The Role of Authorship during the Shift towards a New Hollywood

Bachelor Thesis 2011 37 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography


Table of Contents


1. The concept of authorship and the auteur theory
1.1 The discourse of authorship in texts
1.2. Authorship in film
1.3. Auteur theory

2 The Hollywood system - collapse and reinvention
2.1 Classic Hollywood
2.2 Changes within and outside the Hollywood system
2.3 Economy and aesthetic - what is the New Hollywood ?

3 Authorship and the Hollywood Renaissance
3.1 Auteur theory applied to the Hollywood Renaissance
3.2 Authorship and industrial success




In film studies, the term New Hollywood is used in non-conclusive and heterogeneous ways. The discourse does not make explicit what the real New was. However, there appears to be a general consensus as to the actual time frame in which a bigger change happened in Holly- wood that stirred up the system - starting in 1967. Scholars have been trying to explain the proclaimed change of the Classical Hollywood Cinema from different perspectives, which, depending on author and release date, point out economical, production-related, societal, or creative-aesthetic revolutions as responsible factors. The question prevails: What exactly is New Hollywood ?

Coming from the film critic’s angle towards New Hollywood, the most important fac- tor in the process was the development and success of the American auteur. The auteur theo- ry has been appointed as such by film critic Andrew Sarris, who based his assumptions main- ly on the theoretical conclusions drawn by the writers of the French Cahiers du Cinema. Par- ticularly of interest were the writings of Francois Truffaut and Andre Bazin. Taking the au- teur approach to explain aspects of the New Hollywood, some scholars pinpoint the era down to the years of 1967-1976 - sometimes referred to as Hollywood Renaissance. This national cinematography is hardly discussed consensually within its own historiographical discourse or the boundaries of text analysis. I want to specifically trace the role of the idea of an auteur cinema within the Hollywood industry during this change, and thereby further disentangle the complex relationship of commerce and authorship.

My first chapter will therefore be employed with the theoretical background and the discourse around authorship in general, film in particular. Eventually this will lead to a clear idea about the specifics and limitations of the auteur theory discourse. The second chapter will then be occupied with the historical change of the Hollywood system in the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century, and will aim to define the contributing factors for this change within and outside the industry. In terms of terminology, a historiographical approach will determine the rather different meanings of New Hollywood and Hollywood Renaissance. Chapter three will tie up the loose ends of both previous chapters, striving to identify what kind of influence on film production the auteurs of New Hollywood had in terms of the rein- vigorated success of the American film industry or if they were auteurs at all for that matter. What room is there in a system which is based on its own myths of star power etc. for the se- rious artistic vision of the individual, or can the auteur theory actually exist in the Hollywood environment?

1. The concept of authorship and the auteur theory

The relationship between authorship and text occupied scholars well throughout the last century until today. The most immanent connection in this regard was coming from the literary text and the different philologies. Study questions from a broad bandwidth of fields such as ‘What is authorship?’, ‘What is an author?’, and ‘What is a text?’ provided the ground for an academic debate about consensual application of those terms in question in regard to the meaning and relevance of written works.

This first chapter is divided into three parts. Firstly I want to lay out the historical discourse of authorship in texts and show certain perspectives on the issue that emerged over time. This is necessary in providing the context for the second part, which concerns itself with the reading of authorship in film and will clarify some important terminology like author, text, reader, intention, meaning, and relevance among others. The young field of film studies borrowed heavily from literature to create its own medium-specific ideas about authorship, which despite the debate about film as art in the early twentieth century, found several definitions of the author in regard to film. The last part will then zero in on the so-called auteur theory, which is heavily contested up until today but provides a framework on which this thesis intends to assess the existence and success of “New Hollywood”.

1.1 The discourse of authorship in texts

Authorship in varying degrees can be found in the author, the text itself, and/or its reception by audience and/or critics. The concept of authorship of artistic work emerged in near unison with the age of enlightenment. The Kantian “emancipation of human consciousness”1 shaped the individuality of the author as the single responsible, creative force behind a piece of art away from pure imitation of life. John Caughie describes the shift towards this romantic ideal of the author as such:

Through most of the eighteenth century, the poet's invention and imagination were made thoroughly dependent for their materials - their ideas and ‘images’ - on the ex- ternal universe and the literary models the poet had to imitate; while the persistent stress laid on his need for judgment and art - the mental surrogates, in effect, of the requirements of a cultivated audience - held the poet strictly responsible to the audi- ence for whose pleasure he exerted his creative ability. Gradually, however, the stress was shifted more and more to the poet's natural genius, creative imagination, and emo- tional spontaneity, at the expense of the opposing attributes of judgment, learning, and artful restraints. As a result the audience gradually receded into the background, giving place to the poet himself, and his own mental powers and emotional needs, as the predominant cause and even the end and test of art.2

The author - hitherto the poet - made his entry as a figure that was invariably intertwined with his work of art, and therefore subject of interest to critics and audience alike.3 As Caughie and Jannidis et al. point out4, three positions of reading the romantic and empirical author in relation to its work developed during the 19th and early 20th century: bio-graphical, hermeneutical, and psychoanalytical. The three differ mainly by the varying de-grees of biographical data put to use.5 Biographism 6 is derived from the interpreted relation of life and work of an author. A close analysis of the factual biographical data available offers insight into the meaning of the text. Few authors actually used this form of critical reception to build a quasi-mystical aura in their self-designed vitae, which renders this approach even more problematic.

Central to the hermeneutical position mediating between life and work of the author were the terms of the author’s ‘experience’, coined by Wilhelm Dilthey, which establishes the author’s relation to reality, and ‘auctorial intention’, which describes the intention of the em- piric author immanent in the text as the source for meaning to be reconstructed. The intention may be conscious or unconscious. The ultimate goal of this position is “to understand the au- thor better than he understood himself” which - as Jannidis et al. conclude7 - implies a sur- plus of meaning compared with the empirical author’s intention, and therefore opens the posi- tion up to subjective interpretation.

Finally, the psychoanalytical approach fostered by Freud searches for traces of the “unconscious” author as well as “unconscious” motifs in the text. These early positions on the empirical author have been challenged and negotiated through anti-psychological and structuralist views. Anti-psychological critique brought forth by Roman Ingarden and Edmund Husserl came more from an angle of the communication studies, ‘intention’ in this context being something that is always essential to communicate at all. Given that pretext it is not necessary to explore the psyche of the author in question to understand the text. Their modified hermeneutical approach searches for information on typi- cal historical language use in the work of an author, which necessarily includes the language use of the author himself. This approach bears fruit in Eric D. Hirsch’s explanation of the ob- jective interpretation. Hirsch grants the empirical author the construction of intentional as well as unconscious meaning, but relativizes this to be only a fraction of what a text can feasibly transport. He therefore differentiates into an inner and outer horizon of textual meaning.

The horizon which grounds and sanctions inferences about textual meaning is the in- ner horizon of the text. It is permanent and self-identical. But beyond this inner hori- zon any meaning has an outer horizon; that is to say, any meaning has relationships to other meanings; it is always a component in larger realms. This outer horizon is the domain of criticism. But this outer horizon is not only unlimited, it is also changing since the world itself changes.8

Hirsch’s idea of the critic runs contrary to the interpreter. The critic as opposed to the interpreter looks at a text with interest to external meaning produced, and furthermore solely from the point of view of the critic himself. The horizon as a compound of meaning describes the entirety of possible meanings originating with the author (inner horizon) or the sum of meanings that can be drawn by a comparison of the work with any other context (outer hori- zon). The structuralist approach also relativizes the empirical author in regard to the mean- ing of his work in an attempt to more precisely render the concept of authorship. While reduc- ing the importance of intention, literary structuralists still gave the empirical author credit for providing a historical context and for the work itself but not as the ultimate solution for deci- pherment of the text. For that reason, the use of biographical data - if existent - opens the door to a text but does not provide information directly pertaining to its meaning. Other theo- retical schools that use selective biographical data about the author are feminism and intercul- tural literary science.

The diversity of approaches towards the quest for authorship in texts did not stop after applying the author as the most important variable of the text. As Jannidis et al. point out9, other scholars centered their interpretative ideas around the text itself. Beardsley and Wimsatt departed from the valid question of why an interpreter should have to find out what the author wanted to express in the first place.10 Their 1954 essay on “The Intentional Fallacy” denies the necessity to explore the author’s intention, basically stating that if the intention does not speak out of the work it has no saying in the actual meaning of said work. Jannidis et al.


Mit der Veröffentlichung seines Werkes verliert der Autor sein besonderes Verhältnis zu ihm, es wird zum Besitztum aller. Damit ist auch schon deutlich, dass von dem möglichen Datenmaterial, das ein Interpret zur Deutung eines literarischen Textes her- anziehen kann, die Informationen vom und zum Autor keinen privilegierten Status ha- ben können. Wenn es einem Autor gelingt, seinen Plan umzusetzen, dann ist seine In- tention gewissermaßen mit der Textgestalt identisch; gelingt es ihm nicht, dann muss der Literaturwissenschaftler textexternes Material zu Hilfe nehmen, um Aufschluss über seine Intention zu bekommen - und verfehlt mit dieser Operation das literarische Werk.11

Wimsatt and Beardsley constructed their own notion of literature in which the subjec- tive expression of the author’s personality as the basis for interpretive actions had to make room for the work itself as autonomous aesthetic entity. Consequently intention is marginal- ized to a point where it is left with no evidentiary value. Yet another differentiation has to be made that pushes the author as subject in the text out of the picture. Fictional texts always show different layers of authorship with the first-person narrator, the narrator and the empiri- cal author. These three are intertwined in a way that is almost impossible for the interpreter to grasp. Conclusions drawn from psychological or biographical pretext may or may not be true to intention and actual meaning of the text, and are hence untenable. It is the text itself, with criteria like coherence and narrative economy, which provides demonstrable information to rely on. Examining this fragmented idea of the author in the text, Wayne C. Booth coined the term implied author to re-establish the author as point of reference for a text-centered theory of interpretation.12 The implied author is the picture of the real author imprinted into the text: “The ‘implied author’ chooses, consciously or unconsciously, what we read; we infer him as an ideal, created version of the real man; he is the sum of his own choices.”13

Ultimately, a third position took shape, placing the reader in the forefront of aesthet- ical judgment and interpretation. Barthes and Foucault have been situated as the quintessential protagonists of this model, evolving from post-structuralism to post-modernism14. Barthes writes: “We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ mean- ing (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.”15 This statement negates the genius of auc- torial individuality and binds the literary interpretation and the cultural historic discourse within and around a text together through the aesthetic reception of the reader in his own his- torical temporal and spatial setting, leading to the proclaimed “Death of the Author”. Barthes summarizes:

Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author (or its hypostases: society, history, psyche, liberty) beneath the work: when the Author has been found, the text is ‘ex- plained’ - victory to the critic. Hence there is no surprise in the fact that, historically, the reign of the Author has also been that of the Critic, nor again in the fact that criti- cism (be it new) is today undermined along with the Author. In the multiplicity of writing, everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered […].16

Later, I will revisit the point where Barthes binds the critic’s fate to the author, since it appears questionable if there is not a different sort of critic today who impersonates a more ideal reader and therefore plays exactly into the hand of Barthes’ argument.

Michel Foucault added another notion in what he called the ”author function”. According to his theory as outlined in the 1969 essay “What is an author?”, text is always part of one if not several discourses as well as being a discourse itself. The author function influences all these discourses due to the fact that all subjects including the author are the product of a sum of societal discourses, which in return makes all actions by such subjects discursive actions; not independent, creative, original, etc. The reader constructs the author from within the text. Foucault’s remarks considerably influenced academic discourse on the subject and today his ideas on authorship stand at the center of it.

1.2. Authorship in film

Text is not just a literary unit. It is critical consensus that films - as with the other arts - may be analyzed as a text, which in return opens up all art forms to the discourse of authorship as it has been established for literature. In fact, drawing on already established theoretical con- structions of authorship allowed early film scholars to bring their own arguments to the table. Distant from the stereotypical division into ‘art cinema’ and ‘commercial cinema’, the quest was for a universally applicable theory towards authorship in film. Foremost, the discrepan- cies between film and literature in terms of the medium itself - written words vs. consecutive- ly projected photographic images combined with sound - and the historical change in percep- tion and reception as laid out by Walter Benjamin in the 1930s had to be taken into account.

So where do we find the author in film? The collaborative effort of film production renders the answer to this question significantly more complicated than for any other art form. Most influential during the second half of the twentieth century was the auteur theory which I will discuss in more detail in the next chapter. But alongside the director as creative auctorial force behind a film, other versions of authorship, partly analogous to the literature discourse from formalism to post-structuralism, from film studies to cultural studies arose, “Film […] was probably the first of the mass communication forms to achieve respectability among crit- ics of mass culture by establishing its validity as a textual system and as an aesthetic object - in spite, and in full understanding, of its industrial conditions of production.”17 Screenwriters, producers, cinematographers, composers, editors etc. all have their share in the authorship but ultimately it boils down to the director as the connecting force behind all these courses of ac- tion during the production of a film. Other factors that may be held responsible for auctorial meaning - intentional or not - are the studio environment, general societal discourse on gen- der roles, ethnology, etc, or the biographical background of the individuals involved (i.e. fa- mous actors).

In order to avoid redundancy I will only try to point out positions which differ from the ones already introduced in the previous chapter. Challenging the auteur theory were other structuralist methods of categorization of films or criteria of cinematic evaluation - foremost genre and narrative. Both concepts have been addressed by scholars in detail18 and share some common ground with “the author” as an ordering model to which I will return throughout this thesis.

A distinctive role that appears to me still not positively defined is the role of the critic. The critic finds himself in the lost space between auctorial agent, textual historian, and ideal reader.19 As the auctorial agent he publicly announces or denounces an individual’s artistry while using his abilities as ideal reader to extract meaning from the historical text. This being a sheer impossible endeavor renders the figure of the critic and its elevated position in film history a paradox. However, of certain interest in this regard is the highly complex relation- ship of author-text-reader, whose scholarly discourse differs from that in literature due to film’s appeal to mass audiences.20 The low-brow, pop-culture factor alters the apprehension of readership / audience to a degree that traditional bourgeois models fail to include and re- ception studies as new field of interest can provide valuable insights. Especially pressing is the question of where meaning is produced. Janet Staiger’s “Interpreting Films” gives a good overview on concepts of readership that developed out of the authorship discourse. However, for this thesis I will concentrate on the influential auteur theory which is foremost concerned with the author figure, bringing in the reader only as one side of the critic.

1.3. Auteur theory

Auteur theory was derived from the influential essay by Francois Truffaut in Cahiers du Cin è ma “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema”21 in 1954. Truffaut coined the term “Tradition de la Qualité” for French films hitherto interesting to contemporary critics and ci- nephiles because of their literary predecessor texts. Realist literary adaptations, that is, were looked upon as superior to original film scripts and their artistic importance in the eyes of the critic resulted from the fidelity of the authors towards the spirit of the literary text while in- venting new dialogue and scenery for non-filmable parts of a novel. Truffaut takes a clear stance against such practice of applying the central role in filmmaking to the writer, and refers to the unique abilities of cinema as medium and art form, evident in the films of the French Nouvelle Vague. As Caughie summarizes:

In opposition to this, Truffaut proposed the cin é ma d'auteurs, in which the creative role was given to the director as auteur, whose commitment to the film was something more than an implementation of someone else's creation. The appeal was for more than a shift in creative responsibility; in asking that cinema be given over to the true hommes de cin é ma, Truffaut was rejecting a novelistic, psychologically realistic cine- ma (however socially conscious it might be) and appealing for a cinema that was truly cinematic.22

Truffaut introduced the auteur as opposed to a metteur-en-sc è ne, a mere technically competent decorator of pictures in the faith of the literary master. However, his proclaimed “politique des auteurs” called for a rigorous change of course for the evaluation of films and took the American mainstream cinema, respectively Hollywood films for example. Truffaut’s colleague André Bazin elaborated on the cin é ma d ’ auteur in a way that also showed the pos- sible fallacies of such an approach. As early as 1958, he indicated the peril of a “cult of per- sonality” clouding the critic’s judgment by application of the romantic film auteur. The French debate over auteurism being little more than a polemic opposition as well as proposi- tion to critical practice, it was Andrew Sarris23 who lifted the ideas of Cahiers into the rank of a theory. In his widely quoted essay in Film Culture from 1962, he states: “Henceforth, I will abbreviate ‘ la politique des auteurs ’ as the auteur theory to avoid confusion.”24 But, as Buscombe points out:

Confusion was exactly what followed as the newly christened ‘theory’ was regarded by many of its supporters and opponents alike as a total explanation of the cinema. Not only was the original politique of Cahiers somewhat less than a theory; it was itself only loosely based upon a theoretical approach to the cinema which was never to be made fully explicit. The politique, as the choice of term indicates, was polemical in in- tent and was meant to define an attitude to the cinema and a course of action.25

While Truffaut, Bazin, and Rohmer saw their own development towards the maturing art form of cinema as a work in progress and anti-dogmatic, Sarris made it clear that he would foster the approach as theoretical means to grasp the authorial greatness of the individual in respect to the superiority of American cinema:

“[…] the American cinema has been superior to that of the rest of the world from 1915 through 1962. Consequently, I now regard the auteur theory primarily as a critical de- vice for recording the history of the American cinema, the only cinema in the world worth exploring in depth beneath the frosting of a few great directors at the top.”26

Sarris structured the practical application with three steps, respectively criteria of value for evaluation. Firstly, any director should have a befitting technical skill set in his profession.


1 Elaborated on in Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay Was ist Aufkl ä rung?

2 Caughie, John. Theories of authorship: A reader. London ;, Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul in association with the British Film Institute, 1981, 17-18

3 Cf. Tomasevskij, Boris „Literatur und Biographie“, in Jannidis, Fotis. R ü ckkehr des Autors: Zur Erneuerung eines umstrittenen Begriffs. Tübingen: M. Niemeyer, 1999, 51.

4 Caughie, 19, Jannidis et al., 11.

5 Jannidis et al., 11.

6 Literal translation of the German word „Biografismus“.

7 Cf. Jannidis et al., 12.

8 Hirsch, E. D. “Objective Interpretation.” PMLA 75, no. 4 (1960), 470.

9 Jannidis et al., 16.

10 Ibid., 84.

11 Jannidis et al., 81.

12 Cf. Booth, Wayne C. The rhetoric of fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, 73.

13 Booth, 74.

14 I am using post-modern here in the aesthetic sense described in the Oxford Guide to Cinema.

15 Barthes, Roland quoted in Caughie, 211.

16 Barthes, Roland quoted in Caughie, 212.

17 Hill, John, and Pamela C. Gibson. The Oxford guide to film studies. Oxford ;, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, 196.

18 Cf. for example Altman, Rick. Film/Genre. London: British Film Inst., 2003, and Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The classical Hollywood cinema: Film style and mode of production to 1960. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985.

19 The ideal reader would be a reader who is in possession of the ideal amount of knowledge and skill to interpret a specific text.

20 Here, I refer to the cinema of the Hollywood studio system. Certainly a cinema exists that does not aim at mass audiences but this is not of concern for this thesis.

21 I use the English translation of his 1954 essay from Cahiers du Cin é ma, the original title being “Une certaine tendance du cinéma francais”, published in Truffaut, Francois. “A certain tendency of the French cinema.” Cahiers du Cin é ma in English (1966): 30-41.

22 Caughie, 35.

23 Andrew Sarris was a prominent film critic and journalist writing for Film Culture and Film Quarterly at the time.

24 Sarris, Andrew. “Notes on the Auteur Theory.” Film Culture, no. 27 (1962): 1-8.

25 Buscombe, Edward in Caughie, 22.

26 Sarris, Andrew in Simpson, Philip. Film theory: Critical concepts in media and cultural studies. 1. publ. 4 vols. 2. New York: Routledge, 2004, 29.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
575 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Free University of Berlin – John-F.-Kennedy-Institut
New Hollywood Hollywood Coppola Scorsese Spielberg Lucas movie brats film school generation schatz authorship author barthes foucault sarris nouvelle vague truffaut cahiers du cinema autorenkino autor hollywood renaissance



Title: The Role of Authorship during the Shift towards a New Hollywood