Notes on the Auteur Theory  

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"Sometimes, a great deal of corn must be husked to yield a few kernels of internal meaning. I recently saw Every Night at Eight, one of the many maddeningly routine films Raoul Walsh has directed in his long career. This 1935 effort featured George Raft, Alice Faye, Frances Langford, and Patsy Kelly in one of those familiar plots about radio shows of the period. The film keeps moving along in the pleasantly unpretentious manner one would expect of Walsh until one incongruously intense scene with George Raft trashing about in his sleep, revealing his inner fears in mumbling dream-talk. The girl he loves comes into the room in the midst of unconscious avowals of feeling and listens sympathetically. This unusual scene was later amplified in High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. The point is that one of the screen’s most virile directors employed an essentially feminine narrative device to dramatize the emotional vulnerability of his heroes. If I had not been aware of Walsh in Every Night at Eight, the crucial link to High Sierra would have passed unnoticed. Such are the joys of the auteur theory."--"Notes on the Auteur Theory" (1962) by Andrew 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, epigraph to "Notes on the Auteur Theory" (1962) by Andrew Sarris

"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 , epigraph to "Notes on the Auteur Theory" (1962) by Andrew Sarris

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"Notes on the Auteur Theory" (1962) is an essay by Andrew Sarris on the auteur theory. It was published in the Film Culture issue of winter 1962/3 and was directly influenced by André Bazin's famous critique of "la politique des auteurs" (1957) and other French film criticism writings.

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 and Sarris in her essay, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris".

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