Adrian Martin : "The status of the auteur and auteurism wavers all the time. Sometimes I think that it’s old-hat, a battle won long ago, an irrelevant and in fact burdensome legacy; at other times, I think it’s one of the few solid principles you can hold onto: the individual poetic voice that speaks, sometimes miraculously, above all the ‘noise’ of industry, money, publicity, culture in the bad sense. The difficulty is that, today (and for quite a while now, at least 20 years), the auteur has become a marketing category, a ‘name brand’: when that happened, everybody (including especially those who didn’t deserve it) became an instant ‘auteur’! It’s the ‘a film by...’ syndrome, set in stone within film industry law: the director is the boss, the star, the celebrity, the person with ‘vision’ and style and personality and (hopefully) good looks … and they know (sometimes painfully) that this is the part they must play within the ‘system’. So, in this sense, the auteur is no longer someone whom critics discover or ‘decipher’ (as Peter Wollen once put it); he or she is already way out there in the public eye, sometimes even before their first feature exists! (Look at the career of Jane Campion for a striking example.) So, the auteur is something different today: he or she exists in a different ‘game space’ of the public cultural industry, and when scholars talk (rather windily and posily) about post-auteurism or neo-auteurism, that’s what they are gesturing towards: it’s not just a matter of the film text in isolation anymore (if it indeed ever was! – the best auteurism always drew a wide circle around a film) but a whole, complex set of social relations. In terms of auteurism – meaning the kinds of study and analysis we critics, scholars and teachers do – there needs to be constant vigilance about moving away from the reductive trap (even worse in art criticism than in film criticism) of just funneling films first and last and foremost through their directors: there are many contexts, many circuits or networks, many aspects and cross-referencings of films that we need to explore, all the time. Auteurism as a critical approach, alas, is sometimes the easy, lazy way out!" (IndianAuteur #7, Nov 2009)
What wavers? the superficial idea of "auteur" in popular culture, in society, for the layman? or the objective reality of this function in regard to film History? I regret the former wavers, I disagree the latter wavers.
"Author" is a plain technical term, it's not a trophee only awarded to artists we approve. Either you make a film the auteur way, or you don't. And filmmakers who don't can still make great films. So it should never be at the center of cultural or academic controversies.
One of the reasons why film culture has considerably deflated is precisely because people - professionals or the general audience - argue over the wrong issues, empty words of their meanings, overdramatize the simplest things... Nothing means anything anymore nowadays. And everybody can and will question word definitions.
I doubt the "a film by" syndrome plays any role in the industry's legal system. If it is, it's certainly not part of the studio system legacy (Hollywood) where movies are made, owned and advertized under the studio's name. I wonder where in the world film directors are at the top of the pyramid, except maybe in France, which is not quite the typical industry. "A film by" is a concept of critics and intellectuals, it's a cultural phenomenon (IF actually taken in consideration).
In fact it's probably a minor problem if the name tag "auteur" is misappropriated or missused, because the aesthetical debate doesn't depend on whether filmmakers are auteurs, but whether their films are good. What do directors direct? actors or a film crew or the editing table or mise en scène? It's roughly the same question as what are filmmakers authors of? a script or storyboard or a series of shots or a commercial product or the spirit of the film?
Whatever the neophytes call "auteur" doesn't really affect the specialised film discourse... they deform so many film notions already in their daily consumption of movie spectacle. It is quite disturbing however that the word "auteur" would still be controversial amongst intellectuals 60 years later!
The "complex set of social relations" around the film and its director doesn't negate the existence of an auteur on set. Either you choose to focus on the inspirational signature of a film, or you want to explore something else, because these layers exist there at the same time. Even if the "social relations" of an entire crew are a bigger influence than the input of the single director, we can still choose to analyse that particular film through the particular prism of auteurism. It's no less absurd than to imagine that a book has no specific author because of socio-political considerations...
"The lazy way out"
I wonder what is the target readership of such anti-auteurist discourse. When on a sinking Titanic, you don't question the deckchairs arrangement... you teach how to swim and quick! Apparently most people don't even realize film criticism is riding a Titanic in India, in the USA (because of commercial imperatives)... or anywhere else (because of slow mainstream aculturation). I fail to see the educational benefit to teach "post-auteurism" afterthoughts in a country (India) where auteurism hasn't been assimilated enough in popular culture to have the luxury to get rid of it already. I'm sorry but this is the snobbism only a limited circle of European intellectuals could afford (because cinema culture there has reached that point! not in Bollywood, not in Hollywood!), and yet, it's never a legit issue to forget about auteurism altogether...
The excerpt quoted above comes from an interview published in an Indian AUTEURIST journal! I don't take any responsibility because I only suggested question guidelines in private mode and they were sent out as is, I also suggested afterward, in vain, to remove this part of the interview.
In a culture suffocated by the mainstream industrial anti-intellectual standards (like Bollywood or Hollywood), this kind of rebel attitude towards the "auteur establishment" can only further entrench an elitist (alternative) culture that should, on the contrary, be vulgarized and communicated to the wider public. Good luck teaching serious film studies in a mainstream country where you've killed auteurism...
follow up : The Lazy Way Out (2)