This is the latest part of Bruce Hodsdon’s erudite series devoted to Hollywood film-makers and film-making methods.The previous essays can be found if you click on the links below.
This proposed canon of auteurs in classical Hollywood (1929-68) includes credited writer-director auteurs in bold.
Robert Aldrich, Charles Chaplin, Frank Borzage, Frank Capra, George Cukor, Cecil B DeMille, Blake Edwards, John Ford, Samuel Fuller, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Gregory LaCava, Fritz Lang, Jerry Lewis, Joseph Losey, Ernst Lubitsch, Anthony Mann, Leo McCarey, Vincente Minnelli, Arthur Penn, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Douglas Sirk, Josef von Sternberg, Preston Sturges,George Stevens, Jacques Tourneur, King Vidor, Raoul Walsh, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Edgar G Ulmer (1)
Other notable credited writer-directors not included above: George Axelrod, Richard Brooks, Delmer Daves, Phillip Dunne, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, John Huston, Nunnally Johnson, Garson Kanin, Elia Kazan, Burt Kennedy, Norman Krasna, Albert Lewin, Joseph L Mankiewicz, Dudley Nichols, Abraham Polonsky, Robert Rossen, Andrew L Stone, Frank Tashlin
Some leading writers in classical Hollywood. Notable writer auteur collaborations are indicated : Charles Brackett/Wilder, Leigh Brackett/Hawks, Sidney Buchman, Niven Busch, Borden Chase/A Mann,Betty Comden and Adolph Green/Freed-Donen, I A L Diamond/Wilder, Jules Furthman/von Sternberg, Hawks,John Michael Hayes/Hitchcock, Ben Hecht/Hawks,Nunnally Johnson/Ford, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon/Cukor, Burt Kennedy/Boetticher, Howard Koch, Ring Lardner Jr, Arthur Laurents, Charles Lederer/Hawks, Ernest Lehman/Hitchcock,Ben Maddow, Herman Mankiewicz/Welles, Edwin Mayer, Frank Nugent/Ford, Samson Raphelson/Lubitsch, Robert Riskin/Capra, Casey Robinson, Morrie Ryskind/LaCava, Dalton Trumbo, Phillip Yordan
In the early 70s Richard Corliss, in response to Andrew Sarris's The American Cinema asserted the claims of the screenwriter. “Often when a fine film is signed by a middle-rung director, the film's distinctive quality can be traced to the screenwriter. If the work of screenwriters like Ben Hecht, Howard Koch, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, Dudley Nichols and Robert Riskin had been looked at half as closely as an auteurist examines the work of Otto Preminger or Robert Mulligan you'll find yourself staring at some dominant theme or style –a strong personal trait of film authorship. Film is a dramatic medium and the screenwriters are the medium's dramatists...But the hallmark of many fine screenwriters is versatility not consistency. Subject matter dictates style.”
Corliss identifies the need to distinguish several layers of screenwriting authorship comparable to the distinction between the auteur and journeyman director: the indifferent work of a mediocre writer in original script or adaptation from another medium, or an adaptation by a gifted adaptor like Donald Ogden Stewart, or a superior original like Herman Mankiewicz's for Citizen Kane.
Metteurs en scene, a select list: Budd Boetticher,Michael Curtiz, André de Toth, Stanley Donen, Allan Dwan, Richard Fleischer, Tay Garnett, Edmund Goulding, Henry Hathaway, Phil Karlson, Mervyn LeRoy, Joseph H Lewis, Mitchell Leisen, Gerd Oswald, George Sidney, Robert Siodmak, John M Stahl, James Whale
Four directors included in the canon above as auteurs – Cukor, Minnelli, Tourneur and Ulmer – would seem to be relatively clear-cut examples also of metteurs en scène (literally 'scene setters') although the work of Raoul Walsh and Anthony Mann (particularly Mann's early noir films with cinematographer John Alton), should also be considered in this context. Almost all of the metteurs en scènelisted above were rarely given writing credits on the films they directed and in a some cases also produced. If they appear at all in this regard it is as an original story source.
I have attempted to address the notion of metteur en scène,a critic's concept specific to the studio system of film production, in three of the previous parts of this series, especially parts 9 (Minnelli) and 11 (Tourneur and Oswald), also part 5 on Cukor. Barrett Hodsdon discusses the critically neglected concept on pp 7-101 of The Elusive Auteur. How individual auteurs like Ford, Hitchcock, Hawks and Fritz Lang are known to have worked with writers is referred to in his assessments of selected individual directors as auteurs in chapter 10 of his book.
The following is a proposed canon of auteurs (with list 1 forming a select Pantheon of 55 American auteurs 1929-2018) whose directing careers were established in the two decades of transition from the early to mid sixties; with the exceptions of Eastwood, Hellman and Spielberg, all reinforced their auteur credentials through writing credits:
Robert Altman, Paul T Anderson, John Cassavetes, Joel & Ethan Coen, FrancisCoppola, David Cronenberg, Clint Eastwood, Milos Forman, Monte Hellman, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Michael Mann, Elaine May, Sam Peckinpah, Roman Polanski, George Romero, Paul Schrader Martin Scorsese, StevenSpielberg. ( 2)
Contemporary Hollywood now produces (i) medium to big budget blockbusters by the six majors with a budget $80-100 million plus, including about one third of the budget for marketing for wide theatrical release; (ii) the so-called art and 'specialty' films mostly produced or acquired by the six majors' indie subsidiaries for a limited ' art house' niche market release (a few dozen to a few hundred urban area screens) averaging budgets of $30-40 mill also including about one third for marketing; (iii) indie releases produced by free standing producer-distributors on average budgets frequently less than $5 million and often with small marketing budgets which are expanded if the film opens well. (Source: “Independent Film” in Wikipedia)
Below is a (non-canon) sample of mainstream directors who have generally worked multiple times as directors or writer-directors on productions in the mainstream dominated by six major Hollywood production-distribution companies (now Warner Bros, Universal, Paramount, Sony, Fox, Disney) on genre films and films most often budgeted in the $50-100million plus range, in expectation of success in wide release and foreign markets. In some cases (eg Brian De Palma, Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer, Kathryn Bigelow) they made their early features as “independent” productions on modest budgets. It is select list of directors (qualification: active in c2015) with minimal or no writing credits indicated in bold:
J J Abrams, Sean Anders, David Ayer, Ben Affleck, Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, Shane Black, Tim Burton, James Cameron, Cameron Crowe, Alfonso Cuaron, Bobby & Peter Farrelly, James Foley, Antoine Fuqua, Guillermo del Toro, Tony Gilroy, Paul Greengrass, Brian De Palma, Scott Derrickson, David Fincher, Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, Craig Gillespie, Lasse Hallstrom, Ron Howard, Alejandro Innarritu, Peter Jackson, Rian Johnson, Angelina Jolie, Lawrence Kasdan, Ang Lee, Doug Liman, Baz Luhrman, Adam McKay, Christopher McQuarrie, James Mangold, Rob Marshall, Sam Mendes, Mike Newell, Christopher Nolan, Alex Proyas, Sam Raimi, Eli Roth, Joseph Ruben, Anthony & Joe Russo, Ridley Scott, M Night Shyamalan, Bryan Singer, John Singleton, Denis Villeneuve, The Wachowkis, Joss Whedon, Robert Zemeckis, Ed Zwick
Below is a sample list of indie directors (qualification: active in directing features for theatrical release c2015). Based on information in the IMDb, those who directed their first feature on a low or minimal budget (< $200,000 or most often <$50,000) are indicated in bold italics. The majority of indies started by directing short films, most likely self financed. A few like Oliver Stone, Darren Aronovsky, David Russell and Marc Webb have moved between mainstream blockbuster and art house scale budgets. Over the course of two decades, Tarantino saw his budgets expand from $1.2 million for Reservoir Dogs to $100 million for Django Unchained matched by worldwide box office returns of $5million for Dogs to Django’s $425 million.There has been an increase in the number of US independents financing films through international co-productions especially with EU countries.
Woody Allen, Michael Almereyda, Allison Anders, Wes Anderson, Gregg Araki, Darren Aronovsky, Miguel Arteta, Noah Baumbach, Ramin Bahrani, Sean Baker, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Mike Cahill, Joshua Caldwell, J C Chandor, Damien Chazelle, Lisa Cholodenko, Larry Clark, George Clooney, Sofia Coppola, Andrew Dominik, Ava DuVernay, Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton, Abel Ferrara, James Franco, Terry Gilliam, Dan Gilroy, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Michel Gondry, Debra Granik, James Gray, David Gordon Green, Paul Haggis, Catherine Hardwicke, Hal Hartley, John Hillcoat, Alex Holdridge, Todd Haynes, Eliza Hittman, Nicole Holofcener, Jim Jarmusch, Barry Jenkins, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Harmony Korine, John Krasinski, Neal LaBute, Richard Linklater, Kenneth Lonergan, David Lowery, Bennett Miller,Vincenzo Natali, Mira Nair, Jeff Nichols, Alexander Payne, Alex Ross Perry, James Pondsolt, Nicholas Winding Refn, Dee Rees, Kelly Reichardt, Jason Reitman, Robert Rodriguez, Matt Ross, Alan Rudolph, David O Russell, Ira Sachs, Josh& Benny Safdie, Lynn Shelton, Taylor Sheridan, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh, Todd Solondz, Whit Stillman, Oliver Stone, QuentinTarantino, Jean-Marc Vallée, Gus Van Sant, John Waters, Marc Webb, Elizabeth Wood
1. “Less than meets the eye”or as Andrew Sarris explained,“directors with reputations in excess of inspiration...as if personal signatures in their films were written with invisible ink”: Rouben Mamoulian, Lewis Milestone, William Wellman, William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann. Non-auteurists might question whether “the personal signature of the director” makes the film? There are directors like John Huston and Sidney Lumet who are perplexing in the on again/off again sense of engagement/disengagement, neither metteur en scène nor journeyman, that is the hallmark of their oeuvres. In this they are closest to Wellman of the above quintet.
2. The unique histories of George Lucas, Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino as “a new breed of auteurs” (referred to by Thomas Elsaesser as “post-auteur authors”) in relation to the notion of independence in contemporary Hollywood, are discussed by Barrett Hodsdon in chapter 14 of his book The Elusive Auteur.