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Auteur Theory


*Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary*


French auteur, lit. ‘author’, ‘originator’ (see AUTHOR n.).


In sense 1, first recorded in French in Arts et littérature dans la société contemporaine (1936) 3403, but later popularized by F. Truffaut in Cahiers du Cinéma (1954) Jan. 26. In sense 2, first recorded in French, referring to a composer of music, in 1826 (Delécluze Journal (1826) 339), though independently derived in English by extension of sense 1. With auteurship, cf. earlier AUTEURISM n.]


A. n.


1. A film director whose personal influence and artistic control over his or her films are so great that he or she may be regarded as their author, and whose films may be regarded collectively as a body of work sharing common themes or techniques and expressing an individual style or vision.

Recorded earliest in auteur theory.


[1959 Sight & Sound Summer-Autumn 28 115/2 Chabrol and Truffaut..began their careers as members of the rather exclusive group of young critics centred on Cahiers du Cinéma. There they defended almost as a sacred principle the ‘films d'auteurs’.] 1962 A. SARRIS in Film Culture Winter 2/2 Some critics have embraced the auteur theory as a short-cut to film scholarship. 1968 New Yorker 27 July 41 Familiar though we are with the axiom that European auteurs produce unmistakably personal visions, we have seen Hollywood movies..as committee efforts. 1974 A. TUDOR Image & Influence (1975) v. 111 Generally an auteur..develops the same ‘world-view’, the same pattern of interest, whatever the particular human content. 1989 Movie Winter 57/1 De Palma ranks more as metteur-en-scène than full-blooded auteur. 1999 8 Days 4 Dec. 47/1 Quintessentially Peter Greenaway. Newcomers to the British auteur will, in other words, be baffled and bored.


2. A musician or other artist who retains a high degree of independent artistic control over his or her work, from conception to production or performance. Also: a creative artist whose work is perceived to reflect a highly individual vision or innovative approach, or is (self-consciously) presented as such.


1969 N.Y. Times 29 June II. 17/1 The golden age of the composer-auteur precisely paralleled an outpouring of creativity in Western music. 1984 Dance Theatre Jrnl. Feb. 12/1 The creation of expressive gesture..based on the emotions of the dancer, involving her in the action..and giving her the role of auteur. 1989 C. S. MURRAY Crosstown Traffic vii. 159 Despite the presence of magnificent auteurs like Ray Charles and James Brown..soul is a team-player's music. 1992 Esquire July 75/1 Bad Boy Carl begins to entertain visions of himself as a great auteur, hanging around in New York with a fancy writing crowd. 1997 M. COLLIN & J. GODFREY Altered State vii. 269 Some of the music was thrilling and adventurous, and many of the premier electronic auteurs received just recognition and reward.


B. adj. (attrib.). Of, relating to, or characteristic of an auteur; directed by an auteur; (also) adhering to auteur theory.


1963 Film Q. Spring 17/2 The auteur critics seemed so deeply involved, even dedicated in becoming connoisseurs of trash. 1975 P. WEISS Cinematics vi. 87 Defenders of the auteur view holdcorrectly, I thinkthat without the director the film would be a mélange, a sheer aggregate of pieces, not a single film at all. 1989 Blitz Jan. 98/1 ‘How much are your films about you?’ ‘Obviously there is an idiosyncratic and perverse auteur level to everything I do.’ 2001 Toronto Star (Electronic ed.) 26 Jan., Two bold auteur movies that used the subconscious properties of the motion picture medium itself as an opportunity to ponder such conceptual heavies as time, life, consciousness and God itself.


C. Compounds. auteur theory [after French la politique des auteurs (F. Truffaut Cahiers du Cinéma (1954) Jan. 26)], a critical theory or approach based on a belief that a film-maker may be considered as the creator of a body of art, with individual styles, themes, and techniques identifiable throughout their work.


1962 [see sense A. 1]. 1976 J. D. ANDREW Major Film Theories Introd. 4 Auteur theory..relies on certain theoretical principles, but they are directed not so much at systematic understanding of a general phenomenon as at the evaluation of particular examples of that phenomenon. 1996 Independent 20 Dec. I. 16/7 For virtually four decades now, the principal methodology of film criticism has been the Auteur Theory, which postulates the director as the true and, indeed, sole author of a film.


auteurship n.


1972 Amer. Scholar 41 630/1 For many film critics the thumbprint of style signifies *auteurship, whether left at the scene of a crime or upon a good achievement. 1997 Independent Film & Video Monthly (Electronic ed.) June, Rather than envisioning short film as a small feature, Haardt has defended it as a genre with a range of possibilities. Because it is generally noncommercial, filmmakers who employ it can be more radical in their auteurship.

metteur en scène, n.


A producer of a play (or opera, etc.); a director of a film.


1876 Glance behind Scenes 1 Apr. 433 The master proved himself a consummate metteur en scène. 1911 Proc. Musical Assoc. Mar. 94 The producer or ‘metteur en scène’ of a play draws up a plan of the whole action in every detail. 1921 J. CONRAD Let. 23 Oct. in G. Jean-Aubry J. Conrad: Life & Lett. (1927) II. 262 One of our most clever producers (metteurs en scène). 1963 Movie Feb. 36/2 To treat The Barber of Stamford Hill as a tentative work is to predict that Wrede could become a notable metteur en scene. 1968 L. DURRELL Tunc iv. 196 But she is being directed and rehearsed by the metteur-en-scène. 1974 Times 4 Jan. 8/7 Murnau's greatness as metteur-en-scène is unimpaired by time. 1989 Movie 33 57/1 De Palma ranks more as metteur-en-scène than full-blooded auteur.

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