An auteur (/ˈtɜːr/; French: [otœʁ], lit. 'author') is an artist with a distinctive approach, yet usually a film director whose filmmaking control is so unbounded but personal that the director is likened to the "author" of the film,[1] which thus manifests the director's unique style or thematic focus.[2] As an unnamed value, auteurism originated in French film criticism of the late 1940s,[3] and derives from the critical approach of André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, whereas American critic Andrew Sarris in 1962 called it auteur theory.[4][5] Yet such first appeared in French during 1955 when director François Truffaut termed it policy of the authors, and interpreted the films of some directors, like Alfred Hitchcock, as a body revealing recurring themes and preoccupations.

American actor Jerry Lewis directed his own 1960 film The Bellboy via sweeping control, and was praised for "personal genius." By 1970, the New Hollywood era emerged with studios granting directors broad leeway. Pauline Kael argued, however, that "auteurs" rely on creativity of others, like cinematographers.[6][7] Georges Sadoul deemed a film's putative "author" potentially even an actor, but a film indeed collaborative.[8] Aljean Harmetz cited major control even by film executives.[9] David Kipen's view of screenwriter as indeed main author is termed Schreiber theory. In the 1980s, large failures prompted studios to reassert most control. By now, the auteur concept has been applied to other media, as to describe some record producers and video game developers.[10]



Film director and critic François Truffaut in 1965

Even before auteur theory, the director was considered the most important influence on a film. In Germany, an early film theorist, Walter Julius Bloem, explained that since filmmaking is an art geared toward popular culture, a film's immediate influence, the director, is viewed as the artist, whereas an earlier contributor, like the screenwriter, is viewed as an apprentice.[11][12] James Agee, a leading film critic of the 1940s, said that "the best films are personal ones, made by forceful directors".[12] Meanwhile, the French film critics André Bazin and Roger Leenhardt described that directors, vitalizing films, depict the directors' own worldviews and impressions of the subject matter, as by varying lighting, camerawork, staging, editing, and so on.[13]

Development of theoryEdit

As the French New Wave in cinema began, French magazine Cahiers du cinéma, founded in 1951, became a hub of discourse about directors' roles in cinema. In a 1954 essay,[14] François Truffaut criticized the prevailing "Cinema of Quality" whereby directors, faithful to the script, merely adapt a literary novel. Truffaut described such director as a metteur en scene, a mere "stager" who adds the performers and pictures.[15] To represent the view that directors who are authoritative and flexible make better films, Truffaut coined the phrase La politique des auteurs, or The policy of the authors.

Jerry Lewis, an actor from the Hollywood studio system, directed his own 1960 film The Bellboy. Lewis's influence on it spanned business and creative roles, including writing, directing, lighting, editing, and art direction. French film critics, publishing in Cahiers du Cinéma and in Positif, praised Lewis's results. For his mise-en-scene and camerawork, Lewis was likened to Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Satyajit Ray. In particular, Jean-Luc Godard credited Lewis's "personal genius" for making him "the only one in Hollywood doing something different, the only one who isn't falling in with the established categories, the norms, the principles", "the only one today who's making courageous films."[16]

Popularization and influenceEdit

As early as his 1962 essay "Notes of the auteur theory", published in the journal Film Culture,[17] American film critic Andrew Sarris translated the French term la politique des auteurs, by François Truffaut in 1955, into Sarris's term auteur theory. Sarris applied it to Hollywood films, and elaborated in his 1968 book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929–1968, which helped popularized the English term.

Via auteur theory, critical and public scrutiny of films shifted from their stars to the overall creation.[12] In the 1960s and the 1970s, a new generation of directors, revitalizing filmmaking by wielding greater control, manifested the New Hollywood era,[18][19] when studios granted directors more leeway to take risks.[20] Yet in the 1980s, upon high-profile failures like Heaven's Gate, studios reasserted control, muting the auteur theory.[21]


Pauline Kael,[6] an early critic of auteur theory,[22][23] debated Andrew Sarris in magazines.[24][7] Defending a film as a collaboration, her 1971 essay "Raising Kane," examining Orson Welles's 1941 film Citizen Kane, finds extensive reliance on co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and on cinematographer Gregg Toland.[25]

Richard Corliss and David Kipen argued that a film's success relies more on screenwriting.[26][27][28] In 2006, to depict the screenwriter as the film's principal author, Kipen coined the term Schreiber theory.

To film historian Georges Sadoul, a film's main "author" can also be an actor, screenwriter, producer, or novel's author, although a film is a collective's work.[8] Film historian Aljean Harmetz, citing classical Hollywood's input by producers and executives, held that auteur theory "collapses against the reality of the studio system".[9]

In a feminist criticism, Maria Giese in 2013 alleged that the auteur theory is biased to males, as the pantheons of auteurs barely include a woman.[29] This may reflect the sheer scarcity of women as directors, about 7% of directors among the 250 films grossing highest in 2016.[30]


In some law references,[31] a film is treated as artwork while the auteur, as its creator, is the original copyright holder. Under European Union law, largely by influence of auteur theory, a film director is considered the film's author or one of its authors.[32]

Popular musicEdit

Record producer Phil Spector in 1964

The references of auteur theory are occasionally applied to musicians, musical performers and music producers. From the 1960s, record producer Phil Spector is considered the first auteur among producers of popular music.[33][34] Author Matthew Bannister named him the first "star" producer.[34] Journalist Richard Williams wrote:

Spector created a new concept: the producer as overall director of the creative process, from beginning to end. He took control of everything, he picked the artists, wrote or chose the material, supervised the arrangements, told the singers how to phrase, masterminded all phases of the recording process with the most painful attention to detail, and released the result on his own label.[35]

Another early pop music auteur was Brian Wilson,[36] mentored by Spector.[37] In 1962, Wilson's band, the Beach Boys, signed to Capitol Records, and swiftly became a commercial success, whereby Wilson was an early recording artist who was also an entrepreneurial producer.[38] Before the "progressive pop" of the late 1960s, performers typically had little input on the instrumental aspect.[39] Wilson, however, employed the studio like an instrument,[37] a high level of studio control[40] that other artists soon sought.[36] Artists like Kanye West reflect "the rise of the producer" and "the modern pop-centric era, which privileges producer over artist and blurs the line between entertainment and art."[41]

Video gamesEdit

As to the audio-visual environment within video games, Japanese developer Hideo Kojima—known for the Metal Gear series—may be the first recognized auteur.[42] Others from Japan include Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts series), Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian),[43] Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario series, The Legend of Zelda series),[44] Goichi "Suda51" Suda (Killer7, No More Heroes series),[45] Hidetaka Miyazaki (Souls series),[46] Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy series creator),[47] Yu Suzuki (Out Run, After Burner series, Virtua Fighter series, Shenmue series),[47] Yasumi Matsuno (Ogre Battle, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics series),[48] Yoko Taro (Drakengard/Nier Series),[49] Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy)[10] and Kazunori Yamauchi (Gran Turismo series).[50] In North America, similar esteem has been granted to Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Psychonauts)[51][52] and to Ken Levine (Bioshock, Bioshock: Infinite).[53] Auteurs from Europe include Ragnar Tørnquist (Dreamfall: The Longest Journey),[54] Éric Chahi (Another World),[10] and Jeff Minter (Gridrunner, Attack of the Mutant Camels, Tempest 2000).[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Santas 2002, p. 18.
  2. ^ Min, Joo & Kwak 2003, p. 85.
  3. ^ Caughie 2013, pp. 22–34, 62–66.
  4. ^ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (n.d.). "Auteur theory". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. ^ Sarris, Andrew (Winter 1962–1963). "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" (PDF). Film Culture. 27: 1–8.
  6. ^ a b The Beginning of the Auteur Theory * Filmmaker IQ Archived 2020-07-26 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b "Pauline and Me: Farewell, My Lovely | The New York Observer". October 11, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-10-11.
  8. ^ a b Sadoul 1972.
  9. ^ a b Aljean Harmetz, Round up the Usual Suspects, p. 29.
  10. ^ a b c d Hosie, Ewan. "The Architects: Video Gaming's Auteurs - IGN". IGN. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  11. ^ Bloem 1924.
  12. ^ a b c Battaglia, James (May 2010). "Everyone's a Critic: Film Criticism Through History and Into the Digital Age". Senior Honors Theses: 32 – via Digital Commons.
  13. ^ Thompson & Bordwell 2010, pp. 381–383.
  14. ^ Une certaine tendance du cinéma français ("A certain tendency in French cinema").
  15. ^ Thompson & Bordwell 2010, p. 382.
  16. ^ Jim Hillier, ed. (1987). Cahiers du Cinema 1960–1968 New Wave, New Cinema, Re-evalutating Hollywood (Godard in interview with Jacques Bontemps, Jean-Louis Comolli, Michel Delahaye, and Jean Narboni). Harvard University Press. p. 295. ISBN 9780674090620.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Sarris, Andrew (Winter 1962–1963). "Notes on the auteur theory in 1962". Film Culture. 27: 1–8.
  18. ^ David A Cook, "Auteur Cinema and the film generation in 70s Hollywood", in The New American Cinema by Jon Lewis (ed), Duke University Press, New York, 1998, pp. 1–4
  19. ^ Stefan Kanfer, "The Shock of Freedom in Films", Time, December 8, 1967, Accessed 25 April 2009.
  20. ^ Schatz (1993), pp. 14–16[dead link]
  21. ^ Bach, Steven (1999). Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists. Newmarket Press. p. 6. ISBN 9781557043740. heaven's gate april 16 1979.
  22. ^ "Tommy Wiseau: The Last Auteur - Brows Held High". Archived from the original on 2021-11-02 – via
  23. ^ "Sarris, Andrew The Auteur Theory" – via Internet Archive.
  24. ^ Powell, Michael (9 July 2009). "A Survivor of Film Criticism's Heroic Age". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 July 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  25. ^ Kael, Pauline, "Raising Kane", The New Yorker, February 20, 1971.
  26. ^ Kipen, David (2006). The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History, p.38. Melville House ISBN 0-9766583-3-X.
  27. ^ Diane Garrett. "Book Review: The Schreiber Theory". Variety. April 15, 2006.
  28. ^ Weber, Bruce (April 24, 2015). "Richard Corliss, 71, Longtime Film Critic for Time, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
  29. ^ Giese, Maria (2013-12-09). "Auteur Directors: Any American Women?". IndieWire. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  30. ^ "Study: Female Filmmakers Lost Ground in 2016". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  31. ^ "" (PDF).
  32. ^ Kamina 2002, p. 153.
  33. ^ Eisenberg 2005, p. 103.
  34. ^ a b Bannister 2007, p. 38.
  35. ^ Williams 2003, pp. 15–16.
  36. ^ a b Edmondson 2013, p. 890.
  37. ^ a b Cogan & Clark 2003, pp. 32–33.
  38. ^ Butler 2012, p. 225.
  39. ^ Willis 2014, p. 217.
  40. ^ Miller 1992, p. 193.
  41. ^ Guriel, Jason (May 16, 2016). "How Pet Sounds Invented the Modern Pop Album". The Atlantic.
  42. ^ "Hideo Kojima – video gaming's first auteur – Screen Robot". Screen Robot. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  43. ^ Fahey, Rob (9 December 2016). "Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian: The Last of their Kind". Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  44. ^ Paumgarten, Nick (13 December 2010). "Master of Play". The New Yorker. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  45. ^ Williams, G. Christopher (15 February 2010). "Is Suda 51 the Alfred Hitchcock of Video Games?". PopMatters. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  46. ^ Hetfeld, Malindy. "Auteur Theory and Games". Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  47. ^ a b Minor, Jordan (24 May 2016). "What happened to weird Japanese video game auteurs?". Archived from the original on 29 October 2019. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  48. ^ Studio BentStuff (13 April 2000). 開発者インタビュー. Vagrant Story Ultimania. Ultimania (in Japanese). 5. DigiCube. pp. 1–493. ISBN 978-4-9250-7575-6. Archived from the original on 2012-05-05. Retrieved 2020-08-15. (Translation by Shmuplations. Archived 2020-07-26 at the Wayback Machine).
  49. ^ S., Matt. "SMASH! 2018 Interview: Yoko Taro: The game industry's true auteur". Digitally Downloaded. Net. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  50. ^ Welsh, Oli (2014-02-06). "Kaz: Pushing the Virtual Divide review". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  51. ^ Glasser, A. J. "Brütal Legend: The Auteur's Art". Kotaku. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  52. ^ Rose, Janus (10 February 2012). "Tim Schafer Wants to Make an Adventure Game, the Internet Gives Him $1,000,000". Vice. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  53. ^ Allen, Josh. "Game Changer: Ken Levine". Boston Magazine. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  54. ^ "How the creator of Dreamfall got back to his roots – Polygon". Retrieved 6 April 2017.


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit