Photographed by Sebastian Kim© for Interview Magazine
What is the Auteur Theory?
“Auteur theory, theory of film-making in which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a motion picture. ” cr: http://www.britannica.com/art/auteur-theory
Created in France in the late 1940s. The auteur theory, as it was called by the American film critic Andrew Sarris, which was derived from the cinematic theories of André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc. A foundation piece of the French cinematic movement known as the nouvelle vague, or New Wave, the theory of director-as-author was principally advanced in Bazin’s periodical Cahiers du cinéma (founded in 1951). Two of its theoreticians, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, later became important directors of the French New Wave.
In other words, such significant visual elements such as camera placement, blocking, lighting, and scene length, rather than plot line, convey the message of the film. Supporters of this theory argue that the most cinematically successful films will bear the unmistakable personal stamp of the director. Such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Lars von Trier or Alfred Hitchcock. A perfect example of this is Pedro Almodóvar or Tim Burton whose films always have a certain “feel” even if the plot is completely different.
Probably one of the most famous and most unique directors of our century, Tim Burton was born in Burbank, California on the 25th of August in 1958. After majoring in animation at the California Institute of Arts, he worked as a Disney animator for less than a year before quitting and building his own career. He became known for creating visually striking films that blend themes of fantasy and horror, including Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The ‘Burtonesque’ Style
“It’s good as an artist to always remember to see things in a new, weird way.”-Tim Burton
After growing tired of his work with Disney, Burton went to do his own work, in 1982, he released the award-winning short Vincent, which paid homage to the enduring work of his childhood idol and horror veteran, Vincent Price. As a frustrated, isolated teenager, Burton found solace in Price’s films. So much so, that he sent Price Vincent, the award-winning animated short he made eight years earlier about a seven-year-old who has delusions of being Vincent Price.
He told the LA Times: “I can’t tell you what (Price) meant to me growing up. This sounds dramatic but he helped me live… When you’re a child and a teenager it’s not unusual to go through a melodramatic phase. But by watching (Price’s) films, there was a catharsis for me. You’re not just watching a low-budget Edgar Allan Poe movie, there’s something else there that’s not on the screen. I channeled my melodrama into that, as opposed to suicide probably.”
This short film showed Burton’s style of animation perfectly: the absence of colour, dark themes, the wide eyed characters and the use of stop motion. Other notable works like this are Frankieweenie, Corpse Bride and Nightmare before Christmas.
In his non animated films, there is always a very art focused and visual approach to his films, each film shares similar gothic visuals, there’s always quirky characters that don’t quite fit in society, perhaps a reflection of himself, he also likes to use the same actors in each film (Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp) and how he uses flashbacks as a form of story telling.
There is also 4 things that not Tim Burton film is complete without: white makeup, black eyes, spirals and stripes!
One of Burton’s most successful movies, a bizarre yet touching film about a gentle man, with scissors for hands who was created by the scientist Vincent Price, the hero of Tim Burton’s childhood, who then gets brought to a perfect little suburban neighbourhood. Staring up-and-coming stars Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder (as well as Price’s final feature role as the eccentric inventor), Edward Scissorhands was acclaimed for being both a social satire and a simple tale of love and intolerance.
The pastel uniformity of suburbia and the unique mix between fantasy horror in this film is possibly what crystallized Tim Burton’s aesthetic. The director was coming off the success of “Beetlejuice” and “Batman” when Fox fast-tracked the movie, which became a critical and commercial success, cemented Johnny Depp’s fame and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup.
Throughout the years there has been other auteurs like Quentin Tarantino with his obvious love for blood and gore and unique shooting styles like the famous trunk shot camera angle that he has used in every film he has directed, also the “God’s Eye POV” shot where the shot is being filmed from above the actors, it is used to try and convey something bigger then the characters is watching them. But the best thing about Tarantino is not just his directing style but how he is foremost a writer like Tom McGarry pointed out one time, and that’s what truly makes his an auteur.
Or like one of the most crucial figure of silent cinema, Charlie Chaplin who known for his happy clumsy character, “The Tramp”, in his slapstick comedies how he suddenly tripped and stumbled forward with the smooth grace of a ballet dancer into a perfect pirouette, with his little derby hat, tight coat, baggy pants and oversized shoes. Even now nearly a hundred years later, his distinct image is arguably one of the most recognisable in the world.
Another auteur is Martin Scorsese who is part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and influential filmmakers in cinema history. With his films focusing on their protagonists, who are almost always morally ambiguous, and tend to provide voiceover, which is used in a manner similar to soliloquies in Shakespeare’s greatest works. Scorsese’s films include a high number of true-life stories, and, excepting his literary adaptations, his films imitate real life closely. Another one of his signature trademarks is how he begins his films with segments taken from the middle or end of the story and how he makes use of slow motion techniques or how he frequently sets his films in New York City. His films are usually “cut” to the music.
One of the best auteurs of the last 70 years is the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock who gave us classics like Psycho, Vertigo and The Birds. His signature appearances in the his own films being one of his trademarks, as well as his visual approach to his films. Things like a climax plot twist, blonde female leads, the presence of a domineering mother in her child’s life (e.g. Psycho), an innocent man accused, restricting the action to a single setting to increase tension (e.g. Lifeboat, Rear Window, Rope). The central theme of Hitchcock’s films was murder and the psychology behind it, when asked what his mission in life was he said “to simply scare the hell out of people.”.