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In the film industry, there are directors who merely take someone else’s vision and express it in their own way on film, then there are those who take their own visions and use any means necessary to express their visions on film. The latter of these two types of directors are called auteurs. Not only do auteurs write the scripts from elements that they know and love in life, but they direct, produce, and sometimes act in their films as well. Three prime examples of these auteurs are: Kevin Smith, Spike Lee and Alfred Hitchcock.
Kevin Smith has make the grueling trek from an unknown, extremely low-budget filmmaker to a well known and respected filmmaker thanks to the help of his vision to stick to the basics. His films are about normal, middle class life adding elements of humor, drugs, and the daily struggle of blue-collar workers.
Smith was born and raised in Red Bank, New Jersey. He grew up going to the very same Quick-E Mart in which his first widely received film, Clerks, took place (www.uidaho.edu). Smith always uses his own experiences as a lower-middle class male in New Jersey to compile his scripts, and adds his own humor as well as the humor of recurring actors who appear in his films. His four semi-cult hit films are (in order of production): “Clerks”, “Mallrats”, “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma”. In all four of these films, Kevin Smith wrote the scripts, directed, produced and made appearances in the films.
Smith not only acts in all of the films, but also acts the same character in all the films. Jay and Silent Bob are two characters that make appearances in every one of Kevin Smith’s films. These characters are based on characters that Smith made up in his comic book entitled “Jay and Silent Bob.” Smith always plays the role of Silent Bob and Jay is always played by actor Jason Mewes.
Most of Smith’s films deal with a few twenty-somethings trying to overcome the basic obstacle of avoiding boredom. While there are always off-color and slightly controversial bits of conversations in his first films, Smith approached a slightly more controversial topic than usual in his last film, “Dogma.” “Dogma” starred Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as two fallen angels that would do anything to get their wings back. Smith took this opportunity to make a film in which he could finally vent some of his anger about his religion and how boring it is. Smith is indeed a religious person, but he believes that the church has nothing to attract the youth, nor to keep their attention. Because of this, he created “Dogma” which mixes humor and the church to make Christianity more interesting (www.zap2it.com). One such example is when the people of New Jersey make a new icon named “Buddy Christ,” who is a figure of Jesus Christ with his thumbs up, winking and grinning at his fellow Christians.
Smith has taken everyday occurrences, added humor and a bit of obscenity and crafted them into scripts. Smith has then taken these scripts and directed, and produced full-length films in which he also acted. After the film was fully shot, Smith then edited all of his films (with the exception of “Mallrats”). Because of all of the work that Smith single-handedly put into his independent films that ended up drawing a huge crowd of fans, he can surely be called an auteur.
Remaining on the topic of controversial films, another director comes to mind. This director had an ultimate goal that he desired to “…make films that will capture the Black experience by any means necessary” (Smith 437). He stirred up much controversy with the content of his films within the film world, and because of this had to create his films with little outside help. This auteur is, of course, Spike Lee.
Shelton Jackson Lee was born in 1956 as the son of a Jazz musician and an art professor. Lee later grew into the nickname Spike and because of his parent’s background, he became interested in the arts. It wasn’t until college that Lee decided on becoming a filmmaker. Directly after graduating from Moorehouse College, he immersed himself into fulfilling his dream “…to put the vast richness of black culture on film” (Smith 440). His graduate film, entitled “The Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.” paved the way for his future reputation by receiving an academy award. Even with this first film, Lee’s style of a non-linear plot line took shape, and his overwhelming cry that black culture was respectable and interesting to a universal audience became apparent. Lee’s father wrote the score to this film, and Lee directed and produced it (Andrew 200).. He went on to take on these very same aspects, as well as acting in his following films.
Lee’s next film was “She’s Gotta Have It,” which dealt with the fact that black men were always being stereotyped as cheating on their girlfriends with, sometimes many, different women. This film, instead, reversed the role and told of a woman who had three lovers. His next film attacked black versus white racism by telling the tale of a school where the “haves” were the light-skinned blacks and the “have-nots” were the dark-skinned blacks. It said what Lee wanted to say, but since this was his first Hollywood film, it lacked a lot of the glamour that the audiences were used to seeing in feature films (Lee 19-21). Despite the mixed reviews in Hollywood, it took off surprisingly well in the box offices.
Spike Lee’s next film, “Do the Right Thing,” gained a lot more respect in the film world than “School Daze,” and was even nominated for Academy Awards in many different fields. This film, however, was almost not released because people were frightened that it was so controversial that it might cause mass riots. Lee claimed that he was only upholding his dream and the only thing he wanted to provoke were discussions (Smith 442). Lee’s next films; “Mo’ Better Blues” (based on Lee’s father), and “Jungle Fever,” were written, directed and produced by Lee as well, in order to insure that his words were interpreted correctly. Lee’s dream was finally reaching a crescendo when he was given the chance to direct a film about one of the largest heroes in African-American history, Malcolm X (Andrew 201).
Lee confronted the company that was going to sponsor the making of the Malcolm X story and persuaded them that they couldn’t let Norman Jewison, a white man, portray this black man’s struggle. Many consider “Malcolm X” to be a classic film with the genius of Lee’s auteu-rism shining through working in concurrence with Denzel Washington’s brilliant acting. From there, Lee continued to show the struggle of Black America in films such as “Crooklyn” (scripted by Lee’s sister, Joie), “Girl 6,” “Clockers,” and “4 Little Girls” (www.eFilmCritic.com).
Although no one had ever tried it before, Spike Lee decided to introduce America to the African-American’s perspective and culture. He did this by himself since not many people were willing to help. When money to support the films from studios was short, he went to fellow black-rights activists such as: Oprah Winfrey, Janet Jackson, Tracy Chapman and Magic Johnson. Once he had the budget, he wrote, directed, produced and acted in the films that he made to promote the concept that “An all-black film directed by a black person can be of Universal appeal” (Smith 443).
In the past sixty to seventy years, many things have changed in the film industry, such as concepts of that which is controversial in film. One thing has remained the same, however, a person who exudes sole creativity in producing a film is entitled an auteur. Just as Lee and Smith used any means necessary to create films which fulfilled their visions, the same can surely be said for the genius filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock. While Spike Lee and Kevin Smith began single-handedly creating their own films because of financial reasons, Alfred Hitchcock controls all aspects of his films so “the integrity of his work is not jeopardized…” (Truffaut 14).
Alfred Hitchcock is very serious about his films. “Throughout his entire career he has felt the need to protect himself from the actors, producers, and technicians who …[might offset the meaning of]…his works. He therefore had “…to become the director nor actor will question, to become one’s own producer, and to know more about technique than the technicians” (Truffaut 14). It is because of his mindset on this that his films are so concrete and appear flawless.
Although many of his films were merely based on plays and less based on his life experiences, Hitchcock twists the plots around and uses his reputation of “The man with the master mind” to direct his films with sheer brilliancy. The literary works that Hitchcock adapts into his films are usually light and unpopular. Hitchcock refused to make screen adaptations of literary works that held importance such as “Crime and Punishment” because he said “’Crime and Punishment’ is somebody else’s achievement. There’s been a lot of talk about the way in which Hollywood directors distort literary masterpieces. I’ll have no part in that!” (Truffaut 71). With the scripts that he actually creates, Hitchcock delves into a great resource of his fear of everything to know what would hold people in suspense. Hitchcock grew up a loner with an unbelievable fear of police and violence. He knew what childhood fears were composed of and used this knowledge to create his films (Truffaut 30).
Hitchcock was one of the best-known directors for adding special effects to make a silent film more realistic. He would use film-staining techniques, ordinary household items were used to make a shot more poignant, and many other techniques never thought of before in previous films. One such example is when he placed a piece of glass in front of an actress’ face in order to have her hair spread out on the glass, so she appeared more frightened. Another technique that Hitchcock used to keep audiences amused, is to place himself in a scene in every film. It was first done because he did not have enough extras to fill the screen, but later carried on as a tradition that Hitchcock fans come to expect.
Hitchcock mastered the filmic language. He knew how to use a great number of tools in order to make his films reach near-perfection. He knew how to distort time, images and emotions on the screen by practice and by utilizing his natural talents. He trusted nobody besides himself in the process of filmmaking and therefore his films contained fluidity and true suspense. Hitchcock adapted his films into a script, directed, produced, appeared in and worked out the technicalitites of his films. All of these aforementioned elements adds up in an equation that equals a genius auteur.
There aren’t many filmmakers that can consider themselves true auteurs. To be an auteur, the filmmaker must have an ultimate goal to express something they care about on film. They must not only express this in their script, but carry through on it by directing, producing and pulling together many other aspects of the film by themselves. Three filmmakers that fit this description to a “t” are Kevin Smith, Spike Lee and Alfred Hitchcock. These three men all went out with the same goal: To express their views of life in extraordinary films. They all went above and beyond their call of duty and are now ranked among the top filmmakers of history, the rank of film auteurs.
Andrew, Geoff. Stranger than Paradise. Limelight: New York, NY. 1987.
Lee, Spike and Lisa Jones. Uplift the Race: the Construction of School
Daze. Fireside: New York, NY. 1988.
Smith, Jessie Carney. Black Heroes of the Twentieth Century. Visible Ink.: Detroit, MI. 1998.
Truffaut, Francois. HItchcock. Simon and Scheuster: New York, NY. 1983
www.eFilmCritic.com. HBS Entertainment. 1998-2000.
www.uidaho.edu/~purc3906/kevbio.htm. University of Idaho. Last updated
November 2, 2000.
www.zap2it.com/TVPeopleprofiles. Tribune Media Services. 2000.
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