Literature Review 1.0: Authorship in Cinema

June 2, 2018

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from JLG’s Histoire(s) Du Cinema

One of the major theories in cinema that underpins my research on Lav Diaz is the theory of authorship. It is impossible to think systematically of Lav Diaz and his metaphysics without acknowledging the role of practices of authorship that predominantly crafted his subjectivity. Hence, in relation to what I presented last May 26, 2018 during the Marx @ 200 Conference titled Marx contra Deleuze: Towards a Materialist Constitution of the Cinematic Sign, the importance of reactivating the debate on the validity of auteurism concerns the following arguments:

  • Auteurism as a form of aesthetic concealment that masks the industrial nature of cinema
  • Auteurism as suspect to the ideological agenda of the film industry
  • Auteur as a cultural capital

I will be reviewing and summarizing a set of books and essays that explore the relationship of authorship and film. To start with, I will be reviewing a set of essays from the book Authorship and Film (Routledge, New York and London, 2003) edited by David Gestner & Janet Staiger.

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Gerstner, D. A. (2003). The Practices of Authorship. In D. A. Gerstner & J. Staiger (Eds.), Authorship and Film (pp. 3–25). New York and London: Routledge.

Authorship and Film

In his introductory essay titled The Practices of Authorship, David A. Gerstner sets the direction for this important book collection of essays. He puts out several valid questions in relation to authorship. I shall enumerate them:

  • What possibilities exist for the cultural producer (adapting Walter Benjamin’s concept of author-as-producer) to intervene or to resist the larger institutional framework?
  • Is it critically true to say that when a director “offends against the tricks of the trade,” he or she is simply affirming the “validity of the system”?
  • In what ways might the filmmaker-as-film author challenge rather than submit to the ideological saturation of Hollywood production?
  • Is the film author merely an ideological tool or a corporatized, homogeneous culture?
  • What critical purpose might the function of the author serve in critical theory against, on the one hand, theories that support a culture of containment or, on the other hand, the bourgeois enterprise that reifies the author position?

Gerstner’s essay as well as the book interrogates various positionalities of film studies and film practice in relation to the author or authorsip. He begins by dispensing the idea that the author is not exclusive to cinema studies alone, but the discourse ‘has evolved for centuries and can be traced from the arts’ relationship to the sacral through our contemporary period of late capitalism’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 4). Gerstner (2003) points out that capitalism has created the ‘illusion of artist and masterpiece’ (p. 5) due to the alliance of art and the market. Gerstner also draws the complicity of the development of film theory and criticism with artist-and-masterpiece theories. The main agenda for consecrating the film-as-author in the early days of the film studies was to raise the level of cinema as an artform equivalent to painting, music and theater.

Parts of the Book

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from Histoire(s) Du Cinema

 

Gerstner and Staiger divide the book into four parts. The first part is the introductory essays of Gerstner and Staiger mapping the terrain of authorship and film. The second part, comprising of three essays, is the about the ‘ongoing fascination of the auteur in film studies’. Essays on the second part look into the idea of Dana Polan called Auteur Desire and its relation to the countless studies on cinema that directly addressed the filmmaker as the sole author of the film even though film is a collaborative form of authorship. The third part of the book, comprising of six essays, looks into the poststructuralist idea of the author in which film authorship is related to how ‘a text is consumed, appropriated and reproduced given the complicated relationships of production, reception, and spectatorship’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 5). It looks into the complex relationship of the reader/consumer as the author of the text (see Barthe’s concept death of the author). The fourth part concerns the concept of authorship in the intersectional field of cultural studies deploying strands of political and ideological import repositing the author in a new light.

 

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Theories of Authorship in Cinema Studies

image-w1280

Antoine Doinel

In the next sections of the introductory essay of Gerstner, he dispensed a narrative of the transformation of the concept of the author during the twentieth century. Gerstner (2003) posited that auteur theory in cinema ‘is rooted in the theatrics of a political gesture’ (p. 6) during the postwar cinema in France. From here, we enumerate the theories of authorship that emerged after World War II. The format will be as follows concept name, the proponent, the particular essay or book where the concept is formalized and constituted, the basic elements of the concept, and, if possible, the differences with other concepts and criticisms of the main concept by other thinkers/theorists/academics.

1. La Camera Stylo

Alexander AstrucImage result for Alexandre Astruc
“The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Camera Stylo” (1948)

  • Directly translates as the camera-as-pen
  • Crafted by Astruc to criticizes the current model (or a certain
  • tendency) of French cinema to overuse literary adaptation in the production of their films
  • Highlights cinema as a “means of expression just as all the other arts have been before it”
  • Indicates the director’s ability to translate his obsessions and ideas in film
  • Argues that cinema, like other arts, is a creative medium of its own with discrete creative ways

2. La Politiques des Auteurs

Francois TruffautImage result for françois truffaut
‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema’ (1953)

  • Also criticizes certain tendency of postwar French Cinema that favors literary adaptation than to craft their own stories
  • Truffaut called filmmakers to ‘strip away their literary sensibilities’, or the bondage with the literary word (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)
  • Insists filmmakers to develop their films from scenario (script) to mise-en-scene (production design)
  • Asserts ‘the cinematic is expressed by the visual (mise-en-scene) not the literary word’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)

Criticisms:

Jim Hillier

Truffaut’s auteur theory is ‘an essentially romantic conception of art and the artist’, as if ‘art transcended history’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7).

Andre Bazin

  • ‘Genius-artist is no simple matter and should not and must not be hastily determined’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)
  • Truffaut and company’s polemic on the auteur ‘slid suspiciously into ‘an aesthetic personality cult’

3. Hollywood Studio Auteurs

Andrew Sarris
‘The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968’ (1968)
‘Towards a Theory of Film History’

  • Argued that directors (from 1929 to 1968) working in the American studio system can be auteurs too!
  • Uses the criteria (1) technical competence, (2) presence of distinct visual style, (3) emergence of ‘interior meaning’ to identify auteurs from metteurs-en-sceneAndrewSarris2
  • Provided possibility for Hollywood to constitute a creative agency amidst its industrial nature
  • Advocates critics to discern directors’ personal signature styles, scrutinize mise-en-scene and avoid Hollywood clichés

Criticisms

David Gerstner

‘Sarris’ methodology slipped dangerously into overly subjective analysis.’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 8)

V.F. Perkins

Ultimate unity of film as a coherent vision is a dubious proposition because distance between conception and delivery is great.

Pauline Kael
“Circles and Squares” (1963)

  • auteur theory is an attempt by adult males to justify staying inside the small range of experience of their boyhood and adolescence
  • refusal to exercise taste and judgment in the area of study
  • Sarris is a bad critic, lacks rigor, and undisciplined
  • Sarris’ three circles of auteur theory (outer circle: technical competence; middle circle: distinguishable personality of the director; inner circle: mise-en-scene) has conflicting implications, formulaic rigidity, reduces all films to a privileged status of art.
  • Criticism is an art, not a science.
  • Auteur theory can nevertheless be a dangerous theory because it offer nothing but commercial goals to the young artists who may be trying to do something in film.

4. Structuralist Auteur Theory

Peter Wollen Image result for “Signs and Meanings in Cinema”
“Signs and Meanings in Cinema” (1972)

  • Auteur theory not limited to acclaiming director as author of the film
  • Requires an operation of decipherment and analysis to determine whether or not a director is the author of the film using structuralist methods (see Claude Levi-Strauss’s methods)
  • “Structuralist criticism cannot rest at the perception of resemblances or repetitions (redundancies, in fact), but must also comprehend a system of differences and oppositions.” (Wollen, 1998, p. 60)
  • Stylistic expressions is equivalent to music’s notion of artist’ interpretation: though many are involved in the constitution of the film, the transformation of the artwork

5. Alternatives to Romantic Auteur Theory

Ed Buscombe
“Ideas of Authorship” (1973)

  • ‘Squeeze out auteur from his position of prominence and transform the notion of him which remain’
  • Alternative to romantic auteur theory
  • Examines the effect of cinema in society
  • Consider the effect of society on cinema (operation of ideology, economics, and technology)
  • Study the effects of films on other films
  • Offers a culturally political critique

6. Ideological/Political Readings of Auteur

Writers of Cahiers du CinemaImage result for cahiers du cinema 1971
“Cinema/Ideology/Criticism” (1971)
“John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln” (1971)

  • Highlights questions of ideology, spectatorship, and modes of cultural production
  • Auteur status filtered through Marxist lens
  • Considers some of auteurs’ as ideological critiques of class and social structure

7. Expanded Readings of Ideological Auteurs

Stephen Heath
Comment on ‘The Idea of Authorship’’ (1973)

  • Emphasis on authorship per se to a textual, ideological, and theoretical analysis of the subject/spectator in relationship to text

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Theories of Authorship in Critical Theory

foucault

French philosopher Michel Foucault

Theories of authorship are also problematized in the field of critical theory. For Gerstner, ‘critical distance allowed pure critical objectivity and a shield from contamination of “emotions”’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 11) In this way, one can critically interrogate authorship in relation to critiques of agency and intention.

1. Author-Function

Michel Foucault
‘What is the Author?’ (1975)

  • Constructed, secured and upheld by bourgeois sensibilities of art
  • Circulated as important operative of bourgeois ideology
  • Characteristic of the mode of existence, circulation, and functioning of certain discourses in society
  • Marx and Freud are founders of discursivity – they established an endless possibility of discourse

2. Author-Creator

Mikhail BakhtinImage result for Dialogic imagination mikhail bakhtin
‘Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel’ (1981)

  • Different from the author as a human being
  • Not dead, but speaking, signifying in the work of art
  • In mutual interaction between the world represented in the work and the world outside the work
  • Has a dialogical character in relation to the work of art
  • Has a Presence that exist tangentially
  • Built on the idea the chronotopes of the author and the listener or reader as seated in intimate relationship with the work of art
  • Reader – active participant and producer of meaning (dialogical)
  • Reconception of the author in the multilayered dimension associated with the phenomenological experience of the work of art

3. Author as Producer

Walter Benjamin
‘The Author as Producer’ (1934)Image result for walter benjamin

  • Author’s productive activity and his or her demand to think, to reflect on his position in the process of production is the key to break the illusion of ideology in the reader’s mind, transforming the reader into producers themselves
  • Author as straddled between revolutionary activity and false consciousness (bourgeois ideology)
  • Author uses bourgeois apparatus of production to assimilate astonishing quantities of revolutionary themes in order for its readers to undergo functional transformation
  • Functional transformation is when the readers become producers and collaborators of the author
  • Similar to Brechtian conscious intervention in bourgeois theatrical narrative by counteracting the illusion of the audience

4. Reader as Author or Producer

Roland Barthes
Image result for the death of the author roland barthes

‘The Death of the Author’ (1968)
‘From Work to Text’ (1971)

    • Readerly act of consumption is production
    • Reader’s active role displaces the bourgeois privilege of the author
    • Text is eternally written here and now

Text yields ‘multiple writings’, resist foreclosed interpretation

  • Reader-as-producer makes meanings to secure it for the here-and-now

5. Author as Exploited Cultural Laborer

Pierre Bourdieu
‘The Production of Belief: Contribution to an Economy of Symbolic Goods’ (1986)

  • Ideology of creation conceals the exploitation of the labor of the author by cultural businessmen
  • Author is the first and last source of the value of work (as value is exchange by cultural capital by putting the work on the market)

6. Author Position

Michel de CerteauImage result for ‘Practice of Everyday Life
‘Practice of Everyday Life’ (1984)
‘Heterologies: Discourse on the Other’ (1986)

  • author position is the nominal center where the fictional unity of the work is produced
  • Symbiotic relationship between producer and work and text create dynamics between producer and consumer

7. Spectatorial Corporeality

Gilles Deleuze
‘Cinema 2: The Time-Image’ (1986)

  • Astruc’s camera-stylo is not a metaphor
  • Machine of the cinematic apparatus intermingles with the corporeality of the spectator

8. Unknowability of Author’s Intention

Jacques DerridaImage result for jacques derrida
‘Signature Event Context’ (1971)

  • The truth of intention is unknowable because meaning is context bound and context is boundless
  • Derrida: the category of intention will not disappear, it has its place, but from this place it will no longer be able to govern the entire scene and the entire system of utterances

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Theories on Authorship as Politics of Representation

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Theories on authorship also concerns the role of the laboring body of the author. What governs the cultural production of the text are parameters and limitations of this laboring bodies and their power relations with the means of production of the text. Here are some theories that explores the intentionality of the author in relation to his body.

1. Western Orientalizing Authors

Image result for orientalism edward said

Edward Said
‘Orientalism’ (1979)

  • Occidental texts create authority by Orientalizing non-occidental phenomenon
  • Occidental text establishes the canons of taste and value

2. The Colonized Author

Abdul R. JanMohamedImage result for Abdul R. JanMohamed
‘The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature’ (1985)

  • An author who is inextricably enmeshed in the matrix of imperialist commodification
  • Can also be inducted to fulfill the author-function of the colonialist writer
  • In profound symbiotic relationship with imperialist practices
  • Impossible to determine which form of commodification takes precedence (colonized author or the colonialist author)

3. Author as Social or Political Representation

J. Ronald Green
‘The Cinema of Oscar Micheux’ (2001)

Pearl Bowser & Louise Pence
‘Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences’ (2000)

Jane Gaines
‘Fire and Desire: Mixed-Raced Movies in the Silent Era’ (2001)

Constance Penley
‘Introduction: The Lady Doesn’t Vanish: Feminism and Film Theory’ (1988)

  • Author as instigator and actualizer
  • Someone who not only designs the work but orchestrates its reception
  • Auteur studies remain vital to the politics of representation
  • Biography of the author overlaps with the body of work
  • Personal experience of the author is valid, grants author and spectator/reader a cultural space where they can convene
  • Resist liberal posture of nonrace in celebratory announcement that ‘we’re all the same’
  • A caution against hasty dismissal of authority of the author for the sake of critique of power relations

4. Feminist Critique of the Author-Function

Lauren Rabinowitz
‘Points of Resistance: Women, Power and Politics in the New York Avant-Garde Cinema 1943-71’ (1991)

  • Author-function is important in understanding cultural underpinnings and enunciation of any specifically female discourse

5. Queer Authorship

Judith Butler Image result for epistemology of the closet
‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity’ (1990)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
‘Epistemology of the Closet’ (1990)

  • Critiques essentialist presumptions about gender
  • Figuring the role of the author within its reshaping by feminists and gay and lesbian scholars

6. Biographeme

Douglas CrimpImage result for fassbinder
‘Fassbinder, Franz, Fox, Elvira, Armin and All the Others’ (1993)

  • Privileges the “I” of the text as both reader and writer
  • Reader and writer are indissoluble figures who are not much distinct and separate as much as sensual inventions of one another
  • Intermingling of reader and writer in the text
  • Abolishes individuality while animating the pleasures
  • Similar to Bakhtin’s Author-creator and Bathes’ reader-as-author

7. Entanglement of Bodies of the Author and Reader with the Text

Michael Moon
‘Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in Leaves of Grass’ (1991)

  • Latches on queer theory
  • Author’s body can be successfully projected through, partially transformed into, his printed text
  • Author’s readers can engage in contact with the actual physical presence of the author

8. Authorial Suicide

Kaja SilvermanImage result for kaja silverman jlg
‘The Author as Receiver’ (2001)

  • Performative of the text in which the filmmaker erases himself as a bodily presence
  • A determination of author’s suicide within the work grants author a franchise on the claims for textual authority.
  • Death of Himself as the Author

 

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There are many theories of authorship in film. However, Diaz deploys a type of authorship that goes beyond its relation with a politics of representation. His politiques des auteurs may have intersected other expanded fields of inquiries. It is my goal to relate his auteurship to his own brand of cine-metaphysics.

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1 Comment

Filed under Academic Writings, Literature Reviews, Reviews

One response to “Literature Review 1.0: Authorship in Cinema

  1. Pingback: Literature Review 2.0: The Long Take | OMNITUDO | Interventions in Cinema & Philosophy

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