Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Open Access)
Colby College. Cinema Studies Program
Steven J. Wurtzler
What is an author, and what does it matter? Questions about authority in the cinema have been the subject of debate since the late 1940s, when Alexandre Astruc posited the notion of the camera-stylo in France. A slightly reductive understanding of the term “auteur”—a term that Cahiers du Cinéma would later adopt—states that, with the shadow of the World War II era of censorship still looming in the 1950s, the many individual voices of the cinema needed to be both heard and promoted. Namely, the director should be regarded as (and should consider his or her primary objective to serve as) an audiovisual “voice” who uses the cinema to not only relate a personal statement, but to do so by crossing over the limits of written text to depict his or her version of reality. The cinema, as Astruc and Cahiers critics André Bazin and François Truffaut conceived it, was evolving into a political medium for directors to interrogate hegemonic structures while expressing themselves aesthetically and poetically. In keeping with what some have called Romantic, Judeo-Christian, or Occidental traditions of ascribing all expressive elements of a film or body of films to a singular Author, these French critics developed a policy of critiquing authorship that remained dominant until the 1960s, but that also shaped the foundations of film criticism both in the popular press and the academy.
The origins of a director-based film criticism still insistently echo today. However, I argue that authorship does not end with the director. Instead I posit that, today, authors are identified as loci of instances of repetition—in keeping with the writings of Truffaut, Andrew Sarris, Peter Wollen, and Michel Foucault—that in turn inspire spectators to project traces of the authorship they have identified. Authorship cannot be self-contained: its “voices” must be repeatedly circulated in order to maintain their political, cultural, and social functions.
In presenting this argument, I structure this thesis in a way that seeks to highlight the dialogic nature of the multiplicity of influences that have impacted the development of the cinema and its criticism from the 1940s to the present day. Furthermore, I focus on the works of two directors, Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson, which I believe are among the best examples of the theoretical negotiations of their respective eras.
I seek to emphasize the dialectical shift in the author criticism of the 1960s by focusing on the rise of Lévi-Straussian structuralism in the academy and by aligning it with a new generation of educated film buffs and directors who had grown up in a cinema that was increasingly targeted to the young adult demographic and supplemented by an author-centric body of criticism.
This project bridges the academically discrete fields of cinema studies and cultural studies to suggest that in our “society of the spectacle,” the two are implicit in one another. However, I also borrow a page from the work of Devin Orgeron, who argues that there is an inherent bias in the foundations of the autuerist discussions.
In several ways, this thesis acknowledges the parallelisms between film production, criticism, and reception to argue that the power ascribed to an author is, as Orgeron claims about Anderson’s character Dignan from Bottle Rocket, “guided by a desire to ‘justify staying inside the small range of experience of (his) boyhood and adolescence—that period when masculinity looked so great and important.” But, as through my analysis of the extra-authorial conditions that form the contexts in which we can identify authors, I hope to emphasize the idea that authors are created by people for people: they are myths of greater beings in whose history and iconography we can navigate the world while being implicated in that (hi)story, in which life feels more satisfying that the sum of its parts. “Authors” are anchors for the communities of spectators who authorize them by seeking nostalgic pleasure in stories of other, more complete lives.
film studies, cinema, authorship, film directors
Recommended CitationPerreault, Michael, "Notes on the Politics of the Auteur: Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson, and the Spectator" (2013). Honors Theses. Paper 694.
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