The auteur theory sprang from the interest that French critics in the fifties had in forgotten or underrated Hollywood films. The auteur was perceived as an individual who clearly left the mark of his personality upon the film process. Traditionally, the model of an author in the cinema was that of the European director with an open artistic aspiration and full control over film. However, as Peter Wollen points out, the careers of these acclaimed European directors could often stagnate or even be reduced to total anonymity as they crossed the Atlantic to continue making films in Hollywood. The focus of auteur theorists was not so much the historical context of the film, but its context within the total body of the director's work. Thus, it was the structure of the films made by the same director that was analyzed.

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Auteur Theory and Authorship

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Peter Wollen

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Given the debates and arguments about authorship in cinema, and given the changing cultural context, it was inevitable that auteurism would be put under pressure and evolve. Peter Wollen, influenced like Movie and Sarris in his tastes by those of the Cahiers 's critics, wrote in the early s in New Left Review and developed his ideas in the and editions of his book Signs and Meaning in the Cinema. He introduced a new emphasis, so-called "auteur structuralism" or "cine-structuralism. In a further shift, Wollen put the auteur directors' names in inverted commas—"Hitchcock," "Ford," "Hawks"—to distinguish the real people and creative personalities Hitchcock, Ford, and Hawks from the structures or retrospective critical constructs—the auteur codes—named after them. The auteur thus became something more like an unconscious catalyst for elements and influences beyond his or her conscious control. In the politically and theoretically highly charged post cultural atmosphere in France, Cahiers itself was changing rapidly, and this stage of the development of auteur theory generated the collective essay by the editors of Cahiers , "John Ford's Young Mr Lincoln " in the August issue of Cahiers. From Wollen's inverted commas and the auteur as "unconscious catalyst" and Cahiers 's problematizing of authorial inscription, it is not far to post-structuralism's virtual disappearance or "death of the author," as Roland Barthes's essay put it.

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