Scorsese Essay

This essay has a total of 1730 words and 10 pages.

Scorsese

Use a range of auteur theories to examine the work of two significant directors you have
studied on this module. One director should have produced the majority of their work prior
to 1960 and the other should have produced it from the 1970s onwards.


Discuss the origins and main developments of auteur theory then examine the works of
Howard Hawks and Martin Scorsese with relevance to their status as auteur directors.


In having their films examined as auteurs of the cinema, both Howard Hawks and Martin
Scorsese have been described as great artists whose body of work demonstrates repeated
themes and motifs, that put in context reveals a particular belief and world view that is
held by the director. In fact, Hawks was among the first directors working in Hollywood
who was considered to be a "major artist" by Cahiers du Cinema critic Jacques Rivette in
his 1953 essay The genius of Howard Hawks (Hillier and Wollen, 1). In similar fashion, Ben
Nyce in Scorsese up Close, describes Scorsese as a "True artist" on a "personal and
artistic quest" (Nyce, 16). The view of a director as a great artist whose films express
their own individual vision is one that characterised auteur theory from its inception and
through most of the 1960's. But from the late 1960's arguments have been raised
questioning "the ideology of the artist as sole creator of the art work" (Cook and
Bernink, 235). Thus, auteur theory has been modified to include different approaches
including structuralism, feminism and social and political concerns. By using different
auteur theories to look at the work of these two directors, we shall try to determine
whether the director can be referred to as the artist or author of his films and whether
the auteur theory is still relevant today.


Before auteurism was solidly established as a theory by the French critics of the Cahiers
du Cinema, there existed criticism that acknowledged the director as the artistic centre
of a film. This criticism tended to privilege directors with more creative freedom than
their peers including directors such as D.W. Griffiths, Orson Welles and John Ford in
America, and Sergei Eisenstein and Marcel Carne in Europe. Much of this writing was
concerned with "constants of style and world view across the works of the directors
concerned" but lacked "the systematic, polemic thrust of auteurism proper" (Hill and
Gibson, 312). The ideas behind much of this work were expressed in Cahiers du Cinema in

Alexandre Astruc's call for "A new language of cinema in which the individual artist could
express his or her thoughts, using the camera to write a world view, a philosophy of life"
in his 1948 essay The birth of the new Avant-Garde: the Camera-Pen (Cook and Bernink,
240).


Astruc, along with Andre Bazin and the other reviewers of the Cahiers du Cinema developed
these principles into what is known as the politique des auteurs. These critics wanted
great film to be considered as an art form worthy of the attention given to great
literature, music or art. The emphasis behind the politique des auteurs was to oppose the
"established French film criticism with its support for a ‘quality' cinema of serious
social themes" (Cook and Bernink, 240). Though it also stressed that a director could
transcend the industrial nature of filmmaking to stamp a unique vision and world view on
their films and so deserve consideration comparable to an artist of the classical forms.
This is highlighted by Jean-Luc Godard's boast that "having it acknowledged that a film by
Hitchcock, for example, is as important as a book by Aragon. Film authors, thanks to us,
have finally entered the history of art" (Godard, 147). Godard was one of the critics who
were known as the ‘young Turks' which also included Francois Truffaut. A certain
tendency of the French Cinema (1954) was the article that for many confirmed auteurism as
a theory and gave the Cahiers a sense of direction that it was lacking.


Principle to this new direction for auteur theory was the distinction between directors
who were auteurs directors, who used mise-en-scene to create their own personal style, and
those known as a metteurs-en-scene "whose use of mise-en-scene, it was deemed, did not
transform the script material into an original work" (Hill and Gibson, 313). Cases have
been made for the scriptwriter as author, as well as the producer and the performer. These
are valid arguments that stand up well to the director as author, but by making the
director a stylist capable of original cinematic forms, the Cahiers critics created a
solid theoretical base to argue from. The politique des auteurs was adapted by Movie
magazine in the UK and by Village Voice and Film Culture in the USA and primarily by
Andrew Sarris.


The principles of the politique des auteurs were adapted by Andrew Sarris to allow the
cinema of Hollywood critical consideration. Much like the critics of Cahiers, Sarris was
reacting against much of the criticism in America that was only interested in cinema of
social realism. His polemic favoured the formal concerns of film and making the cinema of
Hollywood worthy of critical consideration with the director at the centre of this
attention. He confused the French theory changing the title from ‘the principle
of/polemic for authors to ‘the auteur theory' (Hill and Gibson, 311). With his revised
theory Sarris created a "critical pantheon which graded directors according to the extent
to which their personal vision transcended the hierarchical system within which they
worked" (Cook and Bernink, 256). His ‘pantheon' was eventually revised to only include
Hollywood directors.


Peter Wollen in ‘Signs and Meaning in The Cinema' "The auteur theory grew up rather
haphazardly. It was never elaborated on programmatic terms…As a result, it could be
interpreted and applied in rather broad lines" (Braudy and Cohen, 565). The result of this
was the emergence of two different ideas of auteur theory. Some theorists were primarily
interested in "revealing a core of meanings, of thematic motifs" and others who "stressed
style and mise en scene" (Braudy and Cohen, 566).


It is interesting to examine the work of Howard Hawks and Martin Scorsese together because
their directorial careers and attitudes to filmmaking contain some interesting comparisons
and contrasts. Both men are widely considered to be among the auteur directors of the
cinema. Hawks was said to be "both bemused and gratified" by the attention his work
received when re-evaluated in line with la politique des auteurs but he considered himself
to be a storyteller, as opposed to an artist of any kind, and did not believe his films
should be considered as pieces of art (McBride, 5). Scorsese is a director who is more
conscious of being an artist or auteur filmmaker owing to his academic training in the
study of cinema before he began to make films.


Hawks worked predominately in the Hollywood studio system and produced films that
consistently performed well at the box office but were often ignored by critics of the
time. Because Hawks regularly produced the films that he directed he enjoyed a greater
level of creative control than most of his peers. In this respect he was practically an
independent working within the studio system and was never tied down to any one studio for
very long. Hawks' films were not confined to a particular genre and ranged from westerns,
Red River, to sports dramas, Red Line 7000. Although, as Peter Wollen suggests, Hawks's
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