Where Have All The Auteurs Gone?


Looking over our year end short list one thing surprises most. It’s not the lack of quality male performances (an unusual, refreshing complaint to be making), nor is it the lack of a clear front-runner for the end of season awards. It is, instead, the perceived absence of the master auteur.

If one were to place Terrence Malick, Chan-wook Park and Quentin Tarantino to one side we’re left with the (relative) upstarts. Upstream Color, Computer Chess and 12 Years A Slave are produced by distinct, creative voices, but these bodies of work aren’t quite as neatly packaged as the auteur cinema of tradition. Similarly Frances Ha and Blue Is The Warmest Colour have mutual authorial voices, with their performers just as integral creative participants as their directors. This is what makes these films work so well, and was most formidably asserted in the specific awarding of dual-stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in the rewarding of this year’s Palme d’Or to director Abdellatif Kechiche, while Frances Ha began life as “A Greta Gerwig Picture” only for Baumbach to join in at the eleventh hour.

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Abdellatif Kechiche, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux share the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Abdellatif Kechiche, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux share the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.[/caption]

This phenomena is apparent elsewhere too, in the likes of Woody Allen’s (and Cate Blanchett’s?) Blue Jasmine, and Dumont’s (and Juliette Binoche’s?) Camille Claudel, 1915, and perhaps most especially so in the Jeune Cinema movement coming out of France, of which 2 Autumns, 3 Winters makes our own list and La Bataille de Solferino makes the one from Cahiers du cinéma, but both of which rely very much on a collective of participants. That this modern French movement is so concerned with collaboration seems especially packed with symbolic significance.

A couple of grandmasters, pun intended, have been knocked by the old fashioned control production techniques of Harvey Weinstein, with Wong Kar-wai and Bong Joon-ho both falling at the feet of the man dubbed “Scissorhands”, while James Gray’s latest work has seemingly been sidelined after being on the receiving end of a mixed response at Cannes. Perhaps most frustratingly, De Palma and Coppola both went DTV.

One can’t help but feel that this year has really felt the lack of a Scorsese, a Haneke, or a Denis, the former and latter of which have 2013 films due in 2014 here in the UK, following very limited runs this year in the US. A return to form (read form as tradition; nobody is questioning the quality of the cinema of this year) is due in 2014, with the return of the aforementioned plus Lars von Trier, whose Nymphomaniac appears to be the ideal call to arms for the dislodged auteur. Paul Thomas Anderson is also back, as is this year’s greatest maverick, Terrence Malick, who’s on a real prolific streak at the moment. Godard also returns with what looks set to be his most form busting tome since Histoire(s) du Cinéma.

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Kevin Feige on the set of Iron Man 3, with star Robert Downey Jr.

Kevin Feige on the set of Iron Man 3, with star Robert Downey Jr.[/caption]

Might one also suggest that the greatest (read, “in size/most present”, as opposed to being a comment on the quality of the output) kinda-sorta auteur of the 21st Century, has very much maintained a presence over the cinema of 2013, as it has since 2008. Disney’s Marvel Studios, presided over by Kevin Feige, a super-producer cut from the same cloth as a Zanuck or a Louis B. Mayer, and very much a figure and an approach which echoes the classical Hollywood studio system (in keeping with the spirit of that age, complaints have been voiced from the creative talent on a number of Marvel Studios productions of stifling and overt control), have constructed a body of work that at-least partially resembles that of a traditional auteurist canvas, albeit one in which the individual bricks are cast and placed by very different individuals. There’s a neat bit of kismet in the Marvel approach, given that American filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith mined the techniques and tropes of the comic-book shared universe when structuring their own oeuvres.

Much in the same way that Carruth, Bualski and McQueen mark the dawn of a new approach to auteur cinema, the output of the independently minded and creatively linear Marvel Studios are reshaping the way in which one views authorial-driven cinema.