Film School: Authorship

There’s a theory which goes: Movies are a director’s medium, and television a writer’s.

The extent to which this is true can be argued over at great length. Should directors get as much credit as they do for a film’s success? Is it not the person who came up the story, the writer, just as important as the one who had the technical expertise to put it up on the screen?

Of course, there are certain directors whose stamp is so firmly put on their films that they must be considered the ‘author’ of the piece. These directors are often referred to as auteurs.

Defining which directors should be considered as auteurs is not as easy to define as people may think. Certain directors like to work with the same cinematographer, so that shots we may consider hallmarks of a director’s film could in fact be the calling card of their long-time collaborator.

citizen_kanePoster.jpgOne of the most cited examples in favour of auteur theory is Citizen Kane. Welles co-wrote, directed and starred in the ground-breaking movie, and it’s easy to see his stamp all over the brash, bold story told.

Films by directors such as Scorsese, Tarantino, Leigh or Wes Anderson are very easy to identify. To the extent where people often complain that their latest film was too similar to their last. Perhaps this complaint is the very thing which proves that the movies they direct are very much their own.

However, what about those who manage to make very different films in a variety of genres, can these directors not be considered auteurs?

Let us consider the cases of Fincher, Boyle and Spielberg: all of whom have won oscar nominations for their directing, and are known for dabbling in a number of different genres.

David Fincher recently directed The Social Network. Can one reasonably call him the ‘author’ of the piece, when one can so clearly see the fingerprints of its writer, Aaron Sorkin, all over the screen? My answer would be ‘no’. While Fincher’s stylistic touches can be seen in some parts of the movies, I think it would be very unfair to describe him as the main creative mind behind the film.

Likewise with Danny Boyle. The differences between each of his films are such its difficult to consider him their author. The three writers he has worked with: John Hodge, Alex Garland and Simon Beaufoy; all seem to have had a marked impact on each film and how its story is told.

Finally, Spielberg has made movies as varied as Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List within the same year. These two films have few similarities between them in terms of story or themes. Is it the case that one most successful directors of the modern era is not an auteur?

Well, perhaps that’s overstating the case. There are themes that emerge in films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Last Crusade, War of the Worlds and Hook: all of which deal with flawed fathers who need to rebuild their relationship with their kids.

However, films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Artificial Intelligence have seen him collaborate with other directors. These films cannot be seen as merely “A Film by Spielberg,” but rather “A Film by Spielberg/Lucas” or “A Film by Spielberg/Kubrick”.

Perhaps we could say that Spielberg is very much the ‘author’ of certain films, but is happy to put someone else’s vision on the screen when inspired to do so.

So, to conclude, sometimes directors can be consider the ‘author’ of a film and sometimes they can’t. The extent to which that’s true only the people who’ve actually worked on the film can truly know.


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