Concept of Authorship (Discussion)
Introduction, by John Caughie
- What are the basic assumptions of auteurist critics?
- How did auteurism differ from previous film criticism?
Groups 2 and 3
- What elements of romanticism underpin auteurism?
- What is the difference between Hawks and "Hawks"?
Group 4 and 5
- What, according to Sarris, are the three premises of the auteur theory?
- From "Notes on the Auteur Theory," but not in the excerpt: "The three premises of the auteur theory may
be visualized as three concentric circles, the outer circle as technique, the middle circle personal style, and the inner circle interior meaning."
- Explain, if you can, what Sarris means by "élan of the soul". (See Pauline Kael's criticism of this phrase below.)
- What does Sarris mean when he uses the term "mise-en-scene"? (Hint: it's not how it's used in Television.)
- And how does this image (below) illustrate it?
Pauline Kael, "Circles and Squares," Film Quarterly (reprinted in I Lost It at the Movies), response to Sarris:
- Sarris believes that what makes an auteur is "an élan of the soul." (This critical language is barbarous. Where else should élan come from? It's like saying "a digestion of the stomach." A film critic need not be a theoretician, but it is necessary that he know how to use words. This might, indeed, be a first premise for a theory.) Those who have this élan presumably have it forever and their films reveal the "organic unity" of the directors' careers; and those who don't have it - well, they can only make "actors' classics." It's ironic that a critic trying to establish simple "objective" rules as a guide for critics who he thinks aren't gifted enough to use taste and intelligence, ends up - where, actually, he began - with a theory based on mystical insight.
All groups (after you've answered the questions above):
- What was Movie?
- How did Movie's approach to auteurism differ from that of Cahiers du Cinéma?
More productive discussion of readings
- Study-group discussions versus full-class discussions:
- What is one reason why study-group discussions are a more effective teaching method?
- What is one reason why full-class discussions are a more effective teaching method?
- What helps motivate you to read essays for class?
- Writing responses before class?
- Writing responses during class (beginning or end?)?
- Composing questions questions on the readings yourself?
- What useful reading-related exercises have you experienced in other classes?
- One more auteur question: Name one film director currently working who qualifies as an "auteur." Briefly explain why, with reference to two or three films.
All from Theories of Authorship, John Caughie, ed. (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981):
- Introduction, John Caughie, 9-16.
- Edward Buscombe, "Ideas of Authorship," 22-34.
- Cahiers du Cinéma, 35-47.
- Movie, 48-60.
- Andrew Sarris, 61-67.