Film Genre and Auteur Theory

Updated: Nov 8, 2019


Denise Jans (@dmjdenise) via Unsplash

Since the beginning of the film industry, something that has always been apparent to the filmmakers and the viewers is – what is the genre and how can we distinguish it?


At the end of the silent era of film, many of the original genres that we use and love today were established. Some of those are melodrama, westerns, horror, comedies, and action-adventure films (Dirks, n.d.).


However, as time progressed and film developed, films started to not fulfill the full criteria of one, specific genre. This ideology birthed the concept of auteur films. Filmmakers began to realize and develop a “new wave” of screenplay by realizing and understanding the fact that the directors were more of the author of the film rather than the actual writer because of all the audio and visual elements of the film. With this being said, these two concepts have coincided with each other for centuries and there still lies uncertainty with if they can serve each other equally or should remain separate.


Genre, defined by Richard Dirks is, “…various forms or identifiable types, categories, classifications or groups of films.” Some genre examples would be melodrama, westerns, horror, comedies, action-adventure, crime and gangster, musicals, and war films.


Some sub-genres that have been developed would be: ‘chick’ flicks, courtroom dramas, detective/mystery, fantasy, film noir, romance, sports, and the list goes on and on.


Why are there genres to begin with? Why is it okay to categorize a film based off of elements to throw into a classification? Who decided that aliens in a film meant that the genre would be fantasy? Or when guns are involved it is suddenly an action film?


These are easy questions to ponder, but when it comes to genre films, there are often strict guidelines and norms to follow that determines what makes a genre film.


Particular features make a genre film a genre film, including a stereotypical setting and time period – for example, if it was a horror film, unexplainable things would happen like the ditsy girl running from a monster in high heels and they coincidentally break as she is running. Then, the reoccurrence of stock characters, like the ugly guy gets the hot girl or the incredibly sexy hitman. Lastly, the use of expected content. For instance, in romance films it shows the brief stages of falling in love, following the breakup, then they get back together, forbidden love, and fairytales.


A few other more minor features would be things like filming techniques or setting the mood with cliché music. All of these factors make the “ideal” screenplay that would fall right into a preexisting genre.


On the other hand, there is auteur. Auteur is defined as, “a filmmaker whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp,” (Unabridged Dictinonary, 2019). With the auteur theory, the directors (and sometimes producers) play a vital role in this concept. This theory only applies to certain directors.


In France during the 1940s, auteur was born. It was a foundation of the new wave of filmmaking. This category was a perfect fit for those who felt that they did not want to abide by the guidelines laid out for typical genre films.


Auteurism argues that the director of a film is more of the author than the actual writer because they are in charge of all audio and visual aspects of a film. Meaning that “…such fundamental visual elements as camera placement, blocking, lighting, and scene length, rather than a plotline, convey the message of the film.


Supporters of the auteur theory further contend that the most cinematically successful films will bear the unmistakable personal stamp of the director,” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017). Auteur films often are preferred over genre films because viewers (and critics) can see the artistic value in the piece. Auteur gives viewers distinctive and purposeful reoccurring themes and styles that allow viewers to distinguish who created the film. It adds a necessary element of artistic form. An advantage of auteur films would be the amount of expressive creativity that can be shown through these films.


For example, Quentin Tarantino demonstrates and embodies the concept of auteur perfectly. Not only does he reintroduce actors and demonstrate a unique cinematographic format to his films, but he also incorporates all nine of his films within the same universe.


Each film is connected with each other in some way. He incorporates various Easter eggs throughout his films, one of the most apparent ones would be the “Red Apple cigarettes”, a brand that does not actually exist. Tarantino has yet to tell the public what they symbolize - if it symbolizes anything at all. Since it is an artistic element, it does not have to be explained if they do not wish to share.


Auteur films would be primarily that they help gain symbolic insight from films, can help us understand a deeper meaning, and underlying tones and messages. A lot of auteur films leave us feeling as if we learned something, and not just wasting time predicting a film.


All in all, film genre and auteur are two completely different ideologies that should both be acknowledged and celebrated. It is crucial to understand that the film industry is full of very different filmmaking concepts. But if the industry can start to realize that they can venture into new heights by stepping out of the comfort zone of sticking to a genre, then filmmaking could develop a new wave of cinema.

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