Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Milland Alone: The End of the System, Post-Studio Stardom, and the Total Auteur

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Milland Alone: The End of the System, Post-Studio Stardom, and the Total Auteur

Article excerpt

After all these years I finally realized that the only thing I ever wanted to be in this business was a director.

-Ray Milland (256)

DESPITE ITS MANY COMPLICATIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS since the late Andrew Sarris introduced it to American readers in 1962, the "auteur theory" remains a central concern in film and media studies. Film festivals and art house programs continue to be organized around the auteur, and scholarly monographs and essays still largely attribute authorial intention to directors. Rather than embracing the new independent era of 1950s and 60s US film, however, Sarris's influential mistranslation of the Cahiers du Cinéma "politique des auteurs" (1957) looked back with nostalgia to the film-makers of the studio era, where talented directors wrangled with subpar material to make great films out of the "tension between the director's personality and his material," the tension between art and commerce ("Notes" 7). Such a conflict also animated French concerns with the politique (better translated as "policy" or "politics"). In André Bazin's early critique of the politique, he notes the absurdity of this kind of definition of film authorship: "[paradoxically, the supporters of the politique des auteurs admire the American cinema, where the restrictions of production are heavier than anywhere else" (257). Bazin prefers the "genius of the system" as a way of explaining exceptional films made under the heavy control of Flollywood studios (258). For Sarris, on the other hand, the true auteur is the director who creates "interior meaning" through his struggle with studio assignments ("Notes" 7).

The post-studio era, however, poses a different problem, even though the very notion of the auteur emerged during this time. Following the end of dominant studio practices such as block booking and vertical integration, a change initiated by the US Supreme Court's 1948 decision in the Paramount case, the rise of independent production saw the emergence of the star-director or star-producer and, later, the arrival of New Flollywood directors, who could exert more control over their work by fulfilling multiple creative roles on their films. As Paul Monaco notes, "[b]y 1960, it was already a well-established practice that studios worked with stars to finance movies, while stars increasingly called themselves producers and set up independent companies" (20). Critics such as Denise Mann have examined the impact this transition had on production and film authorship, but her work largely celebrates what might be termed "heroic" protagonists (artists bucking an oppressive system) and charts the ways in which these new filmmakers explicitly foregrounded the entertainment business in their films of the post-studio period. Lost in the shuffle of these many considerations of the post-studio era is the plight of longtime studio actors, who suddenly found themselves without contracts, struggling to navigate the new world of independent production. Unlike younger stars, such as Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, who moved easily into this new economic and industrial environment and founded successful production companies, older stars had to trade on known identities to remain relevant. For some, like John Wayne, this brought success, but for others it presented a problem.

Former Paramount player Ray Milland's post-studio career provides an interesting insight into how many former studio stars may have responded to their new roles. Flow did this studio star end up working for a Poverty Row studio a mere ten years after winning an Academy Award for The Lost Weekend (1945)? Milland's case is particularly Interesting in light of his own attempt to control and manage his image and career in the wake of the studio break-down. Importantly, although he did reasonably well transitioning to television work, he also began directing films in the mid-1950s, serving in multiple creative roles (star, director, and producer), as many other actors began doing. …

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