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Authorship, Auteurism, and Cultural Politics

The periods of human history prepare their prospective representatives; they seek them out, shape them, bring them to light, and through them make themselves known.

Erich Auerbach, Scenes from the Drama of European Literature

Motion pictures and television are often described as collaborative media, but their modes of production are nearly always hierarchical, involving a mixture of industrialized, theatrical, and artisanal practices that give some people authority over others. Depending upon the circumstances under which particular films are made, anyone who functions in a creative job might, at least potentially, be viewed as an author. We obviously don't need to know who the author or authors were in order to enjoy a movie, but the term could be applied with more or less justification and qualification to certain writers (Anita Loos, Raymond Chandler), photographers (John Alton, Gordon Willis), composers (Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann), choreographers (Busby Berkeley, Michael Kidd), stars (the Marx Brothers, Bette Davis), and producers (David Selznick, Darryl Zanuck). For the most part, however, film authorship is associated with directors. Names such as D. W. Griffith and F. W. Murnau have been fundamental to the establishment of movies as "respectable" art, and some histories of film are organized around them, just as literary history is organized around the names of poets or novelists. As a result, "Sergei Eisenstein," "Robert Flaherty," and "Alfred Hitchcock" have come to signify not only persons but also traditions, theories, and genres.

Despite the term "auteur theory," the practice of writing about movie directors has never been a true theory; it simply assumes the importance of directors and takes the form of practical criticism that can be done well or badly. But the discourse on the director-as-author has always been problematic, in part because of the industrial basis of the medium, but also because film directors began to be called "auteurs" in the 1950s and {apos}60s, at the moment when the rise of theory in the academy was about to make authorship in general an embattled concept. During those years, the French politique des auteurs, or "policy" of canonizing favored directors, served as background for debates surrounding authorship in cinema. To make sense of the debates, we first need to make a distinction between writing about movie directors as authors-a practice as old as the feature film-and the more historically situated phenomenon called "auteurism."


As its suffix implies, auteurism was a kind of aesthetic ideology or movement. Like other movements in art history, it was generated by what Raymond Williams terms a "cultural formation"-a loose confederation of critics and artists (in this case made up almost entirely of white males) who had roughly similar objectives and who developed a body of polemical writing to justify their opinions. Such formations are especially important to modernity. As Williams notes, they're typically centered in a metropolis, at points of "transition and intersection" within a complex social history; and the individuals who both compose and are composed by them always have a "range of diverse positions, interests and influences, some of which are resolved . . . , others of which remain as internal differences" (Culture, 85-86). Formations also tend to be ephemeral, spinning off into individual careers or breakaway movements but disseminating their ideas widely, leaving more or less permanent traces on the general culture.

Auteurism fits the profile of a modern cultural formation almost perfectly. It originated in Paris during the 1950s, at a moment when enthusiasm for American cinema was being voiced by several groups, including the left critics at Positif and the right critics at the "MacMahonist" Présence du cinéma. The most influential collective in those years, and the one most identified with auteurism, was at Cahiers du cinéma, but this group was more heterogeneous than it seemed; several members were Catholic, and their politics ranged from conservative to socialist. To some extent they resembled the historical avant-garde of the 1910s and {apos}20s: they possessed a "left bank" aura; they made iconoclastic and at least mildly shocking value judgments; their ideas were articulated in a specialized magazine; they embraced certain elements of pop culture and used them to attack bourgeois values; they published manifestos, such as François Truffaut's "A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema"; and their group label served as a kind of banner to help publicize their early work.

The last point is important because many of the auteurists, including Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette, were fledgling directors. Their call for "personal" cinema had been inspired to some extent by Alexandre Astruc's 1948 essay "The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Camera-Stylo," published in the socialist journal L'Écran français, which spoke metaphorically of the camera as a pen, the screen as a piece of paper, and the director as an author. Astruc, who was both a novelist and a director, emphasized the inscribable or lisable properties of mise-en-scène, locating them in the gestures of actors, the performance of dialogue, the movement or framings of the camera, and the interaction or relationship between objects and persons. The auteurists strongly supported such ideas and gave them apparent practical application by moving from critical writing into filmmaking. Meanwhile, their reviews and essays were filled with flamboyant descriptions of directors as existentialist authors. Godard remarked apropos of Ingmar Bergman, "The cinema is not a craft. It is an art. It does not mean teamwork. One is always alone on the set as before the blank page" (Godard on Godard, 76). Truffaut, speaking of Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, declared, "It is easy to picture its author as a man overflowing with vitality, as much at ease behind a camera as Henry Miller facing a blank page" (The Films of My Life, 94).

As Godard amusingly observed, "Nothing could be more classically romantic" (76). But neither Godard nor auteurism can be so easily pigeonholed. To appreciate why, we need only look at a couple of paragraphs from Godard's Cahiers review of the 1958 Douglas Sirk film A Time to Love and a Time to Die, starring John Gavin and Liselotte Pulver:

I am going to write a madly enthusiastic review of Douglas Sirk's latest film, simply because it sets my cheeks afire. . . . In the first place I shall refer . . . to Griffith's True­Heart Susie, because I think one should mention Griffith in all articles about the cinema: everyone agrees, but everyone forgets none the less. Griffith, therefore, and André Bazin, too, for the same reasons; and now that is done, I can get back to . . . A Time to Love and a Time to Die. . . . But here I pause for a moment to say that, next to Le Plaisir, this is the greatest title in all cinema, sound or silent, and also to say that I heartily congratulate Universal-International on having changed the title of Erich Maria Remarque's novel, which was called A Time to Live and a Time to Die. . . . By replacing the word "live" by "love," they implicitly posed the director the question-an admirable starting-point for the script-"Should one live to love, or love to live?" And now, having finished my detour and comparisons: a time to love and a time to die-no, I shall never tire of writing these new, still imperturbably new, words, A Time to Love and a Time to Die: you know very well that I am going to talk about this film as I do about friend Fritz or Nicholas Ray, about You Only Live Once or They Live by Night, as though, in other words, John Gavin and Liselotte Pulver were Aucassin and Nicolette in 1959.

This, anyhow, is what enchants me about Sirk: this delirious mixture of medieval and modern, sentimentality and subtlety, tame compositions and frenzied Cinemascope. Obviously one must talk about all this as Aragon talks about Elsa's eyes, raving a little, a lot, passionately, no matter, the only logic which concerns Sirk is delirium. (135-36)

This is a far cry from academic criticism and belies some of the assertions often made about auteurism. It's customary (and not incorrect) to say that the young Cahiers critics were romantics-as when Thomas Schatz, in his valuable book The Genius of the System, tells us that auteurism "would not be worth bothering with if it hadn't been so influential, effectively stalling film history in a prolonged stage of adolescent romanticism" (5). Many contemporary writers would agree; but if we're going to call Godard a romantic, we should recognize that he's a strange variant of the type. His review reads more like a wild, calculated mime of the "delirium" he finds in Sirk's film; it's a parody or pastiche of romantic gestures, a "madly enthusiastic" account of "Aucassin and Nicolette in 1959."

One quality of parody is that we can't always tell when it's a full-out mockery. When Joyce opens the "Nausicaa" episode of Ulysses by writing, "The summer evening had begun to fold the world in its mysterious embrace," is he joking about the conventions of popular romance or acknowledging the seductive power of a certain kind of language? Is he engaging in a ventriloquist's act or taking pleasure in "bad writing," allowing his novel to become the thing it mimics? Godard's review has exactly this sort of ambiguity, and if I were to quote it at length in the original French we would discover that it contains Joycean puns. (At one point, he derides "tous ces René qui n'ont pas les idées claires.") He therefore resembles the modernists as much as the romantics. But he also has something in common with the historical avant-garde, which tended to welcome machine-made culture and its utopian possibilities. Like many of the auteurists, he's in love with Cinemascope; at a later point in his review he disputes what he calls the "fashionable" idea that "the wide screen is all window dressing" and remarks that Sirk's camera movements "give the impression of having been done by hand instead of with a crane, rather as if the mercurial brushwork of a Fragonard were the work of a complex machine." Throughout, he employs a familiar avant-garde strategy: he appropriates a high-culture style and turns it on its head; he half-comically apes the conventions of "serious" criticism ("I think one should mention Griffith in all articles about the cinema . . . and André Bazin, too") in order to challenge complacent assumptions about authorship and art.

The particular avant-garde with which Godard's review has affinities is surrealism. Although Positif had direct connections with the surrealists and sometimes attacked the critics at Cahiers, the two groups were in many ways similar. Both were fond of American films, particularly of B movies and film noir, and both sometimes used a lyrical, almost swooning language-as when Godard tells us that A Time to Love and a Time to Die sets his cheeks afire. It's no accident that at one point in his review Godard alludes to the surrealist Louis Aragon, and it's almost predictable that he should proclaim A Time to Love and a Time to Die (next to Le Plaisir) as the "greatest title in all of cinema." At this point in his career he seems a dreamer of mass culture, looking for what André Breton had called "moments of priceless giddiness" (quoted in Hammond, 20). His review seems also to have a quasi-surrealistic conception of authorship, as when he tells us that the power of A Time to Love and a Time to Die rises out of Universal-International's mercenary decision to change the title of Erich Maria Remarque's novel. By this means, Godard suggests, the studio unleashed a ghost in the machine, giving the director an opportunity to set beauty and delirium in motion.

I don't want to overstate the connection with the surrealists; my point is simply that Godard's writing is made up of a mixture of familiar attitudes and can't be identified completely with any of them. It blends the voice of high culture with movie reviewing and blurs the boundaries between romantic aestheticism, modernism, and the historical avant-garde. It reminds us of things we've heard before but also sounds different and new. In some respects, Godard in 1959 resembles what we would nowadays call a postmodern critic.

"Postmodern" needs to be used guardedly because it suggests a quite un-Godard-like disavowal of a philosophical "center." Even so, it helps to indicate an important fact about the auteurists' place in film history. The classic cinema's technology and modes of production had grown out of the period when oil replaced steam and coal as a primary fuel, when "Fordism" became the chief means of industrial organization and when mechanical inventions proliferated at a dizzy rate. (One of the Lumières' first movies showed a train arriving at a station, as if the most important machine of the new era were paying tribute to its predecessors.) Auteurism, by contrast, emerged in the declining years of the studio system, at the dawn of the television age. Although the auteurists and their earliest followers in Britain and America nourished their cult enthusiasms at revival theaters and museums, they belonged to a generation that would begin to use TV like a cinematheque, viewing films in no historical order and regarding the classic cinema as something distant or dying. Over the next decade, widespread academic study of film was prompted partly by auteurism and partly by the easy accessibility of old movies on TV-a phenomenon that enabled everyone to participate in an investigation of Hollywood's past. As a result, whereas the movies were an invention of modernity, all film culture and all writing on film since the late 1950s has had something of a postmodern character. One irony of this situation is that while cinephiles today often call themselves students of film, most of them are students of teletheory, living in a world of recycled images.

Godard's review also has qualities in common with the account of postmodernism by Andreas Huyssen in his influential book After the Great Divide, which argues that sometime around 1960 a new aesthetic began to appear in Western society, signaled by the Pop movement in American art, the literary criticism of Susan Sontag and Leslie Fiedler, and the later architectural writings of Robert Venturi. What all these events have in common is a "break with the austere canon of high modern[ism]" and an "espousal of the commercial vernacular of consumer culture" (187). They involve a sometimes baffling mixture of elitism and populism, and they adopt a critical strategy that was eventually adopted by the academy. As Huyssen puts it, "Pop in the broadest sense was the context in which a notion of the postmodern first took shape, and from the beginning until today, the most significant trends within postmodernism have challenged modernism's relentless hostility to mass culture" (188).

Huyssen doesn't mention Godard or Truffaut, but the New Wave belongs on his list of postmodern developments. Godard's early work is roughly contemporary with Pop and clearly draws inspiration from the American commercial scene. To be sure, there was nothing special about a French intellectual who praised American movies. There was also a quality of old­ fashioned enthusiasm in Godard and the auteurists, who were never as coolly detached as Andy Warhol and never so condescending to movies as Leslie Fiedler. Nevertheless, Godard used the language of high art to praise certain "pulpy" Hollywood auteurs, and as a filmmaker he borrowed imagery from such films as Some Came Running (1958), which Vincente Minnelli had designed to resemble what he described as "the inside of a juke box" (I Remember It Well, 325). Several passages of Godard's criticism could almost be used to define the Pop (or camp) sensibility-for instance, his description of a couple of his favorite scenes from Samuel Fuller's Forty Guns (1957):

Barbara Stanwyck's brother grabs her to use her as a shield. "Go on, shoot, you dirty coward," he shouts to Barry Sullivan, who is covering them with his gun. And without hesitation Barry Sullivan calmly shoots Barbara Stanwyck, who crumples up, and then the brother, who falls mortally wounded in his turn. "Stop shooting, you dirty coward," cries the dying man-Bang! Bang! -"For pity's sake, stop shooting"-Bang! Bang!-"Stop shooting, can't you see I'm dying"-Bang! Bang! Bang!

In another scene, Gene Barry is courting ravishing young Eve Brent, making her charming debut before the cameras in an eye-shade borrowed from Samuel. Eve sells guns. Jokingly, Gene aims at her. The camera takes his place and we see Eve through the barrel of the gun. Track forward until she is framed in close-up by the mouth of the barrel. Next shot: they are in a kiss. (62)

Godard is implicitly attacking not only the bourgeois tradition of quality but also certain features of modernism and the avant-garde. As Huyssen points out, "Modernism's running feud with mass society [and] the avant-garde's attack on high art as a support system of cultural hegemony always took place on the pedestal of high art itself." Godard and many of the other auteurists were different. They were opening the possibility for artists to engage in what Huyssen calls an "experimental mixing and meshing" of the old cultural domains (189). There was, moreover, an irony in the French fascination with American cinema: the auteurists' rise to success as filmmakers was facilitated by the decline of the Hollywood studios, which had dominated the marketplace in the years between the two world wars. In the United States, the major production companies were no longer in control of exhibition, censorship regulations were becoming liberalized, and European art films were making significant inroads in urban art theaters. The French New Wave was particularly well suited to the period because it managed to fuse certain elements of Italian neorealism with a fond, insouciant, distinctively Gallic attitude toward old-fashioned Hollywood genres and directors. In certain American contexts, its name became useful as a marketing strategy.

This doesn't mean that either the New Wave or auteurism can be reduced to a device for self-promotion. The latter began as a critical undertaking and marked an important change in the history of taste. One of the best sources for an understanding of what the French movement achieved is Jim Hillier's Cahiers du Cinéma: The 1950s, which illustrates the diversity of opinion among the writers of the period and places French debates over American cinema in the context of larger concerns about neorealism, modernism, and the French film industry. As Hillier indicates, auteurism was never simply about American-based directors such as Samuel Fuller, Alfred Hitchcock, and Nicholas Ray. The Parisian cinephiles were interested in American auteurs, but French writing about Hollywood was tempered by an even stronger admiration for Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Alain Resnais. Nor were the auteurists exclusively concerned with authorship. Particularly at Cahiers, their practice usually implied a contradictory set of theories about the phenomenology and techniques of cinema, and it produced excellent essays on stars and genres. Above all, it generated a relentlessly evaluative kind of criticism, involving a policy of liking some directors and films more than others. Thus if you wrote for Cahiers, you tended to favor Jean Renoir, Howard Hawks, and Kenji Mizoguchi over Sergei Eisenstein, John Huston, and Akira Kurosawa; you disliked well-made literary adaptations of Great Books, especially when they suggested a slick, middle-brow attitude toward Art; you had a late romantic, somewhat surrealistic passion for amour fou in pictures like Gun Crazy (1949) and Vertigo (1958); you preferred low-budget films noirs such as Kiss Me Deadly (1955) over Big Productions with Important Themes such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957); and you praised wide-screen, color-coded melodramas like Some Came Running instead of Academy Award-winning "little" movies like Marty (1955).

Much of the philosophical underpinnings of 1950s criticism at Cahiers derived from Bazin, the editor of the journal; but Bazin himself, who famously praised the "genius of the system" in Hollywood, was never an auteurist. Although he produced seminal writings on a number of directors (Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, William Wyler, Orson Welles, and the Italian neorealists), he chastised his younger colleagues for their habit of falling into uncritical hero worship and was explicitly disapproving of the "Hitchcocko-Hawksian" tendency in Truffaut's work. His influence on the younger generation lay not so much in the authors he favored as in his broad historical knowledge of cinema and the arts generally, his ability to take Hollywood genres and technical developments seriously, and his keen understanding of the way style gives rise to meaning. Above all, Bazin imbued the early New Wave with a spirit of existential humanism, which placed great emphasis on the cinema's ability to view the world from an objective standpoint. (The very word for the photographic lens in French is objectif.) He and the auteurists repeatedly favored "realistic," "democratic," or untendentious uses of the camera; as a result, Cahiers in the 1950s was preoccupied with wide screens, the "ethics" of mise-en-scène, and with directors who used invisible editing, long takes, or sequence shots rather than dialectical montage. Sometimes this aesthetic ideology was joined with a belief that the best American auteurs were existentialists avant la lettre. In his 1960 review of Fuller's Verboten! (1959), for example, Truffaut describes the director of the film as if he were an action painter making instinctive or primal decisions about what should be put on the screen: "This is direct cinema, uncriticizable, irreproachable, 'given' cinema, rather than assimilated, digested, or reflected upon. Fuller doesn't take time to think; it is clear that he is in his glory when he is shooting" (The Films of My Life, 108).

There was nevertheless a tension between Truffaut's existentialist ideas, which made him sympathetic to an "open" cinema of the kind practiced by Renoir and Rossellini, and his equally strong love of genre directors like Fuller and flamboyant stylists like Welles. One of the things that attracted Truffaut to the Americans was their sense of fairy tales or pure artifice. As Leo Braudy has pointed out, Truffaut and Godard were part of a movie-obsessed generation who were hyperaware of the conventions of the medium and who "showed their involvement with the special aesthetics of film most clearly when they considered genre films-the westerns, the detective films, the musicals-in which realistic materials were used unrealistically in a structure dictated less by story than by myth." Even when Truffaut discussed Citizen Kane, Braudy notes, "he implicitly contradicted Bazin's assumption of realist teleology in film history by celebrating the virtues of self-conscious stylization" (Native Informant, 47).

Where the auteurists chiefly differed from Bazin was in the delirious style of their cinephilia and their tendency to place directors of pop genres or assembly-line films alongside the work of more highly respected artists. One of their favorite devices for achieving these effects was the ten-best list, which could be used as a weapon against prevailing opinion. Godard announced not only the ten best films of each year but also such things as the "Ten Best American Sound Films" and the "Six Best French Films since the Liberation." The typical list in Cahiers contained several key works of the New Wave together with such unexpected choices as Hatari! (1962) and A Time to Love and a Time to Die. Both here and in their more discursive writings, the auteurists loved to elevate the lowbrow over the middlebrow. Godard was perhaps better than anyone at the technique, as when he remarked that "an alert Frank Tashlin is worth two Billy Wilders" (35). His reviews repeatedly took on a populist quality and balanced sophistication with idealism about certain Hollywood films. In most cases, he employed a language of puns, epigrams, and breathtakingly old-fashioned pronouncements. In 1952, writing under the name "Hans Lucas," he answered Bazin's question "What is Cinema?" with a single phrase, basing his response on auteurs like Griffith, Flaherty, Renoir, and Hitchcock: "the expression of lofty sentiments" (31).

Was he kidding? Yes and no. Godard's Olympian statement illustrates one of the fundamental paradoxes of auteurism. Although the movement was youthful, impetuous, and romantic, it was often dedicated to antique virtues and to praising the work of directors who were entering their twilight years. Josef von Sternberg's Jet Pilot (1957), Fritz Lang's The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), and Howard Hawks's Red Line 7000 (1965) were all made during roughly the same period as the early films of the New Wave; but they occupied a world apart from both the current Hollywood hits and the new European art cinema, as if they were still clinging to dated formulas or dead modes of production. Few mainstream critics in the Anglo-Saxon world took them seriously, but the auteurists passionately embraced them, sometimes ranking them above the same directors' more celebrated films of the 1930s and {apos}40s. One of the most sweetly charming features of auteurism lay in its love for old pros or cinematic father figures who were still alive, making unpretentious genre movies or quiet, meditative films such as Ford's The Sun Shines Bright (1953). Truffaut, who could be devastatingly sarcastic in some contexts, was quite touching when he spoke of such films, or when he used them to rebuke current fashions.

The paradoxes or tensions I've been describing-between old and new, between pop and modernism, between a humanist philosophy of photographic realism and a nascent idea of cinematic écriture-are also apparent in the early films of the New Wave. Truffaut's directorial style, for example, rises out of two apparently incompatible approaches to cinema: Renoir's free-flowing tolerance, which breaks down generic conventions, and Hitchcock's "murderous gaze," which exploits generic conventions to the utmost. Godard's Breathless employs a similar dialectic, but the effect is much more conflicted or ambivalent. A highly personal movie (at least in the intellectual sense), it gives its auteur an opportunity to identify with both Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a French wise guy who is infatuated with everything American, and Patricia (Jean Seberg), a sensitive, rather intellectual young woman from America who fears that she might be getting too deeply involved with the underworld. The two facets of the director's imaginary identity are represented in the form of a perversely romantic and failed relationship, much like the ones in Hollywood film noir; and the relationship is echoed in a dense pattern of allusions to two different kinds of text: genre movies, mostly associated with Michel, and high-cultural literature, music, or painting, mostly associated with Patricia. The film alludes not only to Aldrich, Fuller, Budd Boetticher, Otto Preminger, and Raoul Walsh, but also to William Faulkner, Rainer Maria Rilke, Louis Aragon, Guillaume Apollinaire, and William Shakespeare. Godard is the implicit source of these allusions and is therefore identified with both the man of action and the would-be artist, with both the rebel and the conformist-although it may be significant that he makes a cameo appearance (imitating Hitchcock) as a man on the street who points out Michel to the cops.

The New Wave was fostered by postmodernity, but it retained residual features of romanticism and critical modernism. However it might be described, the important point is that French success in the art theaters gave the auteurist writings of Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, and Chabrol a special authority. By the early 1960s the movement had spread far beyond France. In England, it influenced the best critics of the period, including Robin Wood, Raymond Durgnat, Victor Perkins, Peter Wollen, David Thomson, and the group of writers associated with Movie. Over the next decade it had a similar influence in America, shaping the work of critic-filmmakers Paul Schrader and Peter Bogdanovich and eventually affecting "New American Cinema." During the 1960s, its presence was quite strong in New York, where the avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas briefly provided a space for auteurist criticism in the pages of Film Culture, where select revival cinemas featured retrospectives of Hollywood auteurs, and where Film Comment became an auteurist journal.

Manny Farber, who anticipated many of these developments, praised Hollywood's "underground," male-action genre movies and attacked the middlebrow or "quality" tradition in America (meanwhile persuading us that Howard Hawks, one of the most successful producer-directors of the previous two decades, was an underground artist). The most influential American exponent of auteurism, however, was Andrew Sarris, whose columns for The Village Voice and writings on directors in The American Cinema (1968) helped to establish what have become canonical works of classic Hollywood. Sarris's book is filled with sharp but productive contradictions-a mixture of populism and elitism, of appeals to individual expression and vigorous praise for Hollywood. In his case, as in that of Godard, I'm reminded of a passage in Oscar Wilde's "The Critic as Artist" (1891), in which the wise aesthete Gilbert tells his friend Ernest that critical impressionism is a form of art. Gilbert confesses that the Mona Lisa never makes him contemplate Leonardo; on the contrary, he can never look at the painting without thinking of Walter Pater, who wrote a famous essay about it. For my part, I can never see A Time to Love and a Time to Die without thinking of Godard, and I can never see The Searchers without thinking of Sarris. Like the best critics, these two were not only what Wilde would call artists but also what Walter Benjamin would call producers. Writers on film, whether auteurists or not, can hardly expect to do more.

The Death (and Survival) of the Author

Auteurism profoundly affected Hollywood's view of its own past and in the process enhanced the reputation of directors like Hawks and Hitchcock, who were making their late films at the height of the movement. It influenced the spread of college film societies, inspired a generation to write about film, and contributed to the growth of film studies as an academic discipline. In the Anglo-American world especially, academic film study proliferated in literature departments rather than in drama or art history departments. Literary specialists found auteurism compatible not only because it emphasized authors but also because it offered a provisional canon and a program for research into a vast, largely unexplored area of twentieth-century narrative; in addition, it required a scholarly effort to see everything, not for the purpose of cataloging or building an archive, but for the purpose of informed value judgments. To British auteurists such as Robin Wood, this project had something in common with the severely evaluative, somewhat antimodernist literary criticism practiced by F. R. Leavis and his followers at Scrutiny in the 1930s and {apos}40s. Wood's early writings also have something in common with the American literary critic Lionel Trilling's espousal of "moral realism"; thus Wood began his famous book on Hitchcock with a chapter entitled "Why We Should Take Hitchcock Seriously" and went on to stress the "complex moral implications" of certain Hitchcock films (4). In more qualified fashion, the first edition of Peter Wollen's Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (1969) concluded with the suggestion that film study might join forces with the dominant form of literary education: "Hitchcock is at least as important an artist as, say, Scott Fitzgerald, much more important than many other modern American novelists who have found their way on to the university curriculum. I do not think time is wasted in writing about these novelists, all things being equal, and I do not think it would be wasted if hundreds of post-graduates were writing research theses on Jean Renoir, Max Ophuls or John Ford" (160-61).

These arguments owed something to the culture-and-society debates of the previous century, but they also realigned or decentered the academic canon and encouraged a certain curiosity about how canons are formed in the first place. For that reason and others, auteurism as a movement began to self-destruct. Ultimately it fell victim to internal contradictions, to the splintering of its original French advocates into different filmmaking careers, to the professionalism of academia, and to theoretical challenges from both the right and the left.

The first of the theoretical challenges, barely noticed at the time, was already inherent in the literary methodology that some of the American auteurists had adopted. The very idea of modern poetics in the Anglo-Saxon world derives from an "objective" formalism of a type best exemplified by T. S. Eliot, who argued in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919) that "honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry." In the literary sphere, Eliot and the New Critics mounted a devastating attack on a dusty, genteel, academic historicism, in which the names of great writers figured prominently. In the process, they warned against the "intentional fallacy" and advocated trusting the tale, not the teller. New Criticism also had democratic effects: it called attention to the way language constructs the world, and, in the words of Jonathan Culler, it enabled "the meanest student who lacked the scholarly information of his betters" to make "valid comments on the language and structure of the text" (3-4). And even though New Criticism gradually died out, all subsequent developments in textual analysis-including structuralism, poststructuralism, and contemporary narratology-have resembled the New Critics in being formalist or "objective." The overwhelming majority of introductory classes on media "language" taught in universities are still based on methods of formal analysis not completely unlike the New Critical analysis of poetry; as a result, they're less concerned with who makes films than with how films are made and with how they generate meanings and artistic effects.

But even though the main current of instruction and analytic criticism tends to leave the question of the author to one side, the major achievements in modem poetics, as represented by such diverse figures as Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer, Roland Barthes, and Émile Benveniste, are derived from close analysis of the Western canon. There would appear to be an unstated link between formalism, aestheticism, and the tendency to favor certain artists or kinds of texts. We should recall that, for all its apparent objectivity of method, the New Criticism advanced implicit ideological agendas, creating both a canon of modernist authors and a kind of priesthood of interpretation. It achieved such ends despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it bracketed the important issue of historical authors and readers, leaving them outside the field of study, as unexamined entities who were extraneous to the understanding of self­sufficient works of art. Auteurism was different, not only because it validated Hollywood, but also because it openly fostered a cult of authorship and an impulse toward historical research.

Auteurism faced much greater challenges from inside film culture, which was deeply affected by the radical politics of the Vietnam years and by new forms of modernist cinema, largely centered in Paris. The late 1960s and {apos}70s were a period when the Langlois Affair led to student riots and a general strike, when the Situationists made collage films, when Godard joined the Dziga Vertov collective, and when the radicalized elements of the French film industry began to express dissatisfaction with any system that designated directors as "bosses of meaning." (For a useful survey of the period, see Sylvia Harvey.) At roughly the same time, Third Cinema developed in Latin America and in nations that had recently escaped colonization, which led to a militantly political filmmaking that, although it was indebted in certain ways to the Italian neorealists and the French New Wave, defined itself in opposition to both Hollywood entertainment and personalized European art.

Meanwhile, French antihumanist "theory" (a term that had barely existed in the Anglo­American world) began to change the priorities for academic film criticism. Outside France, the change became apparent in the British journal Screen, which published Cohn MacCabe's writings on Brecht, Stephen Heath's two-part analysis of Touch of Evil, Laura Mulvey's study of "visual pleasure," and many other seminal essays. Screen theory as a whole was indebted to the program outlined in "Cinema/Ideology/Criticism," a 1968 Cahiers du cinéma manifesto by Pierre Narboni and Jean-Louis Comolli, which marked the turn away from auteurism. Like Narboni and Comolli, Screen was suspicious of Hollywood entertainment and tended to subsume individual practices under generalized formal categories, to which it attributed ideological effects; it closely examined the ways a hypostasized "subject" was positioned by narrative conventions and the technical apparatus, and it repeatedly argued on behalf of a modernist or avant-garde cinema that was both politically activist and critically self-reflexive. Theory in this period was Marxist (via Louis Althusser), but just as disdainful of social realism as the auteurists had been. It was Freudian (via Jacques Lacan), but not at all interested in the neuroses of individual artists; instead, it argued that the dominant tradition of cinematic language (described by Christian Metz as an "imaginary signifier") was structured by a patriarchal ideology. On every front, theory replaced the study of the author with the study of the sign systems through which author and ideology were represented. In contrast to traditional Marxism, the author became a kind of epiphenomenon or ideological construction, and the human subject seemed to have no individual agency. Two celebrated French essays strongly influenced this tendency: in "What Is an Author?" Michel Foucault deconstructed the authorial "function," showing its relationship to early Christian exegesis, to the rationalist episteme of bourgeois society, and to legal or property rights; and in "From Work to Text," Roland Barthes contrasted the authorized work of art-which, he suggested, was little more than a reified commodity-with the open-ended process of textuality, which seemed to belong to the reader, or to nobody in particular.

Where film study was concerned, the names of theorists became more important than the names of directors, although the new writing favored a wide range of filmmakers who could be interpreted in modernist and avant-garde terms: Soviet radicals (Eisenstein and Vertov), pre-Hollywood pioneers (Porter and the photographers who worked before Griffith), certain Japanese directors (Ozu and Oshima), and a group of contemporaries who practiced "countercinema" (Godard, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, and Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey). The auteurist canon didn't disappear from the advanced film journals, but it was treated differently. The new editorial collective at Cahiers du cinéma undertook a political and Lacanian analysis of John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), most of the French essays on cinema and psychoanalysis were centered on Hitchcock, and even Comolli and Narboni said a good word about Jerry Lewis's The Bellboy (1960). Several of the original British auteurists, including Wollen and Wood, who were associated with the New Left, made increasing use of poststructuralist theory but chose to write about pictures by Welles or Hitchcock. In the pages of Screen and elsewhere, cutting-edge theoretical papers were often devoted to films by Hawks, Walsh, Sirk, and Ophüls. These papers didn't try to establish particular individuals as artists; in most cases they were designed to reveal that the classic Hollywood auteurs were ideological partners in an illusionistic system that needed to be dismantled. They nevertheless had the indirect effect of keeping artistic reputations and auteurist tastes alive.

The Vietnam era gave way to the Reagan-Thatcher years, Hollywood learned to profit from blockbusters, the media were increasingly consolidated and globalized, and social protest fragmented. The succeeding generation of academic writers on film became skeptical of authoritarian or top-down models of communication (in part because Barthes had already pointed to the importance of the reader), and the theoretical conjunction of Saussurean linguistics, Althusserian Marxism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis was gradually replaced by another paradigm, associated with such figures as Antonio Gramsci, Michel de Certeau, Pierre Bourdieu, and the British and Australian exponents of cultural studies. The critical emphasis shifted from the avant-garde to the popular and from the ideological effects of cinematic narrative to the techniques of "resistance" or "poaching" employed by audiences. As a result, we began to hear more about reception than production, and more about Jean-Luc Picard than about Jean-Luc Godard.

Today, after more than two decades of film theory, academic writing tends to oscillate between large-scale arguments about the Hollywood "apparatus" and studies of genres or audiences. The critical study of authors is no longer a central activity. A great deal of contemporary historiography continues to treat the author in the manner of Foucault, as little more than a discursive function, and this tendency is reinforced by a long tradition of cultural theory, ranging from radicals like Walter Benjamin to conservatives like Daniel Bell, who argue that technology and the mass media systematically undermine the bourgeois values of originality, autonomy, and aestheticism upon which the idea of authorship depends. Each new technical development since the beginning of the century has helped to confirm this theory. In the age of the computer, the media are able to generate "hypertexts," apparently authorless words, sounds, and images manipulated by the reader/viewer according to structural conventions and a repertoire of older styles. A great many postmodern artists have adopted this strategy; like bricoleurs or samplers, they make new texts out of borrowed or retro motifs, becoming ironic about their originality.

And yet, as anyone can see from the latest movies, individual style hasn't gone away and the star director is as visible as ever. Timothy Corrigan has argued that such figures are especially important to the contemporary marketplace because they serve as a "commercial strategy for organizing audience reception . . . bound to distribution and marketing aims that identify and address the potential cult status of an auteur" (103). I agree, although Corrigan seems to me to understate the fact that directors are also artists, and to overstate the difference between the past and the present. Orson Welles was a vastly more important artist than Michael Bay, but he was just as deeply involved in vulgar show business, and the marketing of his early pictures depended heavily on RKO's ballyhoo about his "genius." In their own day, Cecil B. DeMille and Frank Capra were publicized no less than Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. What makes the contemporary situation relatively new is the split between Hollywood and an audience of people who read reviews and make discriminations on the basis of directorial names like David Lynch, Sally Potter, and Atom Egoyan. In 1997, Cahiers du cinéma speculated on the question, "What happened to the politique des auteurs?" The journal's answer: nothing. As proof of an ongoing auteuromorphisme (defined as a persistent desire to make the film resemble the body of its creator), the journal offered interviews with five directors-Pedro Almodóvar, Takeshi Kitano, Alain Resnais, Robert Guédiguian, and Abbas Kiarostami-whose work had just opened in Paris (Baecque, 22-25).

The academic deemphasis on authors is out of key with this situation, although it offers an important counterweight to the overwhelming emphasis on stars, celebrities, and biographies in the mainstream market. In universities, nothing should prevent author criticism from contributing to our understanding of media history and sociology. French auteurism as a historical movement may be dead (its greatest influence lasted roughly two decades), but so are the tedious debates about the death of the author. The residual "auteur theory" in its various manifestations still affects our view of film history, and it still has lessons to teach us-among them, the three I list below:

1. The author is just as real (or as illusory and fetishized) as the money and the mechanical apparatus behind the cinema. The classic auteurs such as Hitchcock and Hawks imposed a style upon their films, as do contemporary directors, and any "materialistic" criticism needs to take this fact into account. It's true that authors are "written by" a series of historical, social, and cultural determinants, and that no author creates a film ex nihilo; but the author doesn't become less real simply because she's socially constructed or because she uses the common language and tradition. Critics need to understand the phenomenon of the author dialectically, with an awareness of the complicated, dynamic relationship between movie history, institutions, and artists, and with an appreciation of the aesthetic choices made by individual agents in particular circumstances.

2. The study of authors is useful because it sometimes enables us to differentiate films more precisely. One can make valid generalizations about Hollywood studios and genres, but every western and every film noir is not the same. As Robin Wood has pointed out, the name "Hitchcock" points to a different nexus of ideological and psychological concerns from the name "Capra." These two individuals were themselves situated differently in history, and a study of their careers can produce a fine-grained understanding of both film style and the general culture. Echoing a statement by F. R. Leavis, Wood argues that it is "only through the medium of the individual that ideological tensions come into particular focus" (Hitchcock's Films Revisited, 292).

3. Contrary to what Foucault suggests in his famous essay on the idea of the author, it can be very important for us to know who is speaking. A good deal is at stake, for example, when we view Citizen Kane as an RKO production rather than as a product of Orson Welles's career; one way of looking at the film makes it seem like a Hollywood classic and the other emphasizes its critical or subversive edge. Of course we can derive a political interpretation from purely internal evidence, avoiding the question of the source altogether. When we do, however, we fail to engage with what Andreas Huyssen calls "the ideology of the subject (as male, white, middle-class)," and we forsake the chance of "developing alternative and different notions of subjectivity" (213). There is no good reason why everyone needs to follow the example of Barthes and Foucault, who, as European male intellectuals, were deeply invested in the attempt to kill off "papa." Less powerful individuals or groups need authors to help shape their identities. Thus in a recent book on Italian director Elvira Notari, Giuliana Bruno poses a rhetorical question: "Can or should we consider as dead an author, such as the female author, who is yet to be fully established in the public sphere and theorized?" (234; see also Flitterman-Lewis).

In many cases the study of authors is a conservative activity, bound up with the perpetuation of traditions and the manufacture of commodities. But in certain contexts it can serve as an attack on convention and a form of resistance. The best of the early auteurist criticism had something of this last quality. It was romantic, but it challenged received wisdom; it was ironic, but it never used irony as a defense against popular pleasure; it was subjective, but it implicitly demonstrated that the personal is political. We can build on what it accomplished without sacrificing theoretical insights or cultural critique. The canon of Hollywood, largely established by the original French auteurists, has yet to be explored, expanded, and challenged. We have plenty of biographies on major directors, but surprisingly few good books of criticism on their films. The vast area of post-1980s cinema and made-for-TV movies is largely uncharted territory. We need discussions of such things by people who work outside the studio marketing departments. The result might be to restore to film criticism the sense of iconoclasm and aesthetic sensitivity it had in the days of the politique des auteurs.>