Dan Schneider and James Berardinelli’s Misconception of the Auteur Theory
Dan Schneider and James Berardinelli’s misconception of the auteur theory 19 JANUARY 2009 – BY FREDRIK FEVANG In a recent post on his art criticism website Cosmoetica, Dan Schneider interviews online film critic James Berardinelli about (tentatively) everything film and James Berardinelli. It is a refreshing form of journalism which, as Schneider and Berardinelli point out, has been outphased in modern media.
The in-depth interview will be interesting to anyone who have an affiliation to film, criticism or the unification of the two, as Schneider formulates his elitist opinions on film into loaded questions which Berardinelli answers from his far more populistic and pragmatic viewpoint – and with head held high, I should say.
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To sum up, I find myself agreeing with both Schneider and Berardinelli in their request for more quality writing about film, and I also agree with Schneider that great films generally are and should be intelligent works of art, even if I cannot see why Schneider would want to reduce the art of film into the mimicing of another great art form, literature. Schneider acts like (an advocate for) the big brother who loves his kid brother, but doesn’t want him to stray too far off the path he has chosen for himself.
Although film is the younger artform (by centuries), it must be allowed to develop its own realm, even if this means accepting that realism in film deviates from realism in literature, and the possibility of having to equate visually exploitive superhero films with, say, Carl Theodore Dreyer’s perception of film as literature’s extended arm. However, it is in their discussion on auteur theory that I find the two guilty of misinterpretation, as both reject the theory with faulty argumentation, albeit from two different standpoints. In one passage, Schneider says: “Even the term [auteur theory] seems silly nowadays.
After all, while there are certainly interchangeable journeyman and studio directors, the bulk of a filmic vision belongs to the director. So, the very phrase is a tautology (… )” And he continues in another: “The whole idea of ‘auteur theory’ strikes me as silly as claiming that the person responsible for a novel is the novelist. ” Berardinelli, on the other hand, counters Schneider’s rejection of the auteur theory with a completely opposite stance: “Largely, though, the proponents of the ‘auteur theory’ seem like egomaniacs. Film is a collaborative effort so to take credit for authoring a movie is the height of arrogance (… ” In other words, the two critics come at the idea of auteur theory from two extremes, so to speak: Schneider making the mistake of equating a director with a novelist, Berardinelli being guilty of disregarding the director’s personal influence on and affiliation to his work. The point of auteur theory is somewhere in between, plus a little different. Although Berardinelli is right in the fact that filmmaking (in most cases) are large collaborative efforts, the auteur theory is able to tell us something about general stylistic or thematic tendencies, a leitmotif, in a filmmaker’s authorship.
In the aftermath of the studio days, the theory was important to show that personal and more artistic views could and should be an important part of filmmaking (as opposed to the controlled output of the studios), whereas today, the term has value in separating those filmmakers whose personal and/or artistic stance represent an important and/or recurring part of their work from directors who have a more workmanshiplike approach. I also think that it should be taken into consideration that the studio days are more than on their way back, and that the means of control in our time is called distribution and marketing.
The auteur theory gives the audience a chance to recognize and, ideally, front through contributing to the increased reputation of independent filmmakers who don’t have the commercial blessing of a large production company, but who aren’t limited by their artistic control either. Berardinelli’s view fails to acknowledge this aspect, instead interpreting the idea of auteur theory as a proponent for artistic ownership, which in my view is not the intention at all. From the other extreme, Schneider makes the mistake of assuming (or insisting) that all film directors be the film’s author on par with a novelist.
It is this view which, with Berardinelli’s words, is “the height of arrogance”, because no filmmaker has the artistic freedom of a novelist, and those who deserve to be dubbed auteurs within the filmatic interpretation of the term, are not authors in the same sense as literary authors, far from it. Musician Peter Gabriel once said that “there are very few books written by a committee, and for a very good reason”. Well, to develop that statement, and to side with Berardinelli to some degree, there are very few films not created by a committee, and for an