Breaking up with Auteurs

Breaking up with Auteurs: Quentin Tarantino holding a camera with a rip down the center of the image

In 2002 I left high school determined to study ✨ t h e c i n e m a ✨ for the rest of my life. That year, Quebec’s National Assembly legalized civil unions for both same & different sex partners, and in the United States the Bush administration was falsifying intelligence about Iraq’s fictional weapons of mass destruction. I was 17 and oblivious. I still believed that good grades mattered, and so I rushed everywhere, from one class to the next, to the library, to my job(s), to more classes. Lectures focused on things like the history of narrative structure and the evolution of camera equipment. The inevitable takeover of digital technology loomed, but still we clung to the idea that using film stock was the only authentic way to shoot a movie. I remember endless readings about lighting and editing techniques, and very little information about emotional themes or social impact. I wrote essays at a truly chaotic pace, always in a noisy cafe with headphones jammed in my ears — my go-to method of blocking out any introspection or self awareness.

I’d decided long before then that I was a loud & fun kinda girl, since I didn’t think I was pretty. I didn’t want to be pretty actually; pretty girls were obsessed with make-up, and pop songs, and crushes on celebrities. I was a book girl who liked loud music and drank beer and told people that Avril Lavigne stole my look (I definitely stole it from her). They were frivolous, I was serious. They were weak, I was strong, and I enthusiastically applied these falsehoods to my cinematic education. If a movie didn’t make me uncomfortable, if there wasn’t mayhem or bloodshed or tragedy, I rejected it outright as inauthentic, pointless, commercial. And I was in an environment where the consumption and celebration of on-screen violence and pain was normal. When I started college, Darren Aronofsky had just burst onto the scene with his misery-porn opus Requiem for a Dream, and during my education Tarantino made a comeback with his blood-soaked girlboss double-feature Kill Bill. Whenever the recently deceased daddy-of-all-auteurs Stanley Kubrick came up, the discussion would applaud the wild stories of his exhaustive, grueling film shoots. Pain on a film set was the price of good art, we all agreed, and the conversation would inevitably turn to excited speculation on who would be the next great filmmaker. We were hungry for new masters.

Unless we opted in to a specific class, queerness was not usually represented in our syllabus, and discussions about race were often a footnote. We talked about the Male Gaze, but there was always a disconnect between the theory, the art, and the real-world impact. Day after day we watched women pay exorbitant prices for their supposed sins. One teacher, after showing us Wan Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels, blurted out, “Is it just me or is it really sad to see a woman masturbating in a movie?” In the awkward silence that followed, he made eye contact with me, and I felt embarrassed (for him, I think), though I still don’t really understand why. I didn’t know how to turn my feelings into opinions. I had made discomfort so normal that I often assumed I was wrong or that I’d missed something if ever something felt off. During one conversation about The Exorcist, I talked about how grossed out I was by all the male doctors deciding what happens to this scared little girl’s body, and a friend scoffed, “What are you, a feminist?”. I don’t remember what I said back — it wasn’t witty, and I didn’t stand up for myself. I was still trying to be the cool girl.

My education never covered the financial systems that fuel the film industry, nor the power dynamics that decide what stories get told or what voices are elevated. Everything I learned fit quite nicely with my very Catholic upbringing; sex was a sin, masturbation was sad, queerness was invisible, and pain was good actually.

I’ve shaken a lot of habits since then, but not my drive to watch violent, dark, scary movies. I still chase the sick feeling that comes from watching something horrible and gory. The pain is still a comfort. More than a decade after leaving school, I found myself in a movie theater surrounded by Tarantino bros watching The Hateful Eight on opening weekend. Everyone laughed when the antagonist, the only woman on screen, was repeatedly punched in the face, and they cheered when they hung her at the end. That wasn’t the first, nor the last, time I’d been in a room full of people laughing at someone’s brutalization. The movie was so long I missed the last bus of the night, and I ended up walking home in the cold, questioning my life choices.

I’ve never stopped loving cinema. I love being transported into different universes. I love figuring out how all the moving parts come together. I love the emotional rollercoasters, and the introspection. I love how a good movie lingers in my body, how it leaves me altered.

This page is a place for me to reassemble the parts I discarded years ago. I’m trying to reframe what I know about film, so I can fill in the gaps, and name the things that I couldn’t express back then. I don’t want to worship the egos of a few powerful men. So many people contribute to a single film, and I want to talk about all the work that goes into making something beautiful, or beautifully grotesque.

Filmmaking is a collective effort, so that’s how I’m gonna talk about it.

Death to Auteur theory | A plethora of rants