Auteurs and Artists

As the longevity of assignations such as neo-realism, nouvelle vague, New German Cinema, New Basque cinema proves, the diversity of national cinematic traditions within European cinema is impressive, and there is good reason to study them individually and in their particularity. But this insistence on both national specificity and the (relative) autonomy of film movements since 1945 in European countries nonetheless leaves several factors unaccounted for: Firstly, the national movements and auteur cinemas are by no means the only traditions in the countries named. For instance, in the France of the 1960s and 70s, for instance, there were also the cop films with Jean Paul Belmondo, the thrillers with Alain Delon, and Luis de Funes comedies; in Germany the Heimat-films, the Karl May films, the Edgar Wallace crime films; in Britain the Carry On films, the Hammer horror movies, the James Bond films; in Italy Spaghetti Western and Dino Risi comedies. Are these not part of European cinema?

Secondly, even if we add these to our list of fine European achievements, their impact on the American cinema at the box office is close to zero. In any given year, among the US box office top hundred, less than two percent come from European films of whatever category, be it art cinema or commercial productions. For the American cinema, Europe exists not as so many film-producing nations, but as a market, conceived indeed in single European terms: even if, for the purpose of advertising and promotion, different countries need a little fine-tuning of the campaigns.17 But Europe is for Hollywood one of the biggest, most important markets, which is why the producers go to Cannes and Venice, rather than Cairo or Hong Kong, for their film festivals. And this is also why the French are so concerned in the world trade negotiations: in 1981, 50 percent of the French box office was earned by French films, in 1991 it was 35 percent with 60% going to Hollywood. Other European countries wish they were so lucky: in Britain 88% of box office is US-earned, and in Germany less than 6 percent of the grosses are from German films, and this includes co-productions.

National Cinema, then, is a notion at the intersection of several quite distinct discourses: to the differential ones already mentioned, one has to add the echoes of the debates around nationhood and national identity in the 19th century, themselves historically inseparable from the rise of the bourgeoisie and its self-styled ideal of a national culture. The latter, usually embodied by literature and print culture, is to this day seen in opposition to mass culture, consumer culture, and therefore by and large, excludes the cinema (as image culture and popular entertainment). This literary legacy gives us another implied semantic field regarding European filmmakers. Those who belong to a national cinema have to strive after a certain status, or demonstrate a pedigree that confirms them as members of the establishment, which is to say as either "artists," "bohemians," or "dissidents," perhaps with a reputation as writers or painters, who via the cinema appropriate or discover another medium for self-expression. Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman come to mind, or Peter Handke and Peter Weiss, besides the names of the classic European directors: Bergman, Fellini, Antonio-ni, Wenders, Syberberg, Herzog. Dependent as artists are on state institutions, the art world and the culture industries, such painters, writers, critics, photographers and theatre directors turned filmmakers become auteurs - someone who is present both inside and outside his or her creation, by virtue of both a multimedial creative talent and a (self-)analytical public discourse.

I have elsewhere discussed the longevity, complexity, and contemporary transformations of the category of the auteur.l8 With some assistance from their American friends, notably Andrew Sarris,19 the Cahiers du cinéma critics effectively helped to rewrite the history of Hollywood, and the view has - despite some violent changes in French intellectual temper between 1968 and 1975 -prevailed to a remarkable degree to this day, identifying the canon of what is considered to be Auteur cinema and its Great Tradition.

The auteur theory points to one fundamental property of the European cinema. It has, certainly since the end of the First World War (but especially since 1945), given us any number of portraits of the artist as culture hero, as representative, as stand-in and standard bearer of the values and aspirations of his culture, its better half:

Every page [of John Boorman's diary] is provocative and stimulating, whether he is talking about his dealings with the Disney executives (that line of Jeffrey Katzen-berg's, talking about Where the Heart Is: "The trouble is, it's still a John Boorman film. It is not a Disney picture"!) [...]. I'm bowled over by the account of his last meeting with David Lean. How could you ever forget that heartbreaking statement of victory, which Lean muttered to Boorman shortly before he died: "Haven't we been lucky? They let us make movies." And when Boorman answered: "They tried to stop us," Lean added: "Yes, but we fooled them."20

This is the image of the auteur as Prometheus, defying the Gods. That it should be adopted by a director like David Lean, whom the critics of Movie (the British version of Cahiers du cinéma in the 1960s) considered the very epitome of their

Cinéma a Papa (from Brief Encounter and Great Expectations, to Dr Zhiva-go and Ryan's Daughter) shows just how pervasive the self-assessment of the film director as auteur, and the auteur as artist-rebel, has become. Other self-images that are immediately recognizable comprise Bergman's portraying himself as magician and demiurge, even charlatan in his autobiography, but also in some of his films; Fellini: a volcano pouring forth a stream of fantastic creatures, poignant memories amidst life's carnival; Godard: forever engaged in work-in-progress, to be torn up by his next film; Rainer W. Fassbinder: the cinema is a holy whore, and I'm her pimp; Peter Greenaway: the film auteur as draftsman, architect, Prospero, cook, thief and lover; Werner Herzog: Prometheus and Kaspar Hauser, over-reacher and underdog, Tarzan and Parzifal. Under the name and label of auteur, therefore, can hide the artist, the gloomy philosopher, the neurotic businessman, the conquistador, holy fool, court jester, courtly draftsman, wanderer-between-the-worlds, black-marketeer and go-between. Filmmakers as diverse as Pasolini, Antonioni, Tarkowski, Wenders, Angelopoulos, and others have given in their work and across their male protagonists more or less honest self-portraits, inflecting them ironically or inflating them pompously, using the filmic fable as the mirror for their selves as doubles or alter-egos.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment