André Bazin, “On the politiques des auteurs,” in Cahiers du Cinéma: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave, ed. Jim Hillier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985: 248-259.
Bazin’s essay carefully takes issue with the auteur approach of his “young firebrands” at Cahiers du Cinéma such as Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer. He applauds certain characteristics of the politiques de auteurs: the elevation of cinema to the status of art and literature, the acknowledgement of patterns of genius in certain film artists, the critique of those metteurs-en-scène who merely stage the filming of scripts, and so forth. But Bazin has a problem with any objective standard of criticism that neglects taste, just as much as he has a problem with a critic’s taste overwhelming specific standards of criticism. While some of the criteria of the auteur approach are useful for criticism, Bazin says, it’s patently problematic to elevate the work of, say, Welles above that of, say, Huston, when a particular Huston film might be better than a certain Welles film. He uses Citizen Kane and Confidential Report as examples. He point out that, no matter how much Kane may be the product of Welles the filmmaking genius, it’s also the product of RKO studios and, certainly, director of photography Greg Toland. Confidential Report, on the other hand, is all Welles. The Hollywood system, Bazin insists, had certain virtues that should be applauded. He finds this a rather obvious fact, since there is a built-in irony that the Cahiers critics identify Hollywood directors like Hawks, Hitchcock, and Welles as auteurs. Bazin cites a point made by Rohmer: that while it may be easy to see, say, The River as an inferior work of Jean Renoir compared to his earlier The Rules of the Game (in the same way that we look at the two aforementioned Welles films), Rohmer insists that there has never in the history of art been an example of an artist whose work actually declined, only the critical discourse that failed to see the hidden genius in the later work of artists. Bazin doesn’t point out how flagrantly this begs the question as to the nature of “greatness” in an artist and critical objectivity, but he rather applies Rohmer’s logic to the possibility of hidden genius in an individual film. Bazin always believed in great little films not made by auteurs, and he wants to leave this possibility open.