Reconsidering the politique des auteurs: apractice–based exploration of the politique’s auteur: the director as cinematic artist and author of the filmed work
Half a century ago Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer et. al. conceived an idea of cinema as a critical policy and method for film practice and criticism - the politique des auteurs - a “politics of authorship”. They then transferred that idea of cinema from the page to the screen, bringing “… to its most logical conclusion: the passage of almost all those involved in it to directing films themselves.” (Jaques Doniol-Valcroze 1959)
The politique is often cited as a known idea by film critics and film-makers; and it is often typified within academe as little more than an historical reference point now displaced by more theoretical and seemingly topical concerns. But, is the critical policy and method introduced by the politique often aesthetically and methodologically misunderstood by those same film critics and practitioners? Is it even misconstrued within recent summations in academic texts? I am reconsidering the genesis, purpose and significance of that policy to film practice and criticism prompted by these concerns and intrigued by Truffaut’s claim "But thequalities of this film ... cannot possibly be seen by anyone who has never ventured a look through a camera eye piece. We flatter ourselves - and it is in this that we are opposed to another form of criticism - that we are able to retrace the origins of cinematic creativity.” (Truffaut 1955) I have returned to the initial paradigms published in the pages of Cahiers du Cinema during the 1950s and 1960s; to the writings and arguments conceived by that collection of young critics and nascent film-makers in Paris half a century ago.
My primary method has been to retrace their pathway from the page to the screen, initially by means of a filmed experiment, and then by analysing the results of that experiment in the form of a cinematic essay, the practice-based element of my PhD. As a “stranger” on set – a non-practitioner - I used my understanding of the politique and my analysis of the politique’s concept of mise-en-scene to “re-write” cinematically the first scene from John Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon. I identified characterisation, the human element rather than the more plastic means of cinematic representation, as the crucial aspect of that concept and the primary vehicle for directorial authorship and considered:
My project attempted to articulate both on screen and on page the outcomes of my research. The supreme challenge, and my starting point, was that identified by Alexandre Astruc : “The fundamental problem of the cinema is how to express thought” (Astruc 1948).