About the auteur
“There are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors” – Francois Truffaut
Given the intensely collaborative nature of filmmaking, the notion of the auteur remains a thorny proposition despite its ongoing currency in the language we use to talk about cinema. The historical origin of auteur theory put forward by Francois Truffaut in 1954 in which the personal style of the director – rather than an emphasis on plot and dialogue – operated as the key driver and ‘author’ of the work.
Andrew Sarris in 1962 devised criteria by which to assess the auteur-worthiness of a director. His first generation canon of directors who made the grade expanded on Truffaut’s list and included Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Max Ophuls, Kenji Mizoguchi, Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Carl Dreyer, Roberto Rossellini, F. W. Murnau, Luis Bunuel, Robert Bresson, Fritz Lang and Jean Vigo. Sarris’ notion that a director’s imprimatur should reveal itself across a body of work informs the ongoing impulse to present the work of auteurs in retrospective film seasons at ACMI. Since 2002, ACMI has programmed seasons dedicated to filmmakers from Jim Jarmusch and Kelly Reichardt, to Guillermo del Toro, Spike Lee, John Cassavetes, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski and Pedro Almodovar, among countless others. There’s no reason why the auteur theory shouldn’t continue to serve as a perfectly valid way to engage more meaningfully with the films of directors who fascinate us. Perhaps we need only expand the definition to encompass all fields of artistic practice which find their greatest expression in films that feel more creatively ‘realised’; to also recognise the ‘auteur’ in the work of editors, cinematographers, composers, writers, costumers, production designers – artists, one and all.