In “De la Politique des Auteurs,” André Bazin describes the relationship between the auteur and the space in which he finds himself as well as the auteur and his work. Bazin considers auteur a privileged status for one who consistently “tells the same story,” who “has the same attitude and passes the same moral judgments on the action and on the characters”—as such, one “who speaks in the first person” (25). Bazin, however, is careful not to separate the auteur and his agency from his context, which he consistently uses water metaphors to convey. The auteur operates within a dynamic and spontaneous discipline that drives as much as it reflect society, and he is “swept along by this powerful surge” such that “his artistic course has to be plotted according to the currents” (22). For Bazin, the auteur then represents the trends of that society as he continues to be “swept along by the wave,” adapting what has come before in ways that continue to allow that society, in that particular point in history, to “define, repudiate and transcend itself” through his art—which is his adaptation of all the social and artistic material that converge on him (23).
Peter Wollen sets the auteur apart from the metteur en scène due to the former’s ability to use a source without subordinating himself to that source or its author. Due to the “force of his own preoccupations,” the auteur cannot help but to tell that same story (Wollen 195). For an auteur, a source is merely a conduit for a “catalyst” that would fuse with those preoccupations and react “with the motifs and themes characteristic of his work” (Wollen 194). The work of the auteur for Wollen, however, is still incomplete: The auteur is, in a sense, an “unconscious catalyst” himself for the critic to work to “see the film differently” and be able to “specify the mechanisms which make this possible,” thereby constructing it a posteriori and then analyzing it through the lens of the auteur’s “whole corpus” (Wollen 195, 196, 193). For Wollen, cinema is not communication, and the critic’s function is not to decipher a film’s “rich meaning” or its “important truth,” but rather to “produce more meaning” by examining its structure—its grammar—and building from that an explanatory device to be used in the decoding of it (196). This code, when applied to the work of an auteur and ideally challenged by it, should “compel an unending dialogue” (Wollen 197).
Jack Boozer furthers Bazin’s inseparability of auteur and context by delineating some relevant assertions of structuralist and post-structuralist philosophers. He begins with Christian Metz’ notion of the “‘imaginary signifier’ in cinema” shifting attention from the director to the “act of language/sign usage in communication and its meaning,” which notably represents a departure from Wollen’s position above that cinema is an art of artifacts and not communication (211). Structuralist theory tends to “trace cultural influence and patterns” to and through writers and directors, making artistic expression an act of recontextualizing the existent, rather than inventing something novel (211). Through Barthes, Foucault, Lacan, and Andrew, Boozer removes the possibility of originality and authorship, of “the unified subject and the unified text,” so there can no longer be any “claims of authorship” (212). Fortunately, he redefines auteurism as the implied voice present within adapted works, as all works would be, who “are usually reactive to culture in the sense that they can bring something unique to it and also, perchance, modify its direction” (213). Through participating in the “intertextual script” that locates them, auteurs remediate “‘pre-existing voices, ideologies, and discourses, without losing an overall shaping role’” (Boozer 214).
Astruc understands this capacity to remediate as absolute because, unlike the others, he see cinema as an artform whose “fundamental problem” is “how to express thought” (183). He believes that cinema needs to get beyond “what is visual” and the “immediate and concrete demands of the narrative, to become a means of writing just as flexible and subtle as written language” such that “soon it will be possible to write ideas directly on film” (182). While there is nothing self-evidently inharmonious in Astruc’s position and those of the other three, he does seem to posit a heightened degree of agency for the auteur in the direct generation of meaning. Through the “inexorable logic” of succeeding images and “tangible allusion,” auteurs can write theorems regarding “contemporary ideas and philosophies of life” instead of “ploughing the same field of realism and social fantasy” (Astruc 182). As the “cinema of today is capable of expressing any kind of reality,” an auteur’s body of work could represent a set of lemmata, syllogistically building to increasingly profound declarations fundamentally reshaping the countless “sociological and historical cross-currents” of cinema—in effect, adapting the entire discipline (Astruc 183, Bazin 26).
Astruc, Alexandre. “The Birth of a New Avant-Garde.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, pp. 181-184.
Bazin, André. “De la Politique des Auteurs.” Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader, Blackwell Pub., 2008, pp. 19-28.
Boozer, Jack. “The Screenplay and Authorship in Adaptation.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, pp. 199-219.
Wollen, Peter. “The Auteur Theory.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, pp. 185-198.