When exploring authorship in the context of cinema, there is no getting around the auteur theory.
The auteur theory came out of the ideas developed during the nouvelle-vague in France by the likes of Francois Truffaut: that the director can be seen as the major creative force and to some extent sole author of a movie. As Francois Truffaut wrote: “There are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors”.
In reflecting on these ideas as published in the French magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema, Andrew Sarris (an American film critic) even went so far as to suggest that “good directors make good movies, and bad directors make bad movies”.
Although in these discussions it is never denied that the rest of the film crew contributes substantially to the movie, it is asserted that it is still the result of a single dominant voice and vision.
One example that is often used to illustrate the auteur theory is the milestone science-fiction movie Blade Runner (1982), where director Ridley Scott is seen at the author of the film.
In the documentary “Dangerous Days” about the making of Blade Runner Ridley Scott himself can be heard saying:
“Sometimes they don’t comprehend, what I do for a living on a big movie. My performance is as important as any other performance of any person on that film. Particularly the star. The film that I make, at the end of the day is my movie. It may be a team thing as well, but I’m tacking the knocks, I’m taking the bashed, and probably I’ve developed it etc. So yes, it’s my movie, and I’m inviting people to come in and do it. That’s what a director is”.
But the same documentary is filled with examples of individual contributions that became essential parts of the world of Blade Runner. It is often argued that Ridley Scott is one of the modern examples of an auteur filmmaker and Blade Runner is a prime example of his vision. But I could as easily make the argument that Blade Runner is the result of a wild collection of individually developed ideas and elements that somehow became more than the sum of their parts.
Do androids dream of electronic sheep
Of cours the first hint that the authorship of Blade Runner is a lot less concretrated than just the person of the director is that fact that the script is an adaptation from a book by Phillip K. Dick. After multiple drafts of the screenplay were written it was sent to Ridley Scott, who turned down the project at first. Only after he dropped out of Dune, he was persuaded to reconsider directing the movie that became Blade Runner.
Jean Moebius Gireaud
As admitted by Ridley Scott himself, a lot of the visual style of the world of Blade Runner was inspired by the work of French comic artist Moebius – specifically the story ‘The Long Tomorrow’. Scott tried to hire Moebius as a production designer but he was busy working on an animated feature at the time.
Darryl Hannah was one of the actresses doing screentests for ‘Pris’, all with completely different looks. The actresses doing the test scenes had to develop their own interpretation of the character before the audition. Hannah had seen Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and went with a Klaus Kinsky look with blacked out hollow eyes. The iconic ‘Pris’ was very much her own creation.
Edward James-Olmos developed his mash-up multilingual language for “cityspeak” mixing up Hungarian, German and French all by himself. Olmos says about Scott: “He never questioned it.”
Tears in the rain
Possibly the most famous lines of dialogue in Blade Runner: Roy Batty’s “Tears in the rain” speech, was re-written by actor Rutger Hauer the night before the scene was shot.
The scene had been written by David Peoples, who was hired to re-write the original screenplay by Hampton Fancher.
These are just examples of how the world of Blade Runner is not so much the result of a singleminded director, but the accumulation of all these little contributions that become more than the the sum of their parts.
Denis Villeneuve, the director of Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Blade Runner said this when asked about auteur theory:
“If I wanted to have total control and be a dictator, I would do ice sculpture in my basement. If I want to make a movie, I’m going to work with 500 people and I will have to work with their strength and their weakness. The idea, as a director, is to be able to bring everybody on board and to inspire and give energy to everybody and to explain specific color, specific ambience. I need to be very precise, but I think I’m a better director when I’m more a channeler than a dictator. When I look at the result, it’s better than what I had; then, it’s tough for my ego but it is (better). And that’s the poetry. The beauty of cinema is, like, 400 hundred people shooting at four o’clock in the morning for a month, trying to create poetry.”
Towards finishing of the film, the producers were worried that the narrative would be unclear to the audience and it was decided to bring back the voice-over that Scott had removed from the script. In the last recording sessions for the voice over Scott was not even present. Harrison Ford was not happy about doing the voice-over and although he has denied intentionally sabotaging the voice-overs you can tell from his rendition that there’s a distinctive lack of enthusiasm.
When a ‘directors cut’ was released Scott removed the voice-over again, but a wide audience (including director Guillermo Del Toro) prefers the version with the voice-over, with the bland acting becoming part of Ford’s android character.
As some of the articles below demonstrate, one can just as easily make the argument that Ridley Scott is indeed the main author of Blade Runner. If you take into consideration that there are seven known versions of Blade Runner, of which five were widely released, it becomes clear that that at least the process towards the final version was also one of experimentation and back-and-forth testing with audiences.
I am not interested in taking away anything of the remarkable accomplishments of Ridley Scott. But I think it is important to realize that a director or team leader can have a strong and identifiable voice, without suppressing or limiting the voices of the team members.
Maybe a good illustration of this is Miles Davis, one of the most influential jazz instrumentalists, composers and band leaders of the 20th century. As a bandleader he is famous for developing very minimal frameworks for his band members to improvise within. Considering that Davis hired many young and unknown players that developed to become distinctive voices in their own right: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Mike Stern and Joe Zawinul to just name a few. I try to make that connection here.
Blade Runner as auteur cinema
Documentary: Dangerous Days: Making of Blade Runner. Dir. Charles de Lauzirika. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007
Garrett, Diane. “Book Review: The Schreiber Theory.” Variety. 15 April 2006. 29 January