Sunday, 2 November 2014

Yr3 Week 2 (Thurs 16 Oct - MDA3200 Film Theory - Auteurs)

Opening with a screening of Hitchcock's immortal thriller/horror hybrid Psycho (1960), today's sessions would be focused on the idea of authorship/auteurs in cinema, and is there really such a thing as one? Certainly, Psycho does bare some 'trademarks' that would befit a Hitchcock production: his fixation on blondes, the story's 'cruelty' towards the main characters and putting them through all sorts of ordeals, the sudden twist that changes the entire drive and nature of the story (from runaway to a murder mystery here), the emphasis on masterful sound to enhance tension and ambience, and of course, the 'maguffin' (here, the stolen money).

'Auteurship' is a concept birthed out of the French New Wave, a cinematic movement in France in the 1950s and 60s. Critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffant was one of this notion's most vocal voices, criticizing the stuffy adaptations of popular literature in French cinema at the time, decrying the authority of the 'writer' in these affairs and trying to push for film to be respected as a visual art form, which naturally meant the director would be in more focus. Of course, this blew up a little more aggressively due to a mistranslation of Truffant's 'A Certain Tendency of French Cinema' (1954) by Andrew Cyrus, and so suddenly the 'director' was elevated more to a higher status of regard, and creating this taste culture around them (superiority/inferiority, quality of artistry etc.)

Such a notion gained traction, not just because of high profile names like Hitchcock becoming icons beyond their films, and thus creating a 'name brand' for directors, but the termination of the Hays Production Code in 1960 also signalled a great loosening of past restrictions, allowing filmmakers to explore new avenues of storytelling, both subject and presentation. Thus came the Second Golden Age of Hollywood, where directors were lauded, revered and permitted to do whatever they wanted across the 70s, leading to more hot-topic films that could never have been greenlit before (The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Godfather, Chinatown, Apocalypse Now).

In the afternoon seminar, we further discussed auteurship, though this honestly amounted to little more than a re-examination of Hitchcock tropes, as mentioned above, through viewing clips from The Birds and one of his earlier offerings, Blackmail (Britain's first sound film, no less). Now then, to wrap this up, I have been fully aware of the debates surrounding authorship in film (frankly, I've been reviewing for five years online, so how could I not?), and it is a very sticky subject where both sides, director and writer, have equal grounds for each. I would go further, but if you want more of my full thoughts on the matter, please check out the video I made as part of my Discusses series on Youtube:

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