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From the Wire: Pinkerton’s Notes on Vulgar Auteurism

From the Wire: Pinkerton's Notes on Vulgar Auteurism

Even with all the crossfire among contemporary film writers, it’s unusual to find an argument over as seemingly genteel an issue as nomenclature. But blogging at SundanceNow, Nick Pinkerton raises an objection to the phrase “vulgar auteurism,” which may or may not have originated with Cinema Scope‘s Andrew Tracy and which has recently developed popularity in the Twitterverse.

Pinkerton’s initial target is Calum Marsh, who wrote a defense of the term for the Village Voice chain (a company with which Pinkerton memorably parted ways in February). Marsh’s basic point is that the films of Justin Lin (“Fast & Furious 6”) should be watched and appreciated with the same critical acumen accorded to Leos Carax. Pinkerton agrees with that idea, but says wait a sec: “No persuasive argument has yet been made for why the phrase [vulgar] should be vitally necessary to modify old, fuddy-duddy Auteurism.”

Indeed, if Andrew Sarris’s original pantheon could include Hitchcock and Hawks, it’s difficult to say why the current equivalent shouldn’t encompass genre filmmakers — however different genre filmmaking may look today. Pinkerton goes on to discuss how Sarris himself used the term “vulgar,” the quality of Hollywood product at the time auteurism was being defined, and conclaves of so-called vulgar auteurists. (For championing Tony Scott, Cinema Scope comes in for particular scorn — though as Pinkerton notes, Mark Peranson and Christoph Huber’s original Scott appraisal said the director’s work requires “old-school auteurist appreciation.”)

Ironically, this semantic tug-of-war has a parallel in the original debate over auteurism in America. Sarris, in “Notes on the Auteur Theory,” spoke of auteurism’s ability to reveal meaning in a film: “Sometimes, a great deal of corn must be husked to yield a few kernels of internal meaning.”

In her “Circles and Squares” response, Pauline Kael took issue with the extra word, asking, “Is ‘internal meaning’ any different from ‘meaning?'”

Read more of “Bombast #96.”

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