The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market

The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market

The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market

The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market


Challenging the prevailing notion among cinephiles that the auteur is an isolated genius interested primarily in individualism, Colin Burnett positions Robert Bresson as one whose life's work confronts the cultural forces that helped shape it. Regarded as one of film history's most elusive figures, Bresson (1901-1999) carried himself as an auteur long before cultural magazines, like the famed Cahiers du cinema, advanced the term to describe such directors as Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, and Jean-Luc Godard. In this groundbreaking study, Burnett combines biography with cultural history to uncover the roots of the auteur in the alternative cultural marketplace of midcentury France.


Why continue to study the auteur? Today, cinephiles and critics alike seem more interested in the dynamic exchanges between cinema and surrounding culture than in individual creators. Weary of celebrating the great masters, we probe the connections between film and other technologies, between meanings that emerge within media and carry across boundaries, between communities of viewers and producers, and between filmmaking and intellectual developments in philosophy, politics, and aesthetics. Why then return to a figure like the French auteur Robert Bresson (1901–1999), who distinguished himself through a creativity so private, secretive, and pure? When questions of connectivity, interactivity, hybridity, collective agency, negotiation, and various forms of cultural engagement and interface animate much of our discourse, what can the study of a director long admired for following his own aesthetic path add to the conversation?

This book contends that the auteur affords us the unique opportunity to explore the understudied connections between personal filmmaking and the cultures and practices that emerge near the fringes of the film market. It examines the auteur as a participant, albeit on unique terms, in an alternative cultural sphere invested in redefining cinema’s central narrative tradition. It thus challenges the myth of the auteur as a singular genius whose style is the man himself, in the famous words of the Comte de Buffon, and calls into question traditional approaches to the auteur and their reliance on narratives of isolation.

Traditional auteurists take it for granted that the auteur is a precious commodity whose very existence is owed to a natural predisposition to stand alone in opposition to prevailing production circumstances. Rooted in the famous Cahiers du cinéma mantra that the auteur is one who clears a distinctive path through a system rigged to deny distinctiveness, traditional auteurism concedes that auteur cinema is produced in a context of collaboration, but the value of this cinema rests in the attempt of a lone creator to express a unique personal vision that cannot be accounted for by the industrial and market conditions of negotiation and exchange imposed upon the creator.

Equally pervasive are isolation myths that protect particularly rare auteurs like Bresson from even the faintest hint of film-cultural influence. Aspects of their styles at times resemble other films, but their sources of inspiration are philosophers and poets rather than filmmakers. in 1957, the dramatist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau lent credence to this view by declaring that Bresson existed “apart from this terrible trade,” creating works so personal and sui generis that . . .

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