visual style, own way of storytelling, own themes... Auteurists want to discover this, and use it to become aware of and "see" things in movies, that would not be obvious otherwise.
This is more than a "taste".

Leslie Martinson has a deft hand with comedy, on the best of his Maverick and Cheyenne episodes. On Cheyenne, try THE CONSPIRATORS. On Maverick, try THE BELCASTLE BRAND, THE RIVALS, SHADY DEAL AT SUNNY ACRES, GUN-SHY, THE SAGA OF WACO WILLIAMS, A TALE OF THREE CITIES.
He did not only do comedy - there are some good dramatic Cheyenne's.

Mike Grost said...

The current craze for HBO serials that form long "novels" or soap-operas, also reflects trends in popular literature. Since 1985, publishers have poured forth hundreds of mystery novel series. These are mainly soap operas about the private lives of their huge cats of continuing characters. Crime and detection are only a thin coating on top. The HBO serials of the past decade plug into this trend.

It's clear: many people in 2009 like serials (novels or HBO) more than any other kind of entertainment/art.

But gosh, what I've read/seen of these suggests very low grade content indeed.

It is hard to find common ground, among admirers and detractors. Admirers think such "in-depth" characters and long plot-lines are "obviously better". Detractors, such as myself, keep looking for visual style, or formal excellence in plot construction, and not finding it in the serials.

It's a stand-off.

Blake L said...

Yes, Mike, Martinson is capable with comedy. I didn't say he was not, only that I hadn't found him an especially distinctive stylist. Plainly, he was a good director for MAVERICK.

I saw THE RIVALS this evening. It was outstanding, and a very witty adaptation of a play by Irish dramatist Richard Sheridan. With the right cast (Garner, Roger Moore--more perfectly cast here than as cousin Beau later--and Pat Crowley) and script, Martinson caught exactly the right spirit. SHADY DEAL AT SUNNY ACRES is generally viewed as the standout episode of the whole series--of course it has a witty script and all those wonderful recurring characters turning up in it, but as I said Martinson got the job done.

My remarks on MAVERICK directors was tentative--just my sense of them at this point, and I hoped to add to this discussion of auteurism. I basically always believe the director is the crucial creative participant, no matter how humble his or her role may seem to be.

I would be interested to know what you though of G. Douglas on THE BURNING SKY, Mike, as you are such a student of visual style. Also curious what you think about Heyes.

Dan Sallitt said...

Michał - I think that Sarris not only understood that auteurism was a taste, but also knew that he encompassed multiple systems of taste within himself. There's a rather wistful passage in "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" that reads like a confession: "I know the exceptions to the auteur theory as well as anyone. I can feel the human attraction of an audience going one way when I am going the other." I'd go so far as to speculate that Sarris became less useful to auteurists sometime around 1980 because he began to reject the idea that the different parts of his taste had to be kept separate.

The trouble with the "theory" part of "auteur theory" is that it implies a generally acknowledged phenomenon that is looking for an explanation. Whereas the systems of taste formulated by auteurism were far from generally acknowledged. It's not as if the world was wondering, "Why is Baby Face Nelson somehow more emotionally effective than The Bridge on the River Kwai?" and auteurists came along and said, "We have a theory to explain that." Sarris knew that the battle lines were drawn instead around clashes of taste: "One kind of critic refuses to cope with a world in which a movie called Baby Face Nelson could possibly be superior to The Bridge on the River Kwai. The other kind of critic refuses to believe that a movie called Baby Face Nelson could possibly be less interesting than The Bridge on the River Kwai" ("Toward a Theory of Film History").

Blake - glad to hear that there's another Gordon Douglas work out there to track down. My feeling is that who the "auteur" of a work is (I'm overdoing the quotation marks, but I just don't feel comfortable with that usage) depends on who the viewer is interested in. If you go to Notorious with an interest in Hitchcock, you have a lot to work with; if you go with an interest in Ben Hecht, you have a lot to work with as well. And if you care primarily about costumes, who's to say that Edith Head isn't the auteur? This isn't just a frivolous argument, because auteurists have on occasion made a study of directors whose domain and power were severely circumscribed.

Mike - I don't think that auteurists can fairly lay claim to inventing the study of directors, either visual or thematic. I turn my head to the left and see on my bookshelf Herman G. Weinberg's works on Lubitsch and Stroheim, for instance. Two shelves above, there's Georges Sadoul's amazing Dictionary of Filmmakers, packed with information on countless directors who are now forgotten.

What auteurism can take credit for - and you have reminded us of this many times - is extending critical interest to a great many entertainment or genre directors who were not previously taken seriously enough.

Blake L said...

Dan, in your last post is this sentence kind of in passing:
"And if you care primarily about costumes, who's to say that Edith Head isn't the auteur?"
There's another view of that which ties in with believing auteur theory is best applied to directors. And that is that while Edith Head might have a style of costume design for movies, and a gift for it, her work is sometimes more outstanding than at other times. And I would assert that her Hitchcock credits are especially outstanding and that she was always at her best with him; I think Hitchcock would claim it was true, but more important I believe Head herself said it was so, and that she collaborated best with him. He always had some ideas of his own--she didn't hatch that gray suit on Kim Novak in VERTIGO on her own. And the black and white striped blouse that so helps to define Ingrid Bergman's character in opening reels of NOTORIOUS also turns up in a Hitchcock film, and those are just a couple of examples. NOTORIOUS is one of Head's finest jobs (and a lot of other people involved in that film too, as I believe you would agree). It didn't just happen that way. It might even be said that Head has a style for Hitchcock that makes her work is his films distinctive within her body of work. I believe getting the most out of collaborators is one thing that marks some directors ahead of the others and very definitely so in the instance of Hithcock--and in his case it becomes even more true when he became his own producer and there was no longer anyone to
override him--like Selznick, a producer I truly dislike, if not all the films his name on, and his willingness to use up five different directors on the same film is an indication of why I feel that way about it.

This discussion of the word "auteur" has come up before, and you may recall, Dan, that I am more where you are with it. I don't use the word auteur anymore,
either in writing or even in conversation, and yet I am an auteurist. I hope that makes sense.

Mike Grost said...

When it came out, I was a big fan of Douglas Heyes' TV miniseries, THE CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS (1976). And have enjoyed such episodes of Maverick he wrote-directed as TWO TICKETS TO TEN STRIKE and THE STRANGE JOURNEY OF JENNY HILL. Unfortunately, I have never built up any sense of Heyes' characteristics as either a writer or director. The two Mavericks do show skill with mystery plotting. Heyes also directed the Cheyenne THE LAST COMANCHERO, but did not write it.

I have never seen either Douglas' or Altman's Maverick episodes. And did not know they exist. Thanks Blake! I'll be watching for them.

I also like Walter Doniger and Montgomery Pittman. There is even a short article on Doniger on my web site.

The best Lubin I've seen on Maverick is THE GOOSE-DROWNDER. This takes place in a rain storm, and has lots of nice rain atmosphere. Can Lubin be credited with this? Very nice viewing experience.

Mike Grost said...


I have always thought of something one might call "auteurism broadly defined". It involves film studies that "regard film as art; look at visual style, storytelling and themes; examine a creator's whole career for common features".
This includes such self-identified auteurists as Truffaut, Rivette, Sarris, Bogdanovich, Gallagher, Rosenbaum (and Sallitt, Lucas and Grost) AND such non-auteurists as Sadoul, Curtis Harrington, Weinberg, David Bordwell, and many others who share the above methodology with auteurism.

All these scholars are so close in methodology, it seems pointless to separate them, however they label themselves.

This group DOES look at films differently. Your analysis of David Chase seems to follow the above methodology closely. You are seeing things in his direction, that are important to you, but which outsiders are ignoring. This something extra, which include mise-en-scene, is the BIG important thing that auteurism brings to the table.

Anonymous said...

You should make time for The Wire if you haven't yet.

Dan Sallitt said...

Blake - I think we basically agree on this subject. But it's worth pointing out that the director isn't the only person who can influence a range of other collaborators. Obviously a powerful producer like Selznick is in that position; and a writer with a strong property can often make a director select an entirely different style and approach, especially in an entertainment industry, where the director wants to be adaptable and able to work in a variety of genres and forms. My point is that our interest in direction isn't solely because the director is the person with the most power to influence others - it has to have something to do with the particulars of where the director sits in the process.

Mike - the only problem I have with your concept of "auteurism broadly defined" is that some earlier critical factions that relied heavily on visual analysis, like Eisenstein and the "pure cinema" crowd, seem to me part of what Bazin and the Cahiers crowd were trying to distinguish themselves from. Of course, there's no reason that any of us shouldn't draw on whatever traditions help us pull our aesthetic positions together.

Anonymous - I do hear a lot about "The Wire." In the context of this discussion, do you think that direction has anything to do with that show's appeal?

Blake L said...

Dan yes, we do basically agree on these points. The point I wanted to make about Hitchcock and Edith Head was simply meant to broaden the context of the discussion a little, helpfully I hope. Jim Kitses argued, and I believe you would agree, that Borden Chase (to name one writer) can be taken as an auteur, in his case with so different a sensibility and narrative objectives that it's possible one can find his writing in conflict with Howard Hawks' direction on RED RIVER, though whether this is actually productive or unproductive is something to argue elsewhere, in a more concentrated discussion of the film. As far as Selznick is concerned, no question he is an auteur--more the auteur than the directors he used on some of his films, but for me, his dominance is misplaced, and I would rather see it with the director than with him. That's one reason I don't like him or most of his films, despite the great production values he provided (which only mean so much after all). The things I do like most in his films are elements of mise en scene and directorial sensibility that do come in with the directors in spite of him. Earlier on, he seemed to function more like a normal producer and to good effect.
LITTLE WOMEN (1933, Cukor) is a beautiful film for stamped by its director in every frame. KING KONG is a more unusual film, where one might care less about the directors though I'm sure it had to be those guys to be what it is--it has its own place in cinema.

Just relevant to this (and somehow I didn't send a post where I mentioned it), Montgomery Pittman both wrote and directed one of the best episodes of MAVERICK--"Pappy"
where James Garner plays a double role as the fabled eponymous character, while sons Bret and Bart are both in it too. Just mentioning this because this is the guy who wrote two scripts for those two Richard Bartlett movies. No, he likely he isn't as interesting as Bartlett, but Bartlett has that kind of subtle, quiet artistry born to make use of a good collaborator. Bartlett also directed a lot of hours of episodic TV, by the way, but no MAVERICKS, alas.

Blake L said...

My previous post was written a little hastily, and I didn't mean to break my rule stated earlier of not using the word "auteur." The point I actually wanted to make was that the fact one can so readily call someone like Selznick an "auteur" (I should have put quotes around the word like this) is exactly the reason I so dislike using the word. I am what was always called an "auteurist" with regard to directors--but taking too pure a position in that regard can kind of take one out of the real world, which as I understand it, was part of Dan's original point. When we do focus on directors--their sensibility as well as their mise en scene--we do it best in terms of specifics of what we can perceive as directly reflecting their presence, and that is most things in a film as an integral work I believe, no matter how strong the personalities and contributions of the collaborators. It's fair to say that a Selznick is the most imposing creative force in his films after he got his own studio, but people use the word "auteur" as if it's always a positive and that's not necessarily so. By the way, I have no problems with producers setting up projects, taking a hand in scripts, contributing all kinds of ideas--but they need to stop short of the water's edge, that is infringing on the mise en scene. That, for me, is the dividing line. In that respect I'd compare Selznick negatively to his one time assistant Val Lewton, a genuinely creative man with a body of work stamped by a personal vision, and yet, by all accounts, he did not infringe on the mise en scene at all. An individual Tourneur, or Wise, or Robson, or Fregonese will look and feel like a work of each of those directors. I have a sense that Lewton might have had an innately refined taste in the kind of director he preferred, because for me, Tourneur and Fregonese at least (first and last directors who worked with him) have affinities, both with more than their share of subtlety, especially visually.

Vadim said...

As far as "The Wire" goes, David Simon (or whoever) did a pretty great job of keeping all the directors on the same stylistic page. I've been rewatching "Twin Peaks," and certainly some episodes are more aggressively stylized than others; it's hard to see that in "The Wire," even when some of the bigger-name directors (Peter Medak, Agnieszka Holland) take over. I don't know if that would make it "satisfying" auteurist-wise, but it's certainly internally consistent.

Jake said...

I suddenly realise I know very little about how a modern journeyman TV director actually operates – what issues of art or craft he or she might set out to address, given the in-built limitations of the role. Does anyone ever interview these guys?

James Burrows directed every episode of Will and Grace, and Tom Cherones virtually all of the first five seasons of Seinfeld. Both these shows feel more tonally consistent than most sitcoms - but I find it hard to say, off the top of my head, how the “feel” of Seinfeld changed when Cherones was replaced by Andy Ackerman, whereas very obvious changes occurred after the departure of co-creator Larry David two seasons later.

The big issue with series television isn’t variation between directors, it seems to me, but the way that so many stylistic elements become so rigidly codified, from music to editing patterns to acting schtick. If anything I suspect the space for personal style has narrowed in the last few decades, though I don't know enough older TV shows well enough to be sure. Setting aside anthology series, it seems almost a contradiction in terms to imagine a TV show in which every moment is handcrafted, in the sense we still routinely expect from cinema.

Dan Sallitt said...

Jake - what you say about the codification of TV series sounds plausible, and I remember it from my TV-watching days. From my brief exposure to The Sopranos, I didn't sense that it was hamstrung by the need to repeat comforting elements. But I never got an overview.

When I'm on vacation and have a TV in my bedroom, I like to play the auteurist game of flipping channels quickly and seeing if I can get a sense of a director from five or ten seconds of exposure. Usually the cutting edge of directorial style for such a brief interval will be acting, possibly because most TV acting "illustrates" so hard that anything contrapuntal or subdued really stands out. But it's not unusual for good TV acting to be accompanied by a visual or rhythmic sense. One of my recent thumbs-up turned out to be an episode of "24" which I determined was directed by Frederick King Keller. Another was a clip from "Weeds," seen on YouTube, directed by one Scott Ellis. Back in the 70s, I remember appreciating directorial style on shows like "Dallas" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep." I know that these flashes of style probably don't blossom into good episodes in the absence of creative freedom. But I can't reconcile myself to the idea that the director is unimportant in TV.

Vadim - consistency of style among the various episodes of a series wouldn't be high on my wish list. My problem is that I never enjoy anything very much if I don't sense the director's personality organizing an experience for me. It would be okay with me if David Simon were up front and center, generating all the signifiers of creation, as long as the director were making a private, hidden movie via texture, rhythm, performing style, etc. But this seems to be a difficult thing to achieve on series TV. My ears will definitely prick up when I hear about a series creator who insists on directing as well.

Blake - the biggest problem that I have with the word "auteur" is related to what I wrote above. There can be one creative person who is the obvious "auteur" of a work, and another less conspicuous one whose work is nonetheless what I'm most interested in. I love Preston Sturges as a director and as a writer, and by no means do I wish to de-emphasize the importance of his uncannily distinctive scripts. But I think it's defensible to approach Remember the Night, which I consider a great film, primarily in terms of Leisen's direction, even though Sturges is the "auteur" who jumps out at me, and even though Leisen seems stuck in the "interpretive" role. Many important directors, including George Cukor and Stephen Frears (I think Frears was a great director in the 1979-1985 period, at least), explicitly saw themselves as interpreters of the writer's work. But there's no law that I can't be more interested in the director's contribution, even if it is conceived in terms of subordination to a primary artist.

Blake L said...

REMEMBER THE NIGHT is an ideal example of what I was talking about too. Sturges was a strong creator--the film wouldn't be there without his script. But it's no less true that he never made a film like this one, that had the tone and texture and feeling and style and interior rhythm and individual resonance of this one. Right or wrong, I always think of it as a Leisen film (it's my favorite of his films and I rewatched only months ago). But to discuss it that way, it's really not helpful to declare Leisen is the "auteur." That just stops conversation and people will say "What about Preston Sturges?" In order to deal with it as a Mitchell Leisen film, it seems one needs to say very specific things that are not so glib. It's easier to show that how much it is stamped by Leisen in every frame if one does not use the word "auteur." In fact, I now prefer to write without giving the director the possessive, though critical perspective does make me feel he or she should be named, so I will say REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940; Mitchell Leisen) or REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940, directed by Mitchell Leisen) but not Mitchell Leisen's REMEMBER THE NIGHT. When something does appear the last way in something of mine now, it's because an editor changed it to read like that.