In what ways has the theory of the director as the 'author' of a film been used in film studies, and how and why has it been disputed?

Essay by hollygolightly November 2005

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Barthes claimed in 1977 that the author was dead and authorial intention had no place in criticism of texts, placing the importance of deciphering meaning fully with the reader (Barthes 1977 142 - 148). However, since 1948, many critics have focused on the director of films as the 'author' placing their own meanings and intentions within a film which was to be interpreted. This essay will look at how much this idea of the 'auteur' is used in studying films and how opposing critics can read films in differing ways, dismissing the auteur as the sole artist.

The authorship theory attempted to break down any barriers which existed between art cinema and commercially produced Hollywood cinema, and as such, the idea of the auteur in film originating in the Cahiers du Cinema focused on Hollywood directors. In 1948, Alexandre Astruc said

The gradually becoming a language. By language, I mean a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel.

That is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of camera-stylo (Astruc 1948: 17-23)

This signalled the beginning of the politique des auteurs, which formed the opinion that cinema was a language which an individual artist (the director) could express a personal vision through, making a stand against the serious, social themes of the established French cinema and criticism which gave weight to this 'quality' cinema (Cook & Bernink 1999: 235-240). This politique des auteurs made a clear distinction between directors they deemed worthy of being called auteurs, and those who they named as metteurs-en-scene. This distinction claimed that true auteurs were those directors who showed their world view through...