The liberation of France also saw the rise of a the cinephile movement - this was a generation of people who had grown up with film and had access to a huge library of French and American films available at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris.
Their forum would be The Cahiers du Cinema - the Cinema Notebooks - a magazine started by Andre Bazin and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze with a group of young writers including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer.
One of the central principles of Cahiers, derived from Andre Bazin, is a rejection of montage editing in favor of mise-en-scene - the long take and deep focus - allowing the audience to take in the scene as it unfolds.
The other principle, derived from film critic Alexandre Astruc’s, is the concept of camera-stylo- an idea that a director should wield his camera like a writer uses his pen and that he need not be hindered by traditional storytelling.
Combining these two ideas in an essay in 1954: la politiques des auteurs, Truffaut attacked the French “Cinema of Quality” with their heavy emphasis on plot and dialogue. These contemporary French directors, he claimed, added nothing to the script beyond pretty pictures they were Metteur en scène - stage setters not true cinematic auteurs like Jean Renoir and Hollywood filmmakers like Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks - directors who managed to imprint a personal style into their work. It also happened that these auteur directors were very established masters of mise-en-scene.
To Truffaut, there could be no peaceful co-existence between the “Tradition of Quality” and the “Cinema d’auteurs” - even the best film of the old guard would be less interesting than the worst film of a true auteur of cinema
In his subsequent writings Truffaut would continue to attack established French commercial cinema as lacking ambition and imagination and preventing young men from making films without long drawn out apprenticeships. Kinda sounds familiar…
The were certainly economic barriers in place. In the early 50s, Government money was only available to filmmakers with established track records but by the end of the decade, laws would change to provide funding based on the quality of the submitted script regardless of track record.
By the time Truffaut made it big internationally with his 1959 film Les Quatre Cents Coups (400 Blows) which turned a $75,000 budget into a $500,000 American distribution rights deal, more private money found its way into independent French Production - establishing the financial groundwork for the New Wave that put many Cahiers film critics in the directors’ chair.
Ultimately Truffaut’s call for the Cinema d’auteurs may not have been a universal plea for cinema - but a manifesto for against the French commercial films that would ultimately lead to the French New Wave. But film critics across the Atlantic Ocean would take Truffaut’s idea and run with it.
Auteur Theory is Born in America
Mid century American filmmakers didn’t exactly receive the concept of Cinema d’auteur well. Unlike French cinema which had always been small artisan like productions, Hollywood and the studio system was an assembly line with films produced on a large scale collaborative effort.
But one film critic would really bring Auteurism into the American public eye - Andrew Sarris.
Sarris, writing for Film Culture, created the term Auteur Theory in his landmark essay “Notes on The Auteur Theory in 1962”
Heavily influenced by Andre Bazin and Caheirs du Cinema, Sarris puts forth Auteur Theory as a way to judge films by way of their director. In the essay he outlines three premises as a series of concentric circles for determining whether a director is an auteur or not.
The first premise of auteur theory is the technical competence of a director as a criterion of value - that is a great director must be at least a good director - at least holding elementary skills in craft and technique.
Moving inward the second premise is a director must have a distinguishable personality that can be seen over and over again in his body of work.
Lastly- an auteur imbues his films with an interior meaning - which is extrapolated from the tension between between the director’s personality and the material he has to work with.
At the time 1962, Sarris listed Ophuls, Renoir, Mizoguchi, Hitchcock, Chaplin, Ford, Welles, Dreyer, Rosellni, Murnau, Griffith, Sternberg, Eisenstein, von Stroheim, Bunuel, Bresson, Hawks, Lang, Flaherty, and Vigo as true auteurs of cinema - masters of film who’s body of work must be studied to appreciate their career spanning genius.
Although much further would be written about auteur theory by film theorists and historians, there would be a popular backlash from another famous American film critic: Pauline Kael