The Auteurist History of Film

  By John Veldhoen

I think of “An Auteurist History of Film” by Charles Silver as the ultimate primer for an initiate to auteurist filmmaking. Silver wrote “The intricacies of the auteur theory can be pretty convoluted and burdensome to anyone who just wants to see a good movie”, but at the same time, I think he also knew that by allowing for the concept of the auteur, even by fostering it, a more elevated conversation about cinema could take place. Andrew Sarris, in 1962, wrote about the idea that loose-knit groups of people make films, and in a public sphere people talk about the work they make, and then they use a camera like a writer uses a pen, and they “write” about the movies they watch. The stress of the theory, called auteur theory, is on the work of the director as a visionary, as a person who sets out to create the cinema they see in their own mind using the apparatus of cinema itself. Pretty basic. What is interesting is how little magazines, theatres, bookstores, and museums, in Paris, and in New York, supported this rich and varied public discussion about this type of film to such an extent that the energies of filmgoers, and filmmakers became interconnected.

I think this kind conversation is alive and well today, and I think “An Auteurist History of Film” exemplifies an argumentative, conversational style that naturally follows personal attachment to a subject. Take, for instance, the wonderful Youtube series  Every Frame a Painting”. By taking apart Edgar Wright’s comedies, to see how they work, and by extension describing “how-to” make a comedy, an auteurist interpretation of cinema comes to view. Charles Silver’s passionate viewing of film translates into a practitioner’s account of loving the cinema. Loving the work of cinema comes over if you’re a still photographer too, caring about the frame in cinema is important, as work by Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, or Philip Di Corcia Lorca shows.   

One of the best parts of working at The Camera Store the last few years has been working with Levi Holwell (when he was working at the store) and Jordan Drake. Really there are a number of people at the shop who take a very passionate view of cinema. I learned about Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers from Jordan, and Levi taught me about Noah Baumbach, and made me reconsider Ingmar Bergman. Both were recently nominated for the Alberta Film & Television Awards for the film Metanoia (and TCS’ own Mark Langridge did sound). Jordan won for best cinematographer, which is all detailed in a previous blog entry. For what it is worth, as we’re talking more and more these days of augmented reality, and virtual worlds of immersive narrative, the storytelling form of cinema, linked to the age-old proscenium, the stage, the frame (some dude said it is the all the world) is the means for telling a story. I haven’t come across much as succinct or as focused as “An Auteurist History of Cinema”. How we see is as important as why we see. Limiting the set of descriptive circumstances to the conditions of authorial intent is a good way to organize critique, even if it may be synthetic, what results is discussion, passion, attachment, and care. 


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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.