Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1990 Raphael

Lynchian. Kubrickian. Felliniesque. A directorial adjective can have strong, transportable power, even if its exact meaning may rely more on general impressions and evocations of inspiration than a concrete set of rules. Many of these terms, however, gain currency well after a director has established a set style, producing a moniker that results as a sort of shorthand for auteurism: a term pregnant with assumed meaning to describe an implied close familiarity with the themes, styles and obsessions that codify a filmmaker’s body of work. “Lynchian” was arguably solidified as popular parlance with David Foster Wallace’s 1996 essay from a visit to the set of Lost Highway, a work of writing that tied together both Lynch’s idiosyncratic film style and his esoteric personality as a person. And that’s the essential formula for the directorial adjective: unlike the auteur theory, which provides insights into the person but takes an analysis of the films themselves as a primary concern, the directorial adjective suggests a fluid coherence between the defining aspects of films and the outsized personality of their maker. To be Kubrickian is to be an obsessive perfectionist of form. To be Hitchcockian is to possess a sadistic sense of humor imbued through the events of the thriller, a personality that regularly makes murder into a game. You don’t know it when you see it with the directorial adjective, you know it when you feel it, when you sense the currents of that personality speak through choices of style and narrative. There […]


Husbands Movie

This moment has proven opportune for a reflection of what the auteur theory means and has meant for film criticism. La politiques des auteurs, which originated in Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1950s and traveled, distilled but ready, to 1960s popular American film criticism, has irrevocably shaped how we’ve thought about and assessed movies to the point that it’s impossible to talk about cinema outside the claims of auteurism. Not only did the work of André Bazin, Andrew Sarris and their contemporaries, combatants, and students allow for the serious study of film as an art form, but auteurism’s legacy has even entered the film industry itself (film authors are now brands to be advertised) and solidified conventional readings of film history as the story of talented, uncompromising visionaries behind the camera (collect them all!). As Kent Jones’s excellent Film Comment essay points out, our means of loving the cinema owes a great deal to auteurism’s transformative power, particularly its now-common sense claim that “movies are primarily the creation of one governing author behind the camera who thinks in images and sounds rather than words and sentences.” Yet we must also recognize auteurism’s structuring power – its ability to create a framework of recognized artists through which it becomes impossible to see filmmaking, film history, and film themselves otherwise. It is nothing new to challenge the assumptions and associations of auteurism (or whatever fragmented versions of its politic – not theory – we’ve inherited), but it has proven incredibly difficult to ascertain what could […]



I’m not entirely certain, but I think I’m late to the conversation about “vulgar auteurism.” While I’m sure I’ve heard the hundred-dollar phrase at some point before, it wasn’t until this weekend that my Twitter feed became overloaded with musings about it (and the inevitable punnery – i.e., “vulgar aneurism”). As far as I can see, more has been written in an attempt to either define or dismiss the phrase (or both) than actually practice it. After reading some pro and con pieces about attempts to assess supposedly “disreputable” films by the likes of Justin Lin, Paul W.S. Anderson, and Neveldine/Taylor, I found myself at a crossroads. I’m not convinced that the term has much (if anything) valuable to offer serious criticism, or constitutes a significant intervention within good ol’ auteurist readings. At the same time, I can’t align myself with its critics, notably their implicit or explicit dismissals of the possibility that Hollywood’s postmodern modes of address have anything to offer serious assessments of film as an art form. Thus, in lieu of taking a side in the admittedly insular “debate” about “vulgar auteurism” (think of it as the revenge of “cultural vegetables”), that this debate is happening at all evidences several important points about both the state of mainstream cinema and the role of the discerning critic within it.


Culture Warrior

Warning: This post contains spoilers about J. Edgar. For the past few years, I haven’t been much of a fan of Clint Eastwood’s work. While he no doubt possesses storytelling skills as a director and certainly maintains an incredible presence as a movie star, I’ve found that critics who constantly praise his work often overlook its general lack of finesse, tired and sometimes visionless formal approach, and habitual ham-fistedness. When watching Eastwood’s work, I get the impression, supported by stories of his uniquely economic method of filmmaking, that he thinks of himself as something of a Woody Allen for the prestige studio drama, able to get difficult stories right in one take. The end product, for me, says otherwise. While I was a fan of the strong but still imperfect Mystic River (2003) and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006), the moment that I stopped trusting Eastwood came around the time the song “Colorblind” appeared in Invictus two years ago, throwing any prospect of nuance and panache out the window. Eastwood, despite having helmed several notable cinematic successes, has recently been coasting on a reputation that doesn’t match the work. He is, in short, proof of the auteur problem: that we as critics forgive from him transgressions that would never be deemed acceptable with a “lesser” director. As you can likely tell, my expectations were to the ground in seeking out the critically-divided J. Edgar. I was prepared, in entering the theater to watch Eastwood’s newest, to write an article about […]

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published: 01.29.2015
published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.28.2015

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