If you want to get a film historian, critic, or theorist all hot and bothered, mention the auteur theory, find out whether they support it or not, and then argue the other side. It’s fun. It’s fun because the auteur theory’s not like a math equation: it’s neither completely true nor completely false.
French film critics writing in Cashiers du Cinema and the French New Wave of film that it produced had this idea that the director is the “author” of the film in the same way that a writer is the author of a novel. The artwork itself reflects the personal vision of the director, regardless of whatever industrial production method the movie may have gone through as it was being made.
On the other side is the understanding that film by its very nature is a collaborative medium. In addition to the director you’ve got actors, directors, cinematographers, designers, and editors, all of whom have a significant amount of influence on any given movie both in terms of process and product.
Hollywood’s Studio System epitomizes the film as industrial product. At its heights in the 30s, Hollywood produced so many movies a week that tasks were broken down and taken care of in sequence, like an automobile assembly line. It really was a factory. The French cinephiles of the 50s promoted auteur theory as a way of fighting for individual vision within a largely faceless industrial machine.
Of course there’s a continuum here. By every account, Stanley Kubrick held complete control over every aspect of his films, up to and including acting to the extent that he would do as many takes as necessary to get what he wanted from the actor. On the other hand you’ve got, say, the films of Judd Apatow: developed through several writers, jokes written by committee, improvised under Apatow’s direction, footage compiled by an editor, these movies are made by a large collaboration of people.
The funny thing is there’s no place on the spectrum that’s better than any other. Take, for example, what many consider to be the first example of American auteur cinema: Citizen Kane. Tightly controlled by Orson Welles, the piece is a critique of itself: a movie about a ravenously controlling man made in a ravenously controlling fashion.
Contrast that with a movie made just a year after, this week’s classic movie: 1942’s Casablanca
Casablanca represents the apotheosis of the classic Hollywood studio system. It was a play written by Murray Burnette and Joan Alison, re-conceived by story editor Irene Diamond, turned into a screenplay written by Julius and Philip Epstein, rewritten by Howard Koch, with additional uncredited rewrites by Casey Robinson during production. And after all that, it was producer Hal Wallis who came up with the famous last line.
Director Michael Curtiz, brought on by Wallis after his first choice for director fell through, was hired to serve the committee-written script. Robinson has been quoted as saying that Curtiz knew very little about the story at all, given that a great deal of the dialogue was written as they went. Curtiz directed on a shot by shot, scene by scene basis. So fractured was the production of Casablanca that critic Andrew Sarris has called it “the most decisive exception to the auteur theory.” It’s also one of the clearest, most coherent and most well-wrought stories ever told by Hollywood.
Catching Casablanca on TV the other night with my friends Erin and Greg, we were immediately pulled into the story. Casablanca perfectly balances cynicism and sentimentality, romance and intrigue, lyricism and pragmatism within a perfectly wrought story filled with memorable characters. There’s a lot to be said about personal artistic vision, but there’s just as much to be said about the power of the studio system at its best. If you haven’t seen Casablanca lately, do yourself a favor and revisit one of the greats.
We have reached Ground Zero. Friday at 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, Kathie Lee Gifford makes her final appearance as host of "Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee," and thus ends a chapter in daytime TV history.
Do we care? Of course we do.
Because for the past 12 years, Kathie Lee has arguably been America's most intimate celebrity. She's shared with us her good times and bad times, the fluctuations in her fertility cycle, her kids' growing pains (and potty habits), her life with adultering sporstcaster-husband Frank Gifford, and her oft-unpopular business ventures.
"The I Hate Kathie Lee Gifford Book" But, despite her "I'm-just-a-normal-person" visage, Kathie Lee Gifford has received the kind of mega-exposure only afforded to uber-celebrities. At one time or another her face has loomed over Wal-Mart shoppers buying her modestly priced apparel line; she's written several books; she's recorded music CD's; and she's done all kinds of TV, from singing on "Name That Tune" in the 1970's, to acting on a sitcom called "Hee Haw Honeys," to guest-hosting "Good Morning America" in the 1980's, and finally to the gig with Reege.
As the woman born Kathryn Lee Epstein departs the tube for a career in acting, singing, home-making, or whatever, she stands in front of a divided public. Some of us love her perky personality, her funny ad-libs and her wonderbra. Some of us loathe what's perceived as her phony guise as a celebrity soccer mom -- indeed, everyone from Howard Stern to the Washington Post has called her a pollyanna, and roasted her accordingly.
So, to commemmorate Kathie Lee's tearful goodbye, here's Hollywood.com's Top 10 Reasons Why We Love Kathie Lee ... and our Top 10 Reasons Why We Hate Kathie Lee.
1. (LOVE): She stands up for family values. Kathie Lee has called herself the "Moral Majority's Madonna." In her autobiography, "I Can't Believe I Said That," she describes herself as "an anomaly. A thriving career woman who also stands up for traditional values." 1. (HATE): She's adored by rich wannabes and right-wing religious zealots. Hey, she went to Oral Roberts University on a recommendation from Anita Bryant. 'Nuff said.
2. (LOVE): She's a survivor. Despite a stringent Christian upbringing, she became one of the most sexily dressed talk show hostesses in recent tube history; she lived through husband Frank Gifford’s infidelity on national TV in 1997, and found forgiveness (and peace) through God; withstood years of Regis' bad jokes and ugly ties without wretching. 2. (HATE): She's cloying. Miss Perfect. "She uses her kids in a foolish way, and she just sort of asks for so much of the trouble that she gets in," says Gary Blake, co-author of "The I Hate Kathie Lee Gifford Book." It goes beyond ego with her, it's a silly ignorant something. She's in front of a national audience, and all the gaps of her education and talent seem to shine through."
3. (LOVE): She's a role model for modern women. Kathie Lee teaches by example how to negotiate her parental duties (taking care of her children Cody and Cassidy Erin) and her own professional ambition (to be just like Barbra Streisand or Oprah). "My dad has always had three jobs at a time," she once said. "My grandparents were immigrants, and I'm proud to say I inherited their work ethic." 3. (HATE): She's a wuss. After her football hero (and "love machine," as she's called him) husband was caught in the act with an ex-stewardess, she should've punted his ass into the end zone, like any self-respecting woman would. Instead of ripping him publicly on her talk show, she opted not to discuss her public humiliation, and instead began wearing clothes with lower-cut necklines.
4. (LOVE): She's a good mother. Kathie Lee did what every mother would do: She sacrificed her secure livelihood on the morning talk show circuit to spend more time with her kids, who are fast approaching puberty. Oh, and she also wants to start a new careers as a singer and actress on the stage and screen. 4. (HATE): Lots of celebrities have kids, but they don't all use them to sell products or win viewers.
"Christmas With Kathie Lee" 5. (LOVE): She's beautiful, rich, fashionable and socially conscious. Kathie Lee’s superb sartorial taste is undeniable. From power dress-suit conservative to cleavage-accentuating and causally sexy, she has donned and done it all, and she even has her own clothing label to prove it. And when, in 1996, it was revealed that some stuff in her clothing line was made by Honduran children working 75-hour weeks for slave wages, Kathie Lee didn't run and hide. She went on a campaign against sweatshops, and today she's helped start two charities, one for infants with AIDS, the other for crack babies. 5. (HATE): She's a self-adulating freak. A few years ago, Kathie Lee was voted the "Most Beautiful Woman on TV" by TV Guide readers, beating Jaclyn Smith by about 14,000 votes. How did she do it? She spent a week begging "Live!" viewers to vote for her, and even had her son Cody on the show, dialing the TV Guide voting hotline.
6. (LOVE): She's a successful multi-hyphenate: A TV personality, a recording artist (her 1993 CD, "Sentimental," for instance, which sold 400,000 copies despite scant airplay), a writer (1997’s "Christmas With Kathie Lee: A Treasury of Holiday Stories, Songs, Poems, and Activities for Little Ones"); an entrepreneur (that clothing line); a movie actress (playing herself in "Dudley Do-Right" in 1999); a famous pitchwoman (for Carnival Cruise Lines) and a regular guest on the popular game show "Hollywood Squares") . 6. (HATE): She's a crass commercialist. To borrow a joke from the "I Hate Kathie Lee Gifford Book": "What do Kathie Lee and Barbie have in common? They both sell out during the holidays."
7. (LOVE): She's keepin' it real: As one fan, reviewing her autobiography on Amazon.com, enthused: "As a liberal feminist living is [sic] San Francisco … I too find her sugary, self-absorbed persona irresistable [sic] … Kathie Lee breaks down the fourth wall, on her show and in this book, by sharing all her intimate secrets, some of them embarassingly [sic] tame. [To say the least,] she is a reflection of a time that is fading from modern life." 7. (HATE): She's a phony. When her clothing line was introduced, it was sold in 2,200 Wal-Marts, and in the first few months it made $250 million. Hmmm … There were dresses, skirts, slacks and jackets, all priced at less than $50. Do you really think she wore any of them?
8. (LOVE): Because she's a lady. At least that’s what one (and if we’re not mistaken, the only) fan site dedicated to Kathie Lee Gifford (http://www.actress.addr.com/klg.htm) says. "This Page [sic] was made to Honor [sic] this very beautiful and talented lady. This Lady I love a lot … This lady should have some pages somewhere, but I can’t find any. This lady can make me laugh and smile with just a look ... This lady deserves much respect ..." OK, we get it. 8. (HATE): She drips that phony-baloney quality and Pollyanna attitude. Perhaps she really is a wide-eyed, goody- two-shoes, like she wants us to believe. Is that a good thing?
"Listen to My Heart" by Kathie Lee & Cody 9. (LOVE): She loves everyone. And, as the testimonials on her final week on "Live!" -- from people like Donald Trump, Barbara Walters and Kenny Loggins – attest, everyone (especially middle-of-the-road celebrities and rich developers) likes her, too. 9. (HATE): Except the media. A few years of scrutiny have apparently worn her skin thin. Earlier this year, Kathie Lee agreed to answer a few questions from a Los Angeles Times reporter – but only by fax.
10. (LOVE): Hating Kathie Lee is just too darn easy. We simply don’t feel like exerting the energy to hate someone of her disposition. 10. (HATE): She's going away. Who'll we pick on now? Author Gary Blake says not o worry, she'll be back. "I think it's a good thing that she's leaving, it's important. Now she can spend more time wtih Cody and she can stay out of our lives. Maybe she can join the Peace Corps. But I'm sure she's going to keep trying to find more things to do that will bother us. You don't know what the hells' on her mind. She'll find a way back into the limelight."