In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Auteurism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Special Journal Issues
  • Historical Foundations
  • Authorship in Theory
  • Theories of Film Auteurism
  • Auteurism and Politics
  • Auteurism and Feminism
  • Auteurism and Gay and Lesbian Sexuality
  • Adaptation and Authorship
  • Race and Auteurism
  • Transnational Auteurs
  • Stars, Screenwriters, Producers, and Collaborators
  • Contemporary Debates
  • Auteurist Case Studies

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Cinema and Media Studies Auteurism
Eleni Palis, Timothy Corrigan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0009


Auteurism has arguably been at the center of film practice, theory, and historiography since the 1950s. Originating in the films and writings of the French New Wave, and specifically in the film criticism of the Cahiers du Cinéma during the 1950s, auteurist criticism usually located the creative center of a film in the controlling perspective of the film’s director, thus shifting attention away from the studio system that defined filmmaking before 1945. As auteurism evolved through the 1960s and 1970s (and began to include other individual forces behind a film, such as stars and screenwriters), it focused on more theoretical and formal questions about personal expression in the cinema, issues about who in fact “authors” a film or, more broadly, about the primary “agency” for meaning in the movies. Film authorship has shaped our understanding of many film cultures around the world and across different media beyond the cinema, as models of auteurism have evolved from France to the United States and through national cinemas from China and India to Iran and Denmark. What auteurism means in theory and in practice has changed significantly due to the pressures of post-structuralist theory, feminist interventions, cultural and racial distinctions, globalization, and the challenges of new media, but it remains a central topic for debate in film and media studies.

General Overviews

Virtually any film textbook will feature some introductory discussion of auteurism. The sources cited here provide different introductions to its theoretical background (Caughie 1981; Clayton and Curling 1979; Cook, et al. 1999), history (Hillier 1985), and critical evolution (Wexman 2003, Stam 2000). Gerstner 2003 and Staiger 2003 address the contemporary status of auteurism, while Silver 2016 catalogues auteurism through exhibition practice.

  • Caughie, John. “Introduction.” In Theories of Authorship. Edited by John Caughie, 9–16. London: Routledge, 1981.

    A short but precise introduction to film authorship that locates it within its Romantic literary heritage and the emergence of the French New Wave, insisting that it be seen as a critical rather than theoretical model.

  • Clayton, Sue, and Jonathan Curling. “On Authorship.” Screen 20.1 (Spring 1979): 35–61.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/20.1.35

    Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault in particular, this sometimes demanding essay summarizes much of the theoretical work on auteurism in the 1970s and usefully applies it to independent filmmaking and issues of copyright law.

  • Cook, Pam, Noel King, and Toby Miller. “Authorship and Cinema.” In The Cinema Book. 2d ed. Edited by Pam Cook and Mieke Bernink, 235–318. London: British Film Institute, 1999.

    An extensive discussion of auteurism, covering important historical moments and theoretical debates and featuring discussions of major film auteurs, with a special emphasis on British auteurs.

  • Gerstner, David A. “The Practices of Authorship.” In Authorship and Film. Edited by David A. Gerstner and Janet Staiger, 3–26. New York: Routledge, 2003.

    A companion piece to Staiger 2003, in the same volume, Gerstner’s essay follows the largely theoretical paths through which authorship and auteurism have evolved, from Walter Benjamin through classic auteur theory and recent investigations in queer theory. A difficult but illuminating discussion of how the auteur may intervene in dominant institutional practices.

  • Hillier, Jim. “Introduction.” In Cahier du Cinéma. Vol. 1, The 1950s: Neo-realism, Hollywood, New Wave. Edited by Jim Hillier, 1–17. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

    As an introduction to a multivolume collection of the writings of the critics and filmmakers of the French New Wave, Hillier’s essay lays the historical and cultural groundwork for the movement that gave birth to auteurism.

  • Silver, Charles. An Auteurist History of Film. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2016.

    This anthology of essays originally accompanied a five-year film series, curated by Silver, under the eponymous heading of the Museum of Modern Art. Heavily influenced by Andrew Sarris, Silver here provides an introduction to auteurism that, though nonacademic in tone, provides a fluid spectatorial sense of auteurism in action, from silent cinema through the 1980s.

  • Staiger, Janet. “Authorship Approaches.” In Authorship and Film. Edited by David A. Gerstner and Janet Staiger, 27–60. New York: Routledge, 2003.

    Staiger’s polemic preface pursues the fundamental claim that auteurism does indeed matter as much as ever; she supports this claim through different critical perspectives that have characterized or formulated the auteur as an “origin,” “personality,” “sociology of production,” “signature,” “reading strategy,” and, most recently, “techniques of self,” which allow for the foregrounding of minority expression.

  • Stam, Robert. “The Cult of the Auteur.” In Film Theory: An Introduction. By Robert Stam, 83–88. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000.

    Along with the following chapter (“The Americanization of Auteur Theory,” pp. 89–92), these pages on auteur theory survey many familiar issues about auteurism but make useful connections between auteurism and existentialism; Stam also rightly points out the importance of auteurism in the United States as a way of adding prestige Hollywood films to, and providing entryways in, the English departments of US colleges and universities.

  • Wexman, Virginia Wright. “Introduction.” In Film and Authorship. Edited by Virginia Wright Wexman, 1–20. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

    Like other introductions, Wexman’s piece provides a succinct historical survey, concluding with glosses of the essays that appear in the volume; her introduction is especially attentive to the way recent scholarship has refined more traditional approaches with a nuanced awareness of cultural forces, such as copyright laws and politics of gender.

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