My brother bought me a really nice Quentin Tarantino coffee-table book for my birthday this year.
It’s a beautiful retrospective of the man’s career, with loads of cool photos in, and stories about each movie that I’d never heard before.
Last night, I was leafing through it for about the third time. Somewhere around Reservoir Dogs, I stopped reading and just sat and thought for a while about Tarantino, and what made him special as an artist. Being a ridiculous fan, I could think of plenty of things that make him special, but there’s just one that I want to focus on today.
You see, in Quentin Tarantino, you have a fine example of the auteur. This is a title bestowed on those special directors – your Woody Allens, your Wes Andersons, your David Lynches – who wield so much influence on their film that they are considered the “author” of the film.
In all kinds of ways, the auteur goes above and beyond the call of duty expected of your average director-for-hire. They might have also written the script (Tarantino), they might employ an unmistakably distinct visual style (Wes Anderson), and they might have a big say over matters of casting (The Coen Brothers.) Auteurs – though they work with a crew often numbering in the hundreds – make the film their own.
Though there are exceptions to everything, my favourite work – whether that’s movies, TV shows, or music – is auteur-driven. I find it very difficult to get excited about stuff that’s generically popular, but lacks the personal touch of any one person in particular. When a song sounds like a bunch of people trying to create a “hit” rather than something cool and inspired, for example… count me out.
I prefer work that reflects one person’s original vision. Most of all, I like those artists who have made themselves into a category of one – a genre in and of themselves. You go and see “a Tarantino movie”, you listen to “a Bowie album”, you read “a Stephen King.”
Don’t dumb it down for anyone
The camel is a horse designed by committee. Similarly, most art is a perhaps once glorious vision watered down and made anodyne by committee – through some unfortunate blend of greed, conservatism, and a general fearful attitude. We don’t need any more of that. I repeat, we do not need any more of that.
You can choose to toe the line, to be a conformist, to make average stuff for average people. Or you can choose to be an auteur, creating original, brilliant work. It’s up to you.
At every step along the way, there will be people trying to get you to cheapen your vision, to compromise, to make what you’re doing more palatable to the masses. They might be doing it for shady motives – they see dollar signs in you – or for altruistic ones – they want to protect you from disappointment. Whatever the reason, your job is to politely – or not so politely, it’s entirely up to you – tell them to fuck off. If, when push comes to shove, you don’t respect your vision, how can you expect anybody else to?
You only get one life. Don’t waste it doing stuff any old bugger could do. If you’re going to make something, you’re much better off trying to make something original and brilliant – and falling down on your stupid face – than trying to play it safe and make something inoffensive, loosely reminiscent of that powerful vision you once had.
Be better than that. Be braver than that. Be an auteur.