A Primer On Auteur Theory And Why It Matters Today

by Tito W. James

‘Auteur’ comes from the French word for ‘author’ and Auteur Theory proposes that any artist, like a filmmaker, can be seen as a unique creative force behind a project. Auteur films are intended to be judged as a whole and contain the director’s unique creative fingerprint through their stylistic choices.

Auteur Theory was first explored during the French New Wave cinema of the 1950s. The movemnet was about disrupting the status quo and doing director-driven versions of genres that were popular in America, like crime. The ultimate goal was to prove that filmmaking was an art form equal to literature and that directors could be seen as authors. Filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut rose to prominence both by writing about the theory in French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma and making New Wave films of their own.

Quentin Tarantino is one example of an American auteur and much of his stylistic tendencies were in response to French New Wave cinema. Tarantino is also about disrupting the status quo and doing an American spin on foreign films. His films are intended to be judged as a whole rather than as individual stories.

I’ve done blogs in the past about visionary filmmakers, but I think it’s important that more people know about the Auteur Theory. Auteur films can be the antidote to franchise fatigue. In a media landscape valuing established franchises over unique visions and original ideas, it’s important to give auteurs time and attention.

Now this is not to say that only auteur-driven indie films have merit. There are directors — like James Gunn, Zack Snyder, and Taika Waititi — who add their distinctive vision to blockbuster movies. Whether you vibe with their vision or not, you cannot deny that they stand out from the crowd.

Auteur theory doesn’t just apply to film, but also to video games. Consider developers like Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear, Death Stranding), Suda 51 (Lollypop Chainsaw, No More Heroes), Yoko Taro (Nier Series), Tim Schafer (Psychonauts), and Ken Levine (Bioshock Series).

Comic readers can agree that works written and drawn by the same person have a unique flavor. This personal artistic fingerprint adds an unquantifiable charm that you can’t get from “overly-edited” commercial material. Auteur theory matters today because it empowers creators to be more innovative and do the types of stories only they can do.

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