The opening credit sequence of contemporary American films typically proclaim that the ensuing work is "a film by" a particular director. This assertive title is both an acknowledgment of professional responsibility (that the creative process is led by a central administrative figure) and an authorial intention (that the work in question is the product of a single, creative individual). However, within such a deceptively simple credit lies an implicit array of controversial assumptions about the position of the director. The significance of such a credit is historically contingent: it depends on the film's given production context, as well as the changing professional status of the director from decade to decade. Indeed, the ubiquity of such a credit is a fairly recent phenomenon; in most cases during the classical era, movies were credited as being "authored" by the studio that produced them. Moreover, it is not simply that a credit such as "a Jay Roach Film" is potentially misleading; it also gives very little indication as to the precise nature of the director's creative enterprise.

What, then, are the technical duties and professional responsibilities of the director? How do they differ according to a director's cultural, historical, and industrial situation? Why have certain professional and critical discourses encouraged us to regard the director as the prominent "authorial" voice among a hierarchy of film artists? Finally, what is the use-value of promoting the director as a "celebrity"—a creative personality whose name comes to signify quality, exclusivity, and/or fashionability? Answering these questions requires a consideration of the director's position within a hierarchy of film production given to structural fluctuation, as well as an analysis of the power dynamics involved in both authorial and star politics.

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