Page 1

Auteur theory podcast Slide: Pictures of Astruc, issues of Cathiers du cinema and Saris. Speech: Auteur theory is the theory that film directors like artists have their own style whether that be visual, conceptual or otherwise. They take control of their films and use the camera like a paintbrush, which gives all of their films a recognizable definitive style that can be identified as theirs. The notion of film auteurship was initially suggested by Alexandra Astruc in 1948, because he thought filmmaking should be taken more seriously like art and literature. He looked at what Russian and German films were being made and said the filmmaker- writes with his camera as a writer writes with his pen. He believed that the camera is to a filmmaker what a paintbrush is to an artist. The Cahiers du Cinema an influential French film magazine founded in 1951 openly discussed how restrictive the French film industry was at the time. At that time films in France were adapted from novels or existing stories or plays and had to be true to the original story. In Cahiers their magazine debates how they believed the director should have more freedom to follow his own vision and make more intelligent films with more intelligent original storylines and explore filmmaking as a creative process. This debate was then misinterpreted by an American called Andrew Sarris who wanted more for films; he wanted them to be taken seriously. He hated the snobbery of how books were taken more seriously than films. In literature there was a cannon, which is a group of universally accepted classics like Dickens and he wanted the same for films. He believed that a director should always have something to say in his films, his films should move along the development of film, should include in jokes that people in the industry would get and he believed there was only one way to view a film which was the way the director intended it. It didn’t matter what it meant to the audience. He was inadvertently going against what Cahiers and Astruc stood for and in a way was making films more restricted again as well as using auteurship as a value judgment. His theory bears less weight with modern film academics as they have gone back to the less judgmental philosophy of what an auteur is based on the Cahiers notion of directions explaining their own world vision and representing that within the visual style of their films. Today I am talking about film director Stanley Kubrick, who for me, has to be the ultimate auteur. He has complete control over his films and is involved in every single aspect of them so he can express his vision. Slide: Pictures of Stanley Kubrick Speech: Stanley Kubrick is an American director who was born in 1928 and died in 1999. Over the 13 feature films he directed left the world with some unbelievable masterpieces. He was born to a Jewish family, but he wasn’t overly religious. Kubrick never did that well academically at school to this displeasure of his father, who was a doctor, which permitted his early interest in photography, the thing that drew Kubrick away, from his studies. Kubrick became a freelance photographer and sold a series to ‘Look’ magazine. He moved to the Greenwich Village in 1948, a place that is famous for its creativity and you can definitely see an art-house influence in some of his films, like ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ and ‘Clockwork Orange’. Kubrick was always very interested in books, which is probably the reason that a lot of his films were page to screen adaptations. People have said that he always looked at books from a human point of view and its effect on his films


is something I’ll go into more detail later. His father taught Kubrick chess and he developed a great love of the game, saying ‘I used to play chess twelve hours a day. You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it's really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas.' The lessons he learned from chess have clearly been applied to his film production methods as he goes into meticulous detail and often takes a very long time to make a film. He stores thousands of boxes of scripts, location recces and all sorts of things in readiness for developement. He is a perfectionist who will take his time developing a project. He was going to make a film on the Holocaust, but Steven Spielberg had made, edited and released ‘Schindler’s List’ in the time it took Kubrick to do the research for his film and so it was shelved. He was a perfectionist to the extreme. He has rejected many projects like this after he has begun developing them. Slide: Bullet points of signifying features Speech: Stanley Kubrick’s signifying features are I would argue: • His camera work and use of editing • Themes – the way his films are often social criticism of the world we live in • Typical characters and character development – always has an evil dark character who gets more evil as the film goes on. Sometimes has a hero who represents the moral high ground. His characters often change through out the film. • Elaborate cinematography – use of colour and amazing mise en scene with particular attention to detail which reflects his own personal attention to detail, as he stores all documents he’s made or received and measures his film adds in almost every country the film is advertised. He pays meticulous attention to how things look. • Not using recurring cast members – he hasn’t really used the same actor for more than one film except Kirk Douglas who he directed in ‘Paths of Glory’ and ‘Spartacus’. However Kirk Douglas was part of the film ‘Spartacus’ before Kubrick was. • He often sets his stories in very dangerous, mysterious settings. For example wars, the seedy underworld, space. • He often uses a lot of violence in his narrative. The violence takes on a central role in many of his films and is often a topic for satire as such his films have often been condemned, or banned. Kubrick exercised a self imposed a ban on ‘Clockwork Orange’ for a while fearing it would inspire real life crime. Slide: Camera work Speech: One of the signifying features I’ve chosen to focus on is Kubrick’s use of the camera, more specifically his very open shot composition through his use of lots of wide shots. He also uses long duration shots, rather than employing a large shot variation and using rapid movement like some directors like Michael Bay. He does this to create a tension and keep the audience in anticipation. There also isn’t often a lot of non diegetic sound, so the character’s dialogue has more weight, which is important as the narrative in his film is often subtly conveyed through the character’s dialogue. For example in the scenes in ‘Doctor Strangelove’ where the politicians and the army generals sit in the war


room and discuss the destruction of the world the dialogue is very important and constantly transitioning between shots would distract an audience and disrupt the tension and the power of the dialogue. As you can see in this clip when General Buck Turgidson is fighting the Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski and the President says subtly ‘you can’t fight in here. This is a war room. The creation of this tense mood is necessary to draw attention to the joke said by the President as it’s quite a subtle form of word play which might not have been noticed as having that double meaning if Kubrick had used quick shot changes. There are only two shots used in this scene, the long duration tracking mid shot of the Soviet Ambassador, which then also becomes a static two shot of the ambassador talking with the President which ends up being a wide angle tracking shot of the President and a long tracking shot from a reversed angle of Buck Turgidson and the Soviet ambassador fighting. (Play clip "Gentlemen. You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!"). (Play clips that correspond to the narration). Kubrick uses space in his shot composition to make the characters look small and vulnerable as you can see in this clip from an establishing high angle wide shot of the war room in ‘Dr Strangelove’. He may also use this open shot composition to suggest that too much power is put on such a small amount of people. This open shot composition is also used to depict army generals in Kubrick’s 1954 film ‘Paths of Glory’. Kubrick is famously not a people person so he may use this wide shot composition that mainly show, the environment the characters are in through way of long and wide shots rather than use close ups and mid shots to show the reactions and emotions of the characters. (End clip) He also creates tension through his use of long shot durations. Often he’ll make a scene go on longer than a lot of filmmakers would. This is best shown in ‘2001 Space Odyssey’. The scenes in which the apes discover the monolith the establishing shots of the prehistoric desert like earth go on for too long considering there is little screen action that takes place. By employing the use of long duration shots it also further creates suspense and tension, as the audience doesn’t know what’s going on in the scene and they’re left waiting in anticipation. Again the lack of shot variation and lack of non-diegetic, or even diegetic sound in this case further creates this tension and further draws attention to the subtle on screen action that indicates narrative, for example the ape’s reaction to the monolith. [Play clip] Again a wide shot composition is used to show the surroundings more than the characters, perhaps to also suggest how insignificant man is. Kubrick is a famous recluse. He is believed to not have liked people all that much so he was anything but a humanist. Slide: Film Stills and Film Posters. Speech: Another signifying feature of Stanley Kubrick’s work is the themes he explores. His films are often very dark and deal with very complex serious intellectual issues that are usually in the public consciousness when the film is released and more often than not he takes a cynical view on the topic he is highlighting. This is probably because he’s lived around a lot of intellectuals with vary wide ranging interesting opinions, especially in Greenwich Village and he is famed for listening to everyone’s ideas, even giving his scripts to the doorman for feedback. And I feel the more you are educated on the big issues in the world, the more cynical you become. Furthermore, he likes to deal with the big political issues and express his own ideology and opinions through his films. For example, in ‘Clockwork Orange’ he deals with the question of whether society prefers an


individual to be good because they want him to be good, or whether they just want them to be good for the benefit of society and will take away the free will of the individual to achieve this when this will not make the world a better place, infact it will make it worse, because no one will have their own minds and they’ll just be turned into the puppets of a totalitarian government. Kubrick described the film as ‘a social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioural psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots’. This is shown in the scene when the aversion therapy is being demonstrated, that works by deterring Alex from committing violence by playing a film of a girl getting raped to the music of Beethoven, which he loves. The prison Chaplin then critiques this aversion therapy because as he states ‘there's no morality without choice’, to which the prison governor states they are not interested in questions of morality they are only interested in ‘the means to prevent violence’. Furthermore Kubrick also expresses the theme of people in society just being pawns in a game that politicians move for their own political ends, as in seen in this clip at the end of the film in which the Minister of the Interior, who has subjected Alex to this torture tries to win him on side by offering him an important government job, which the Minister of the Interior turns into a photo opportunity when a mass of reporters come in to the room and take photos of him shaking Alex’s hand in the two shot whilst Beethoven is playing. (Play clip ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) His films are often satires on topics in people’s consciousness at the time of release like ‘Dr Strangelove’, a film about the nuclear destruction of the world that was released in 1964 at the height of the nuclear missile crisis and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ a film which deals with the dangers of space exploration released in 1968, a time when the world’s first mission to the moon was being heavily discussed in the media. His films are often very relevant to what’s going on at that current moment. Matthew Modine who played Joker in ‘Full Metal Jacket’ said that Stanley Kubrick ‘holds a mirror up to society’. Slide: Narrative. Speech: Stanley Kubrick’s films don’t often follow the classic Hollywood narrative structure as his films don’t often have a resolution that is happy and establishes a new equilibrium, often his endings don’t even close the narrative. For example at the end of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Dave the old man lays in his bed staring at the monolith, then an embryonic creature who is believed by some to be Dave’s reincarnated self appears floating next to the earth to Alex North’s famous film score. This ending is still highly disputed in terms of its actual meaning and no new equilibrium is established I believe the story of man’s evolution isn’t concluded by this ending either. It’s very much open for interpretation, which is what Kubrick likes to do. ‘Dr Strangelove’ also doesn’t employ a classic Hollywood narrative where a status quo, is then challenged by some kind of dilemma, which starts a quest, the delay of the resolution through obstacles and then the resolution. In ‘Dr Strangelove’ the disruption is almost instant as the nuclear attack on the USSR is introduced when Jack D. Ripper informs Lionel of the nuclear strike. When the president and his war cabinet meet to find a solution the quest begins, however the resolution is never delayed as the characters establish the fact the bomb will hit USSR, which will spark world destruction, and that’s exactly what proceeds to happen


in the resolution as a high angle bird’s eye view shot shows nuclear missiles going off all around the world. The resolution isn’t delayed it’s introduced. I think he does this because he hates the classic Hollywood narrative structure that insists on sharing events in a positive light and allowing the audience to escape into the narrative and then leave the theatre happy. As he has stated in a discussion with Terry Gilliam that the Holocaust was a terrible tragedy and Spielberg presented it filmically as a success, as he concentrated on Oscar Schindler’s good actions amongst a sea of destruction. In ‘Dr Strangelove’ no new equilibrium is established unless you count nothingness as equilibrium. [Maybe play clip]. This is one of the things I most admire about Kubrick, his dedication to exposing the reality of a situation even if that theoretical situation such as the destruction of the world inspire of pressure to conform to the typical Hollywood narrative that needs resisting. I feel this is missing amongst most mainstream directors, as they, like Spielberg have to try and put a positive spin on their films. Slide: Character Speech: Kubrick’s characterization often recurs within the same dynamic across films. Often in his films there is an evil villain, an authoritative character that holds all the power and control and a powerless outspoken hero, who acts as the protagonist and who witnesses the consequences of the evil authority figure’s actions. In ‘Paths of Glory’ Col. Dax played by Kirk Douglass takes on the role of the hero who oversees the military execution of three men accused of cowardice during a suicidal mission to seize the well defended Ant Hill. He acts as defense in the farce court martial that was just a PR stunt to raise moral ordered by General Mireau who the plays role of the evil authoritative villain character who has all the power and came up with the idea of committing these men to death and only decided to take on the suicidal mission of an attack on the Ant Hill because he would get a promotion. The audience’s anguish and their observation of the absurdity of the situation is embodied and expressed in Col. Dax. This is a testament to Kubrick’s directing skills and the skills of the actors in performance. As you can see in this clip from the court martial scene as Col. Dax paces up and down the court room slowly in a long duration tracking shot where Kirk Douglas only takes up half of the frame as he states the unfairness of this court martial saying ‘to find these men guilty would be a crime’ in a low angle mid shot shot of Kirk Douglas addressing the court during this court marshal scene among other memorable lines, while General Mireau sits in his lavish chair comfortably with his gloves off, making sarcastic comments and not showing any compassion for committing these men to death via low angle medium close ups shots . He instead shows boredom. The passion with which Col. Dax speaks indicates his despair and the helplessness of the situation he is in due to the hierarchy created in the French army. (Play Kirk Douglas: Paths of Glory ("Show Mercy") Monologue). Slide: Auteur Theory Speech: Auteur theory does to some extent relate to Stanley Kubrick as his films take on a very definable style and he has signifying features which tie almost all of his films together. They definitely have their own definitive style with their dark narratives, characters that represent the audience in the atmosphere of chaos that he creates through his use of camerawork, editing and lack of non-diegetic, or at times even diegetic sound. And Kubrick certainly more than almost maintains control over his films, often involved


in every aspect of the film making process. For example he often writes the screen play, directs the films, is involved in sound, cinematography, research, so he definitely has control of his work, like an artist would and expresses himself, like an artist would. Sarris’s auteur theory also applies, because he has been very innovate and has advanced filmmaking. For example his pioneering use of the steady cam in the scenes where Jack Torrance’s son Danny is riding in his tricycle in ‘The Shinning’, for which he recruited, Garret Brown, the person who introduced the steadicam into mainstream cinema in ‘Rocky’ 4 years prior. So there are strengths to the auteur theory especially as it allows you a way of working at a whole body of work over time and across genre, but there are also weaknesses Kubrick he leaves his films very open for interpretation and although he may have an opinion on what the film’s about he’s reluctant to share it with his audience. For example he would never pay with his credit card in case someone noticed and asked him what ‘2001: A space Odyssey’ was about. Also auteurs of course can never really have full control over a large scale Hollywood film as you’ll run into financial and organizational problems, like actors not giving the performance you want on a day when every one else is working well, or a negative audience response which impacts on the production of a film. For example, Kubrick pulled ‘A Clockwork Orange’ from theatres for over 25 years due to the belief it inspired people to commit violent criminal acts such as rape because they had misinterpreted his ideas. As a filmmaker you have to compromise. Woody Allen said ‘after an idea is in your head it’s up to you to see how much you can ruin it.’ You’ll never be able to perfectly recreate what you visualize in your head completely. So auteur theory is limited because you can’t fully control a film’s production like a painter controls a canvas because of all the others who need to be involved. Furthermore, all of Kubrick’s films don’t stick to his style, such as the 1960’s ‘Spartacus’ which features rapid camera movement, lots of diegetic sound and no political subtext. This does of course link to the external problems of joining the project three months in after all the main decisions were made. I feel the film making process is too complicated for the auteur theory to work exclusively, so even the Cahier’s and Astruc’s interpretations of auteur theory are difficult. But Kubrick definitely got as close to a director controlling a film, like a painter controls painting. I think there is a lot of logic to auteur theory as even just subconsciously most of most director’s films will stick to a certain style and certain signature features as Kubrick’s films do.

Correct Final autuer theory  
Correct Final autuer theory  

Correct Final Auteur Theory.

Advertisement