My DVD Collection and Letting Go of the Auteur Theory

We recently moved into a new apartment, and of course one of the first priorities was getting the DVDs up on the shelf. This was actually a very minor turning point, as previously my girlfriend and I kept our DVDs on separate shelves, but while unpacking them now I merged both collections together. Shiran has always organized her DVDs by year, while for some time now I’ve organized them by director. But in combining the two collections together, I ended up going with Shiran’s calendar method, and in the process (as insignificant as it seems) took a step away from the auteurist leanings that have informed my perspective as a filmgoer and filmmaker for years.

I have always subscribed to the auteur theory, to some extent or another. Unlike many film fans, I’ve never been so narrow-minded to think that directors alone can be auteurs- Shane Black and Charlie Kauffman are at least as distinctive as writers as any director can be. But more often than not, I do think that many of the best films come from filmmakers (directors, writers, producers, etc) who have clear and distinct visions for the movies they’re making. Films crafted with a strong voice will almost universally trump anonymous, made-by-committee commercial product.

But beyond that, the thing that I have always seized on is the idea of filmmakers who hone that vision over multiple films and develop a thematic/stylistic core that provides a backbone for their whole filmography. It’s something that has not only informed my film fandom but also my aspirations as a filmmaker, but I’m starting to realize that adhering to this as the paramount goal is a bad idea, and also keeps me distant from many great one-hit-wonder kinds of movies. There are plenty of great filmmakers that I am drawn to that have built clear stylistic/thematic voices that span their whole careers- Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Edgar Wright, Guillermo del Toro, the Wachowskis, Darren Aronofsky, among others. But there are just as many one-hit-wonder films I love from filmmakers I’m otherwise uninvested in- Strange Days, Silence of the Lambs, LA Confidential, American Psycho, Sweet Smell of Success, again among others. I’ve begun to realize that good films may be dependent on a strong artistic vision, but that strong artistic vision doesn’t have to be some grand, career-defining mission statement.

Thinking of that reminds me that I should not be so dismissive of filmmakers who take steps far outside their comfort zone, or never really find one in the first place (as opposed to my old stance of “jack of all trades, master of none”); maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Josh Boone taking on The Stand, for example. Nor should I be less enthusiastic about movies because of the seeming anonymity of the filmmaker; just because Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t look like anything Doug Liman has done before, doesn’t mean he can’t bring his craft to bear to realize that film properly. All in all, it occurs to me that I was essentially equating “auteurism” with “pigeonholing”, which is never a fair perspective to apply to any artist, least of all myself. And trying to hold a filmmaker (especially myself) to one style/aesthetic/tone/theme for their whole career is ridiculous: each movie (both as a viewer and a filmmaker) should be treated as its own thing, and if there are recurring elements that come out naturally than so be it. And that needs to be how I approach my own creative endeavors: how can I be expected to pursue a story when I’m expecting it to be a thesis statement for my whole career? The answer is that I can’t, and the sooner I embrace that the better off my writing will be.

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