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What is Auteur Theory? – Definition and Examples

What is Auteur Theory and Why Is It Important?

Auteur Theory is a way of looking at films that state that the director is the “author” of a film. The Auteur theory argues that a film is a reflection of the director’s artistic vision; so, a movie directed by a given filmmaker will have recognizable, recurring themes and visual queues that inform the audience who the director is (think a Hitchcock or Tarantino film) and shows a consistent artistic identity throughout that director’s filmography.

The term “Auteur theory” is credited to the critics of the French film journal Cahiers du cinéma, many of which became the directors of the French New Wave. However, according to New York University professor Julian Cornell, the concept had been around for a while prior. The Cahiers critics simply refined the theory.

“In the French New Wave, people developed the notion of the filmmaker as an artist. They didn’t invent the idea, but they did popularize it. A German filmmaker who started as a German theatre director, Max Reinhardt, came up with the idea of the auteur – the author in films. He came up with that around the teens….So, [director François] Truffaut and the French New Wave popularized it, or they revived it.” – New York University Professor Julian Cornell

A filmmaker singled out by the Cahiers critics who was the definition of the idea of the auteur is Alfred Hitchcock. By many Hitchcock was viewed primarily as a “vulgar showman” who made commercial thrillers.

“I liked almost anybody that made you realize who the devil was making the picture.” – Howard Hawks

However, his obsessions that showed up repeatedly in his films and the distinct imprint of his personality that appeared in all of his works made him a prime candidate for critical focus within the context of a theory that fetishizes the idea of a singular, distinctive vision that can be seen clearly throughout an entire career.

In all of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, the audience can see certain ideas and images that pop up again and again. This is where the term the “Hitchcock Blonde” came from.

Think of Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick, Coppola, Fincher, Nolan, PT Anderson, Burton, Tarantino, Wes Anderson or Cassevettes, they all have such of unique style all onto themselves. Many of them have such a strong visual style that you can recognize one of their films from a few frames of the film.

Check out the videos below to go deeper into Auteur Theory.

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The Origins of Auteur Theory

Auteur – it’s a favorite term of cinephiles around the world. But what exactly is Auteur Theory? In this Filmmaker IQ course we peel back pages of time and explore the origins of Auteur Theory from the economically tumultuous adolescence of French Cinema to the culture war waged in the columns of competing American movie critics.


Auteur Theory in Hitchcock’s Work

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