At first glance, “auteur” theory is a simple concept. The translation of this French term is “author” and essentially this is what we refer to in auteur theory. However, this concept in fact reaches far deeper than this. A description which comes from U.S film critic Andrew Sarris reads: “The strong director imposes his own personality on a film; the weak director allows the personalities of others to run rampant.” This means that the film maker leaves his indelible mark on his piece of art, complete with his own calling cards, memorable moments, themes and sometimes, even recurring actors. The complexity of this practice is subject to great analysis and deciphering and can be interpreted in many ways.
At first it seems like a perfectly plausible theory: the director is responsible for the film, and so can be judged as to whether or not they are an auteur. A criticism of this statement would be that making a film requires the help of many individuals, so why make the assumption that the director should take credit for the manner in which a film feels? Using a similar theory, a movement in Germany once believed that script writers are the primal force in a film's style; after all, the director must work within the confines of the script. However, you could argue that the director has the ultimate control, and is therefore responsible for the film's final output. In a collaborative effort and large undertaking such as making a modern film, it is nearly impossible to pick away at who contributed more directly to the pacing and feel of the work. Another problem with the theory is that it creates a feeling of superiority within the film community. Those who enjoy auteur films may believe that a film maker is superior to a 'normal' director, many of whom might make wonderful films, simply because the directo’rs name appears on the billing for a film.
To begin a discussion about auteur theory, one must question what films fall into the auteur category. To be considered an auteur movie, a film-maker must have a body of work which can be analyzed for ongoing themes and considerations, whether they occur intentionally or unintentionally. One example would be the theme of the distant father in Steven Spielberg's work. In addition to this, an auteur must have a differentiating style, almost instantly recognizable. Perhaps the most well-known and easily recognizable examples for modern film makers would be that of Tim Burton.
Tim Burton’s films are relatively easily recognizable to audiences; his style is recurrent and contains many features which are synonymous with Burton’s films. Burton has been quoted as saying that a lot of his childhood was spent watching sci-fi and films, and this has evidently influenced his style. The influence of Horror B movies is clear, in particular within Edward Scissor Hands and Sleepy Hollow. The sharp angles, painted backdrops and shadows are examples of how German Expressionism, and films such as Nosferatu, have influenced the sets of Burton’s films. The gothic tone to Burton’s films is evident, even in Batman which is widely regarded as Burton’s least recognizable film.
There are many visual features of Burton’s work that has become a trademark of his films. These include spirals and, in particular, pumpkins which are seen in many of his films. The cartoonish element to his work has also become somewhat of a trademark; the eccentricity of this is something that one expects when viewing a Burton film. Examples of how Burton has applied this aspect is in films such as Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish, where (as previously mentioned) the bright colors and visual elements create an eccentric, fairytale aspect to the films. This is a fascinating trait of Burton’s film. While most of his settings are rather bleak and contain few if any colors, when there is color, it is usually very bright and stands out. The color red is especially prevalent.