Auteur Theory: Auteur (French for author) “holds that a director’s film reflects the director’s personal creative vision”
ref: Doing Media Research An introduction 2nd edition by Susanna Hornig Priest (Library)
The word “Auteur” comes from the french word for author, In film it is also known as auteur theory which refers to a series of traits that are recuring throughout a Directors films. By analysing a film using the auteur theory we could spot several things that reflect the directors personnal world views, preferred actors/contributors, emotions and sometimes even fears. One of the best examples of this is Alfred Hitchcock (commonly known as the “Master of Suspence”), Alot of his films have recurring themes that have become his trademarks such as making cameos in his own films, mistaken or assumed identities as a plot device (North by Northwest and Psycho are examples that come to mind), Use of point of view shots and camera angles to create an aura of tension and suspence, and the casting of famous blonde actresses (usually in leading roles) such as Janet Leigh (mother of Jamie Lee Curtis).
A director will often be defined by his traits to the point where you go to see a movie simply because it has a particular director’s name attached to it (Steven Spielberg comes to mind) and you expect to see them employed. Auteur theory has also come under alot of criticism from the film industry for its lack of acknoledgement of the fact that film making is a team effort, there are many famous cinematographers and producers but auteur doesnt seem to acknowledge their contributions to the film.
In this assignment I will study film maker Akira Kurosawa using the auteur theory. Auteur theory is a very unique way to identify a director by his/her film making style and is a useful tool in the field of film study.
“A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.” Akira Kurosawa
I will employ various research techniques including focus groups, internet and possibly books. I will look at his films to spot recurring themes to identify his stylistic features. I will identify any particular codes and conventions (Genre, themes, colours) which he specialises in. I will look at which actors/actresses, designers/composers, editors who have worked with him to see if there are any frequent collaborators. Finally I will use a focus group to determine Akira’s film popularity among young people.
I will devise questions to use in a focus group to gain the maximum amount of information for critical analysis. The questions I will ask in my Focus group will be as follows:
- Are you familiar with the films made by Akira Kurosawa? If yes please give examples of his films?
- If no why do you think you’ve never heard of him? Have you ever heard of the Seven Samurai? “A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves.” If yes have you seen it? Did you know the Magnificent Seven was based on it? what is your opinion on it?
- Do you think Eastern medieval films have an audience in todays mainstream cinema or do you prefer the western versions? If yes or no please explain your answers, give reasons and your opinions on the matter.
- Do you feel people are open to other cultures or not?
- To what extent is Akira Kurosawa an Auteur?
Focus Group members:
- Cherie Smith
- Jordan Davies
- Gary Cruise
- Ben Rayne
- Shoubna (Tutor)
- Adam Ellix
Steps to be taken to complete this assignment:
1.Have your auteur ready! 06/02/2012 (Akira Kurosawa).
2.Identify a problematic (to what extent is my director an Auteur?) 20/02/2012.
3.Identify three focus films (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, the Hidden Fortress).
4.Plan and conduct your primary research (Focus Group) planned on 27/02/2012, to be conducted on 12/03/2012.
5.Plan and conduct your secondary research (intend to watch one or more of the focus films before the Focus group).
6.Write the catalogue (sources) and commentary (evaluation of your research)
7.Plan your presentation scripts
8.Write your presentation script
9.Plan the evaluation and proposal for further research
10.Write the evaluation and proposal for further research
12/03/2012 Focus group will commence – Brought forward to the 05/03/2012
Focus group went ahead today and I received a mixture of opinions and reactions. When the group was asked if they were familiar with any films made by Akira Kurosawa only Shoubna (tutor) had actually heard of him and had watched one of his films (Rashomon – based on the aftermath of war). A majority of the group didn’t know directors and were more likely to remember plots, genres and actors. When asked what appealed to them in films, The general opinion within the group favored modern, contemporary films with an interesting narrative and lots of action.
Next question was whether anyone was familiar with the western adaptations of Kurosawa’s work. Most of the group had never heard of the Magnificent Seven although they were all familiar with Star Wars (granted it was the franchise rather than the first film). I explained the connections between the western films and Kurosawa’s work and many people were ignorant of these facts, one person believed that Samurai was the name for the sword not the warrior. Another member of the group expressed little to no interest in Star Wars which surprised me a great deal.
When asked if there was a market for films set in feudal Japan, the responses were varied “It does give an insight into history” “Action might appeal to a modern audience”. One widespread opinion was a negative outlook on subtitles in films although it was apparent that they enjoy them more if they were dubbed. Most members of the group believed that modern young audiences would prefer a westernised version of a foreign, however there was also a feeling that the film market already had a lot of these kind of films. At this point I brought up the concept of taking the classic formula of Seven Samurai and giving it a modern treatment e.g Seven Royal marines stranded in an Afghanistan village and they have to defend it from the Taliban. Members of the group were in agreement that this idea would appeal to modern audiences more than the original Seven Samurai film and western equivalent The Magnificent Seven.
It was generally agreed among the group that Akira Kurosawa was an auteur despite the fact that most of the group had not seen any of his films. This was due to the fact that I explained his most popular work and the influence it had on western cinema. After I had presented examples of his work and explained their connections on mainstream Hollywood films, the group was fully convinced and the director received his auteur status.
The Oxford Guide To Film Studies-Edited by John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson.
This book references Kurosawa’s work in a very positive way and highlights several things that were not mentioned or elaborated on during the focus group.
The book says that in the 1950’s Akira Kurosawa’s early films were characterised by “Exotic settings, costumes, rituals and performance styles … appealed to our orientalist fantasies of a mysterious exotic Japan”.
Kurosawa’s editing was described as a “dazzling display of dynamic editing techniques”.
“The discovery of Japanese cinema coincided with the rise of auterism in film studies”, so the idea of Japanese cinema came to be associated with the work of a few directors who were given the status of ‘auteurs’ (true authors). Kurosawa was one of these.
On the 14th of March I managed to watch Seven Samurai for the first time and my general view of it is positive. It had good characters with a lot of depth to them although I can’t remember their names because they are Japanese and it was hard to understand them even with the subtitles on. All the dialogue was it’s native language so I had to read the subtitles which could sometimes get a little distracting. The subtitles never got in the way of the major plot points and there was a lot body language with strong expressions that give the characters a human side, although some characters are more fleshed out than others. There is a lot of humour and drama which makes this very diverse and open to re-watches.
After watching several clips of the westernised version of Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven. I can easily identify several similarities between the two. Both films feature a village that is under attack from bandits, the bandits are numbered at forty strong and a bunch of villagers go looking for gunmen/samurai. The similarities vary slightly in that some of the characters in the Magnificent Seven differ from their Seven Samurai counterparts.
Akira Kurosawa born March 23rd 1910 and died on September the 6th 1998. Kurosawa started out as a painter before becoming involved in film making as an assistant director in 1936, Kurosawa used his paintings in his storyboards which became full scale paintings. His directional debut came in 1943 with the film Sanshiro Sugata.
What I found interesting is that Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films were considered unusual in his native Japan. IMDb states that Kurosawa’s work mainly portray Ronin in a time of civil war (16th and 17th centuries) whereas most other samurai films depict a more peaceful era when Japan was at the height of its nationalism (18th century).
Kurosawa was inspired by the works of American director John Ford whom eventually he met. Kurosawa worked with cast and crew multiple times much like Ford did. Similar to Ford’s relationship with John Wayne, Kurosawa worked with actors Toshiro Mifune 16 times beginning with Drunken Angel in 1948 and with Takashi Shimura 21 times.
Kurosawa was infamous for his perfectionism, examples including diverting the flow of a stream to get a better effect and removing the roof from a building in one of his shots because he didn’t like the way it looked. In 1971 after a lean period in his film making Kurosawa attempted suicide but failed.
Akira Kurosawa is currently ranked 6th greatest film director of all time by ‘Empire’ magazine in the UK.
Quotes from Akira Kurosawa.
“For me, film-making combines everything. That’s the reason I’ve made cinema my life’s work. In films painting and literature, theatre and music come together. But a film is still a film.” This is a very clear message that Kurosawa thought of film as an art form.
“With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this.” I agree with this statement because it is true that the quality of the script can be instrumental in making of a masterpiece. This also shows Kurosawa’s artistic devotion to the film industry which in my experience seems lacking in today’s cinematic experiences. Kurosawa created an entire philosophy for film making judging by the statements in these quotes.
“It is quite enough if a human being has but one field where he is strong. If a human being were strong in every field it wouldn’t be nice for other people, would it?” This is a good metaphor for cherishing the qualities you possess instead of aspiring towards unrealistic ambitions. Lack of focus gets nothing done. I have included this because its something I will have to take into consideration when I start working in the media industry and prioritise my strengths to create the best results possible.
“Unless you know every aspect and phase of the film-production process, you can’t be a movie director. A movie director is like a front-line commanding officer. He needs a thorough knowledge of every branch of the service, and if he doesn’t command each division, he cannot command the whole.” This stresses the importance of knowing every aspect of the film industry in order to become a better director. This can easily be applied to my current college course and the roles all the various units play in the industry at large. This can also gather some respect for you from the people who work in various elements of the film industry as you will be connect with easily.
All in all I feel this exercise was very insightful when attempting to identify characteristics and recurring themes of directors as seen in their work. I found the auteur theory to be very useful when attempting to identify these traits although like most things it is not without criticism. Auteur has been accused of focusing on one particular individual in what is essentially a combined effort medium. I found out facts about Akira Kurosawa that I did not know before such as the way his work is seen in Japan and his reverence of American Western cinema. Books didn’t prove useful for this assignment as none of the College library books that I found covered Japanese cinema or Kurosawa particularly, my primary (or rather secondary if you wish to get technical) source of information was the internet and specifically IMDb.com. IMDb.com is a very reliable site with a wealth of information on actors, directors and films. Next time I conduct this kind of research I hope to find better books on my chosen (or pre-chosen) subject. I should also consider looking for articles in journalism that may hold some interesting points of view and information.
If anything was to be done differently I think I would try to see more of the director’s films so that I can get a wider scope on their work and film making style. The books I used didn’t exactly satisfy my expectations so next time I will have search out better books in different libraries like public libraries which might have access to a wider selection of books.