Auteur Theory and Authorship


Given the debates and arguments about authorship in cinema, and given the changing cultural context, it was inevitable that auteurism would be put under pressure and evolve. Peter Wollen, influenced like Movie and Sarris in his tastes by those of the Cahiers 's critics, wrote in the early 1960s in New Left Review and developed his ideas in the 1969 and 1972 editions of his book Signs and Meaning in the Cinema . He introduced a new emphasis, so-called "auteur structuralism" or "cine-structuralism." Claude Lévi-Strauss's structural anthropology looked for patterns of "structuring oppositions," or antinomies, both within and between texts, and the cine-structuralist, as Wollen put it, looked not only for "resemblances or repetitions," but also for "a system of differences and oppositions." These needed to be teased out of what might appear very different kinds of films—Ford's or Hawks's westerns as well as their comedies, for example. In a further shift, Wollen put the auteur directors' names in inverted commas—"Hitchcock," "Ford," "Hawks"—to distinguish the real people and creative personalities Hitchcock, Ford, and Hawks from the structures or retrospective critical constructs—the auteur codes—named after them.

The auteur thus became something more like an unconscious catalyst for elements and influences beyond his or her conscious control. In the politically and theoretically highly charged post-1968 cultural atmosphere in France, Cahiers itself was changing rapidly, and this stage of the development of auteur theory generated the collective essay by the editors of Cahiers , "John Ford's Young Mr Lincoln " in the August 1970 issue of Cahiers . This essay considers the film symptomatically in terms of its repressions and contradictions, in which the auteur/director John Ford cannot be taken unproblematically as a unifying, intentional source. From Wollen's inverted commas and the auteur as "unconscious catalyst" and Cahiers 's problematizing of authorial inscription, it is not far to post-structuralism's virtual disappearance or "death of the author," as Roland Barthes's 1968 essay put it. For Barthes, the author becomes a by-product of writing, and emphasis on the author is replaced by emphasis on the text's destination, the reader.

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