Volume 16, Issue 6 / June 2012

Issues of Authorship

In this special theme issue Offscreen focuses on the many-sided aspects of auteurism and issues surrounding notions of authorship. In various contexts, authorship over a single or extended body of work has been argued for across practically every creative position: the director (most commonly), the producer (i.e. Val Lewton or Irving Thalberg), the screenwriter (Herman J. Mankiewicz and Citizen Kane), cinematographer (Gregg Toland and Citizen Kane), or actor. Actor and director are featured in this issue. Kyle Barrowman tackles the thorny theoretical debate of authorship employing Hong Kong mega-action star Bruce Lee in an effort to bring the study of film, at least where Lee is concerned, back to the text. In part 1 Barrowman charts the critical neglect of auteurism and formal analysis in lieu of social and cultural led film studies where the text is studied only as it reflects broader social, ideological or cultural issues (what Kyle describes at the start of Part 2 as “the colonization of Lee by the cultural studies institution”). How the film makes meaning, through the formal, stylistic, and industrial contexts is not important. Barrowman hones in on an area that is more commonly productive as a subject for auteurist analysis, cinema beyond big studio (i.e. Hollywood) or in some cases, the star-auteur (‘starteur”). Even current studies on Lee do not give any weight to Lee as an artist. In order to properly begin to understand Bruce Lee as either film artist or cultural object, you must start with the Hong Kong film industry of the 1960s. Which is where Barrowman begins in the final quarter of part 1 of the essay. In Part 2 Barrowman raises another negative pattern in the analysis of Lee’s films (and all martial arts films as a rule): the focus entirely on fight scenes at the expense of other dramatic and narrative moments. Up next is Elaine Lennon’s meticulously researched essay on Garbo and her MGM career. In the fourth essay Leon Saunders provides a neat and tidy working definition of what an auteur is before moving on to argue for the importance of Michael Mann, who Saunders compares to Kubrick because both directors deal with the tensions between individual self-fulfillment and societal responsibility and pressure. Concluding the issue is my own book review essay of David Church edited collection of essays on the iconoclast auteur Guy Maddin, Playing With Memories: Essays on Guy Maddin, 2009. (Donato Totaro, ed.)

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