In class, we learned about the Auteur Theory, specifically about two of the known auteurs around – Ingmar Bergman and Michaelangelo Antonoini. Akira Kurosawa, another well-known Auteur, was also mentioned during the group presentation. No doubt, films by these directors have distinct qualities that many attribute to the directors’ competence and mastery of techniques. We have witnessed in class, some of the films by these directors like Persona (by Bertman), L’Avventura (by Antonoini) and the Seven Samurai (by Kurosawa). It is evident that these films have distinguishable styles from other films. Moreover, the Auteurism of these directors has also allowed for their repertoire of films to bear the same semblance and style. Simply put, films by these directors characterises the heart and soul of these directors.
However, here’s why I don’t quite agree with Auteurism.
Auteur theory functions on an assumption that a film has one person controlling and contributing to it, and that is the director. I have to acknowledge that to an extent, it is true, because the director gets to make the final decisions on and off set during production, thereby getting accredited for the film style.
Standing on the side of critics, I would suggest another point of view hopefully film students do consider before jumping on the bandwagon of the Auteur Theory. The process of filmmaking is a complex and dynamic one. It is impossible for a director to do every single task required in filmmaking. Hence, there is contribution and collaboration with other professionals happening in the process. These professionals take on other artistic tasks and then submit it to the director for final approval. To put it in an analogy, it seems to me that the director is like a curator in a museum, whereas the production crewmembers are the artists submitting their artworks to be selected for the exhibition.
So why is the director getting the credit for other people’s work as well?
Bergman, Antonoini and Kurosawa all had worked closely with certain actors who helped them in crafting the style in their films.
Bergman worked with what he called his “Repertory Company” of Swedish actors whom he uses frequently in his films. This includes Bibi and Harriet Anderaaon, Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman, who appeared in 9 of his films.
For Antonioni, Monica Vitti appeared in 5 of his known films, namely Red Desert, L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse and Mystery of Oberwald.
Kurosawa’s films mostly starred Takashi Shimura, who appeared in 21 out of his 30 films and Toshiro Mifune, who appeared in 16.
These actors used across the auteurs’ repertoire do shape the consistency of the personal factor across the auteur films, as these stars, in their physical characteristics, distinct qualities and personalities, help paint the artistic styles of the films beyond the control of the director. Ullman, Vitti and Mifune bring about certain artistic elements into the film they inhabit, with their appearance and distinctive physical features “colouring” the mise-en-scenes.
Furthermore, these auteurs also worked closely with great cinematographers who brought to the table their own artistic creativity and skills. Bergman worked closely with Sven Nykvist, a cinematographer known for his naturalistic and simple style, and helped steer Bergman’s film style away from a Theatrical look, towards the later half of Bergman’s career. For example, in Persona, Sven was the one who had created the close up shots of faces on camera (which we saw in class).
Antonioni worked closely with Alfio Contini, a noted and prolific cinematographer, on four of his known films. Contini, being an acclaimed cinematographer, would bring his set of artistic practice and skills into Antonioni’s films, such as Zabriskie Point, which showcased brilliant scenic cinematography.
Likewise, Kurosawa had a team of “Kurosawa-gumi” made up of the same crewmembers, which he used across his films. Notably, Yoshiro Muraki and Takashi Matsuyama worked closely with Kurosawa in giving art and cinematographic direction to his films.
In the readings, it mentioned Bazin had postulated that auteurism is “choosing in the artistic creation the personal factor as a criterion of reference, and then postulating its permanence and even its progress from one work to the next”. However, what I find lacking in that statement is the acknowledgement of other film professionals who facilitated or even significantly contributed to the permanence and progression of the auteur’s personal factor across his repertoire of films. Even the stars used consistently across their films helped maintain the permanence of their style. Hence, the Auteur Theory lacks in accounting for other “artists” who had actually significantly contributed to the films, who just did not have the title as the director.