The Birth of the Auteur: The Counterculture, Individualism, and Hollywood Cinema, 1967-1975
This dissertation calls on the filmmaking and film criticism discourse of auteurism as a means for understanding a certain historical peak of postwar American culture, that period known as “the sixties.” Some critics have dismissed auteurism, a body of thought that insists on viewing the group-work of filmmaking as the expression of the singular personality of the director. Other critics have since demonstrated its effective truth through its historical uses, industrial and otherwise. This dissertation argues that auteurism, whether mistaken or not, fossilizes a moment in the recuperation of an ideology of individualism, in which the stress shifts from a kind of frontier individual to a new corporate individual. In this respect, where auteurism might distort film history, it helps clarify a larger history of modernity. Considering auteurism as a story told about the relationship of the individual and the institution, at a watershed moment in the larger history of a developing world-system, the dissertation shows how this story was told in various iterations by Hollywood films of the period. Auteurism, that is, was not only a story the film industry told itself, or that critics told themselves about film history, but rather it was a story the films told their viewing public. I select clusters of films – whether full-fledged genres or cycles on a theme – that tell this story from different standpoints. I take these films clusters, when reckoned together, to constitute the “auteurist moment” in Hollywood film, a period I give the symbolic bookends of The Graduate (1967) and Jaws (1975). The purview of the dissertation, in fact, if marked by films under discussion, stretches from 1939 to 1982 (Stagecoach to First Blood). But the dissertation’s concentrated attention rests on the “auteurist moment,” 1967-1975, because this is the ideologically transformative moment, as the “movements” attest. While The Graduate proposes defection from society, resonating with the specific concerns of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement and with the general concerns of the post-Civil Rights youth movements, Jaws, in a response of sorts, imagines new grounds for reincorporating defectors into society’s industrial complex.