Auteurism is a term first coined by Francois Truffaut to describe the mark of a film director on his films. A director can be considered an auteur if about five of his film depict a certain style that is definitely his own. In other words, much like one can look at a painting and tell if it is a Monet, a Renoir, or a Degas, if a film director is an auteur, one can look at his film and tell by style and recurring themes that it was made by a certain director. In auteur films, the director is many times what brings an audience to the theater, instead of the actors or storyline. I am going to take a look at three of the most noted auteurs: Frederico Fellini, Satyajit Ray, and Alfred Hitchcock.
I watched five of Frederico Fellini’s films: La Dolce Vita, 8-1/2, Juliet of the Spirits, La Strada, and City of Women. In all of these films, I noticed Fellini’s enormous use of imagery, which of course he is most noted for. However, I also noticed a recurring set of character archetypes. These archetypes are the sex object, the wife, and the typical man.
First, we see the use of the sex object in 8-1/2. The young boy and his friends encounter the whore. With this encounter we see that a mixed batch of emotions, delight, cruelty, wonder, scaredness, and finally guilt. This scene is a perfect example of sexual awakening. The whore’s sexuality and the boy’s responses to it are shown with crosscuts between her suggestive motions and their shock and ultimate joy. When she invites the boy to come closer, he has mixed feelings, but is ultimately pressured by his friends. Fellini finishes this episode perfectly- the boys are caught red-handed by adults. In City of Women similar experience is portrayed. This time it is with a loving maternal figure. The young boy is confused when returning her affections- he has a mix of sexual excitement and shameless affection. The camera angle is that of a child’s view, and he looks at her exposed cleavage and her open skirt crossed with cuts of her strong arms and her continuing maternal household duties and her embrace. In La Dolce Vita, the sexual object is in a more complex relationship with the man. She is not only an object of desire, and sexual partner, but she is also a friend and confidant of the main character.
The second character type that Fellini portrays in several of his films is the wife. In 8-1/2 and La Dolce Vita he characterizes the wife as a mother substitute. In 8-1/2 there is a harem fantasy sequence, and the wife plays the motherly role by cleaning house. In all of the films, the husband and wife have difficulty communicating with each other. One scene in City of Women visually shows this with multiple barriers: physical (a column and doorway), spatial (the characters are on opposite sides of the screen) and social (a crown with turned backs). In Juliet of the Spirits, Julieta is the “superwife.” She plays all of the above stated roles, and also it is apparent that she has her own interior life. This is shown by the use of mirrors and reflections within reflections.
The final character archetype that I noticed in Fellini’s films is the “macho man.” This is probably best illustrated in the harem sequence in 8-1/2. In this the main character imagines himself as the master of all women he has ever desired, real or fantasized. In City of Women the doctor is the idealized male stereotype who now has to deal with women’s increasing independence. I do not think that this character was as effective, however, in showing this archetype as much as the harem sequence did. In La Strada the male character is kept a prisoner by these male virtues- he cannot communicate his own feelings.
Fellini definitely has many trademarks, but I chose these to write about because they are the least remarked upon. But, surely when one watches any Fellini film, there is a definite look and feel to the movie, making Fellini a true auteur.
The next auteur that I studied was Satyajit Ray. I watched his popular Apu Trilogy, which consists of three films that follow the life of a boy named Apu. Most noteworthy of Ray’s films is their universality. Even though they are filmed in India, anyone can relate to them. The scripts for these movies are very realistic; nothing seems forced or written. In fact, there is not much action in the plot of the first film of the trilogy, Pather Panchali. Also, the look of his films is also very natural. Each frame from these films could literally be a breathtaking still image. I noticed this when watching The World of Apu when the Indian countryside was shown. When one hears the phrase “artistic cinematography” the work of Satyajit Ray should come to mind. He uses a wonderful blend of light and shadow, which I liked the most, in the river-bathing scene in Aparajito. Ray pays a lot of attention to detail. His camera moves with the situation in this story, not with any particular style. His way of shooting, his real life approach, and his natural settings forms the ultimate suspension of disbelief for any person who falls under the spell of a Satyajit Ray picture.
The final auteur that I will be covering is the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. The “Master of Suspense,” Hitchcock blends the traditional thriller with comedy and a dreamlike aspect. I watched three of his most popular films: Vertigo, Rear Window, and North by Northwest.
Vertigo is a mixture of many diverse elements. Hitchcock makes a love story, a mystery, and a thriller all in one. Obsession, psychological and physical paralysis, and the fragility of romantic love are all dealt with. However as with many of his films, one must see it a few times to catch many of the details and deeper meanings. There are two stylistic notes for Vertigo. First, is the use of color, particularly red and green. Second is the soundtrack. The score is deathly haunting, the type of music perfect for a Hitchcock thriller.
The next Alfred Hitchcock movie that I watched was Rear Window. This movie takes a good look at voyeurism. In this movie a handicapped man sees a murder from his window, but the police do not believe him. So, with the help of a friend he tries to solve the murder himself, only to be helpless when she puts herself in harms way. Stylistically, this movie was one of Hitchcock’s famous experiments. Almost the entire movie is shot in the main character’s apartment and out of his apartment window.
Finally, I watch North by Northwest. In this film as with many of his others including Vertigo and Rear Window, Hitchcock sets up his hero as being the only one who knows the truth, that way he is the sane one and the audience sympathizes. Also very Hitchcockian is that the main character becomes the detective. Stylistically, the audience stays with the main character, only knowing as much as he does.
As with both Frederico Fellini and Satyajit Ray, there is no denying Hitchcock’s autuerism. When a movie of his begins, there is no doubt from the very beginning as to who may have directed it.
Auteurism is a very important aspect to analyzing film. When a director is an auteur, he not only has films that are easily recognized as his, but also he has left his mark on film history. Three important auteurs are Frederico Fellini, Satyajit Ray, and Alfred Hitchcock. All three of these directors have specific styles and recurring themes that they have made their trademark.
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