Notes on the Auteur Theory  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Notes on the Auteur Theory" is an 1962 film theory essay by Andrew Sarris on the auteur theory. It was inspired by critics writing in Cahiers du Cinéma and published in the Film Culture issue of winter 1962/3. It was directly influenced by André Bazin's "famous critique of "la politique des auteurs, "which appeared in the Cahiers du cinéma of April, 1957."

The essay is where the half-French, half-English term, "auteur theory", originated. To be classified as an "auteur", according to Sarris, a director must accomplish technical competence in his or her technique, personal style in terms of how the movie looks and feels, and interior meaning (although many of Sarris's auterist criteria were left vague). Later in the decade, Sarris published The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929–1968, which quickly became the unofficial bible of auteurism.

Pauline Kael attacked the auteur theory in her essay, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris".


"I call these sketches Shadowgraphs, partly by the designation to remind you at once that they derive from the darker side of life, partly because, like other shadowgraphs, they are not directly visible When I take a shadowgraph in my hand, it makes no impression on me, and gives me no clear conception of it. Only when I hold it up opposite the wall, and now look not directly at it, but ~t that which appears on the wall, am I able to see it. So also with the picture I wish to show here, an inward picture that does not become perceptible until I see it through the external. This external is perhaps not quite unobtrusive, but, not until I look through it, do l discover that inner picture that I desire to show you, an inner picture too delicately drawn to be outwardly visible, woven as it is of the tenderest moods of the soul."--Søren Kierkegaard, in Either/Or
"Goethe? Shakespeare? Everything signed with their names is considered good, and one wracks one's brains to find beauty in their stupidities and failures, thus distorting the general taste. All these great talents, the Goethes, the Shakespeares, the Beethovens, the Michelangelos, created, side by side with their masterpieces, works not merely mediocre, but quite simply frightful." --Leo Tolstoy. Journal, 1895-99

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