05 mai 2010

Forgotten Obsolete English Words #4 : Auteur

Well it's kind of a borrowed word from French, but it's not the definition in French language that is obsolete, it's the English rebranding.
Auteur : nom masculin. (Littré)
  • Cause première d'une chose. L'auteur de toutes choses, Dieu. L'auteur de cette guerre. Il est l'auteur de sa fortune.
  • Inventeur. L'auteur d'un procédé.
  • Celui, celle qui a fait un ouvrage de littérature, de science ou d'art. Il ou elle est l'auteur de ce tableau.
  • Principe, origine, source
  • English translation : author
Auteur : French, originator, author, from Old French autor, from Latin auctor (Merriam-Webster)
  • see : author
  • an artist (as a musician or writer) whose style and practice are distinctive
  • a filmmaker whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp. (Dictionary.com)
  • a film director regarded as the author of their films (Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English)
Author : 14th century. Middle English auctour, from Anglo-French auctor, autor, from Latin auctor : promoter, originator, author, from augēre to increase (Merriam-Webster)
  • one that originates or creates : source.

The dictionaries have it right! Why is impossible to get auteurists and more generally film critics to agree on a consensual definition here?

LITERATURE (for comparison with a less controversial art)
If you're the original creator of an œuvre, you're the author.
If you have your book written by someone else, a ghost, you're not the author.
If you compile citations and other stolen material, you're not the author.
If someone extracts from you oral stories in a faux-dialogue, you're not the author.
If you ask someone to write the dialogue for you, another the event timeline, another the descriptions, another the plot, another the character psychology... you're not an author.
If you rewrite an old book, you're a plagiarist, not an author.
If you paraphrase history, you're an historian, not an author.
If there is a team of correctors, editors, advisers, publishers, publicists, censors who rewrite, rephrase, redact, patch up, fill in, shorten/dilute, hype up, sensationalise, dramatise, or generally butcher up your work after you've handed out the manuscript and right before publication, you're not the author; you're not an author.

CINEMA (highly controversial art to date!)

Now apply this concept to cinema, keeping in mind that literature is a WRITTEN medium, therefore the literary writer authors a WRITTEN œuvre. An author of cinema, which is an AUDIO-VISUAL medium, does not author a written script but an AUDIO-VISUAL mise en scène (the quintessence of the FILM medium), which is also SPATIAL and TEMPORAL.
This personal style, this unique stamp, this filmic signature is a cinema-specific aesthetic based on (original) spacio-temporal formal ideas.
The subject is secondary, in film art, if it is not immediately translated into a typically cinematic form, i.e. mise en scène. (Barely mentioning political ideas in a dialogue, or using onscreen character's worldview as your own, never adds substance to cinema auteurism).
However, absence of politics and worldview never stopped painters who retreated into abstraction or pictorialism to produce a great œuvre. A great cinema auteur could make great art out of anything, any topic, any genre, any stories... precisely because auteurs express their medium-specific stamp through mise en scène, an original mise en scène they own.

Besides, movies can also be made without a real auteur in charge. Just like you can publish books without a real writer!

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