Howard Hawks and Auteur Theory in Film Criticism

Auteur theory is often associated with the French film review periodical "Cahiers du cinéma" and has carried a major impact on film criticism since it was advocated by film director and film critic François Truffaut in 1954. Simplified, Auteur theory explores a director's influences on a film, considering the director one of the film's authors. Of course, in European Union law the film director is always considered an author of the film but this doesn't usually hold true in Hollywood.
Since auteur theory was never summarized in a collective statement, its use could be broadly interpreted. Truffaut and those who wrote for Cahiers expected directors to wield the camera like a writer's pen (Alexandre Astruc's notion of the caméra-stylo or "camera-pen"), superimposing the director's vision on the film through the mise en scène, therefore diminishing the screenwriter's role. Filmmakers such as Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renior were considered prime examples of "auteurs" of their films.
The director's contribution did not need to be consciously made and according to Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, "the defining characteristics of an author's work are not necessarily those which are most readily apparent. The purpose of criticism thus becomes to uncover behind the superficial contrasts of subject and treatment a hard core of basic and often recondite motifs. The pattern formed by these motifs . . . is what gives an author's work its particular structure, both defining it internally and distinguishing one body of work from another." Because of its scope, depth, and the length of his tenure in Hollywood the work of director Howard Hawks is seen as a test case for auteur theory.
One defining characteristic of Hawks' work is the use of an exclusive, self-sufficient, all-male group who is often isolated physically or emotionally from society. Men are accepted into this elite group only after a period of testing where they must prove how "good" they are at whatever job the group is responsible for. Women are generally seen as a threatening force and are only admitted to the group after a long ritual courtship, and even then are never really considered full members. An undercurrent of homosexuality never fully surfaces, but does occasionally run close to the surface. Often men in the group have either been married or committed to women, but suffered some unnamed trauma at their hands. Men in the group are usually considered equals, but women are clearly associated with animals (most explicitly in "Bringing Up Baby," "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds," and "Hatari!"); the men in the group must strive to maintain mastery.
Because of the collaborative aspect of making a film, auteur theory began receiving criticism in the 1960s. The New Criticism school of literary criticism called auteur theory's speculations about what the author meant, based on the author's personality and life experiences, an intentional fallacy. New Critics believed the author's intention was secondary to the experience of reading or viewing literature.

No comments:

Post a Comment