Film, some argue, at its best, is when it is a shared or a collective experience with others. Film, as an art-form (or entertainment showpiece) was designed for audiences, not for a solitary engagement.
But what makes the final cut, that screened product, a success? Film critics vary on this, as do film scholars and theorists. Ultimately, audiences decide the financial success, not critics. But, we do find overlapping reasons for what makes a “good” or “bad” film.
While film criticism has been around in some form since film’s inception, it began to be taken seriously in the 1960s. This is when film schools and colleges began to offer courses in film studies and filmmaking.
There are numerous film theories (and books about the theories) that have been developed over the course of film history, but we’ll focus on three at this time.
The Schreiber Theory – This theory was developed by David Morris Kipen, former director of Literature for the United States National Endowment of the Arts. He believed that the success of any film boiled down to the screenwriter.The script is the foundation, the blueprint for any film, and because of that, Kipen offers credit to a film’s success or failure to the foundational components of the screenplay, and those who write them. A bad screenplay will make a bad film.
The Auteur Theory– This theory was pioneered by Andrew Sarris, a film critic (the Village Voice) in the 1960s, who modeled his approach to film criticism after the French Auteurism value system of the 1940s. This theory gives praise, or it places blame, on the film’s director for the success or failure of a film. Sarris stated that the director is the film’s author since (s)he has control over the video, audio, design, score, editing, etc. The audience interprets everything through the lens of what the author (the director) wants to share and exhibit.
This model used examples from filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock to support the theory. These three filmmakers were well-known for their attention to detail in every aspect of filmmaking, and most would agree that their films would have never seen the light of day (or the projectors) had they not been so involved.
The Auteur Theory raises film to the level of “art” over “entertainment.”
The Symphonic-Puzzle Theory– Film critic Pauline Kael believed that the film’s director was only one spoke in the wheel (or one frame in the reel) in determining if a film is or isn’t successful. Kael contends that in order for a film to truly connect, each piece of the (movie-making) puzzle should come together cohesively. Script, acting, cinematography, sound design, score, sets and costumes should all equally play a part in the final experience. She believed that when all areas worked (and clicked) in unison, that it could be as perfect as a symphonic performance masterpiece. Kael and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (The Oscars) subscribe to a similar approach in honoring and recognizing filmmaking.
Kael contends that one could have a great director helming a film with a bad cinematographer, or that horrible sound design could intrude on perfect dialogue, and because of those missteps, the overall experience would suffer. She believed that all cast and crew were important; they all have roles to play in a film’s interaction with the audience. If all are not working properly, then the final result can be failure
1.30.21 – Noel T. Manning II
Braudy, L., & Cohen, M. (2016). Film theory and criticism: Introductory readings (8th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Film forum. (2019, September 30). What she said: The art of Pauline Kael. https://youtu.be/mZnZYGQbCmo
IMDB. (n.d.). Andrew Sarris. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1048799/bio
Kipen, D. (2006). The schreiber theory: A radical rewrite of American film history. Hoboken, NJ: Melville House Pub.
LLC, R. (n.d.). “Pauline Kael” on revolvy.com. Retrieved from https://www.revolvy.com/page/Pauline%20Kael?uid=0
Manning II, N. T. (n.d.). The GWU Film Critic. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://thefilmcritic.blog
Picture arts and sciences, A. M. (n.d.). The oscars. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from http://oscar.go.com
Williams, E. (Director). (2018). How to view and appreciate great movies [Motion picture]. USA: The great courses.