Detractors of auteurism always emphasize, wrongly, IMO, "repetition," which implies simply repeating onself ad nauseum with no variation, rather than a quality that I think is more proper, that being "reoccurrence," which has less negative connotations, principally because "reoccurrence" implies, at least to me, a re-happening of sorts, a return to a prior form, yes, but one that can have several variations and that can occur in different contexts (how does something simply repeat in wildly different contexts?). Is this simply semantic quibbling? I don't think so, I think it is a useful distinction. Howard Hawks, the auteur par excellance, essentially remade his 1959 film Rio Bravo
twice, in 1967 as El Dorado
and again in 1971 as Rio Lobo
, and while all of these films share similar plotlines, actors, character types, settings, and even entire sequences, all are very different from each other, these elements don't simply repeat, they reoccur (and going back into Hawks's oeuvre even further, you find elements that appear in Rio Bravo
in such earlier films as 1939's ,,,Only Angels Have Wings
, for example the final lines of dialogue between Cary Grant and Jean Arthur echo those of John Wayne and Angie Dickinson, and why not, it's a good sequence of dialogue to crib from, IMO, but the subtle alterations in the dialogue reveal the differences between the characters played by Grant and Wayne). Also as allyn points out, many critically lauded writers (not to mention many others, such as visual artists and composers) have distinctive themes and styles that they return to time and time again, and while I can surmise that their critics most frequent complaint was simple "repetition," I hardly think that this is a fair charge, or one that is easily proven. In my experience, most evidence of "repetition" is superficial at best, and grossly out of context at worst, and to my mind, no detractor of auteurism has successfully made the charge that a given auteur is guilty of simple repetition. Reoccurrence with variation, guilty as charged.
Auteurism, atleast in the popular version exposed in America by Andrew Sarris, sought to elevate Hollywood cinema to an artform by establishing the presence of singular, artistic personality responsible for the mise en scene of the film; previously, and at best, the American cinema was considered "entertainment," not art (especially when compared with the valorized European and Japanese art cinemas), the product of largely anonymous craftsmen and artisans, who worked as a group in a depersonalized, industrial framework. The exact idea that the director was the primary artist reponsible for the cinema was not a very controversial proposition, in and of itself, having been used in various contexts since the 1910s, and even earlier; it was just who this was applied towards that was the controversial part. Auteurism emphasized looking at the entire body of work, to pick out the distinctive elements (usually in the mise-en-scene, but if auteurists had been more astute in their research they would have put more emphasis on the affect of the auteur in pre- and post-production, especially since most auteurs, after the 1940s were producer-directors; still the images of an artist struggling against the stifling system is a useful, and romantic, ideal) that reoccur across a given directors' oeuvre, using the logic, that since the director would be the only factor that transcended a series of films, that that director would be responsible (also assuming, that the reoccurrences were more than just chance); admittedly, even by Andrew Sarris, this gave viewpoint tended to exclude such elements as genre and generic conventions. In short, the reality of the auteur is that it is, in the words of VF Perkins in a 1975 article called "The Return of Movie
," a critical construct. An auteur is not a transcendent personality that is found behind every film they direct (even if those interests actually coincide with the actual person), but a critical tool, a locus of meaning. The auteur is not a person, but a practice, a pattern, and interpretative stance (see how the "personality" of Howard Hawks changes in the pages of Cahiers du Cinema
, from the Catholic, phenomenalogical, conservative 1950s to the politicized, ironic, Brechtian 1960s). Sarris and other auteurists regarded auteurs as "real," in the sense that these personalities existed; this is a by product of the metaphoric nature of human reasoning (especially in a philosophical milieu that tended to deny this role of metaphor, so these metaphors were "literalized'), to borrow a term from George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, the process was thought of as an object, an ontological metaphor, in this case a person (a less fancy-pants way to say this, is that they anthropomorphized a process). But for me, historically, the importance of the auteur theory, which is not much of a theory, but is a relatively good methodology, was the change it helped foster in the cultural discourse. To get a bit more philosophical, it was a paradigm shift (a la Kuhn), were change occurred because the theory won over the younger generation, instead of converting the old guard, who either had to modify their positions (Kael) or flail about into obscurity (Bosley Crowther). Which, I guess is good for me, since I don't see the distinction between high and low art anyways, besides that of a cultural discourse.