From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In film theory, the 1950s-era auteur theory holds that a director's films reflect that director's personal creative vision, as if he or she were the primary "auteur" (the French word for 'author'). In some cases, film producers are considered to have a similar "auteur" role for films that they have produced. Compare singer songwriter.
Auteur theory has had a major impact on film criticism ever since it was advocated by film director and film critic François Truffaut in 1954. "Auteurism" is the method of analyzing films based on this theory or, alternately, the characteristics of a director's work that makes her or him an auteur. Both the auteur theory and the auteurism method of film analysis are frequently associated with the French New Wave and the film critics who wrote for the influential French film review periodical Cahiers du cinéma.
Criticism of the auteur theory
It can easily be argued that any "writer director" - as in one who both writes and directs a film - could be labeled an auteur, since both writing and directing a film, is likely produce a film with the personal imprint of the director.
Auteur may or may not refer to control over the final version of the film. See the entry director's cut for more on this subject.
Note: the search string "writer director" turns up 1670 results in Wikipedia. [Aug 2007]
In recent years, the auteur theory has been contrasted with genre theory, arguing that the auteur theory is a manifestation of the cult of personality theory which tend to exclude the work of directors such as David Cronenberg, Radley Metzger or Roger Corman to name but a few, who produce highly personal movies but are mainly active in what has been labeled genre films, the cinematic equivalent of escapist fiction. This exclusion could hardly have been the original intention of the Cahiers writers, as they were the first to re-appraise - against established film critical currents - the works of "genre directors" such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Corman.
As quoted from Greencine.com:
[the Cahiers writers] embraced directors - both French and American - whose personal signature could be read in their films. The French directors the Cahiers critics endorsed included Jean Vigo, Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson and Marcel Ophüls; while the Americans on their list of favorites included John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray and Orson Welles, indisputed masters, all. There were also a few surprising, even head-scratching favorites, including Jerry Lewis (where the whole "France loves Jerry Lewis" stereotype began) and Roger Corman. (Greencine.com, early 2000s)