Almost since the earliest constructions of the moving image, notions of authorship have been developed and alternately contested. While such aspects as authors' roles, creative circumstances, and perceived autonomy change across cultures and across time, ideas of "authorship" have persisted—even in discourse that has proclaimed the very death of the author. Perhaps owing its greatest historical debt to "auteur theory," authorship within cinematic traditions has, in cycles, embraced this idea, attempted to disengage itself from that ideal, or perhaps even denied its relevance. To date, authorship remains a complex aspect of media theory, possibly because no one theory of authorship can account for the range of authorship experiences and diversity of authored products thriving in contemporary societies.
For this issue of the Velvet Light Trap we solicited papers with the intent of providing a platform for engaging the complexity of "authorship" as a product of historical and contemporary discourses. Framing questions included diverse areas of inquiry such as issues of authorship, mastery, and the canon; cooperative authorship practices and other complications of the "master" filmmaker; product branding via authorship; historical perspectives of authorship; the valorization or devalorization of authorship in industry; the visibility of the documentarian as author, public figure, and/or political figure; and how authorship may be fostered in classroom settings. We were impressed with the response that our call received and, from many submissions, ultimately narrowed our selection down to those included in this issue. Together, we believe the articles promote reflection on the past, beginning with the early days of cinema and the rise of the studios through more contemporary conditions, while opening the discourse to how new media platforms and new media outlets have alternately challenged and reinforced traditional modes of authorship.
Because the goal of this issue of the Velvet Light Trap is to explore authorship from a variety of perspectives, the authors included here address "authorship" from a broad range of historical and theoretical perspectives, considering varying ways in which authorship has been deployed within institutions, negotiated by filmmakers, and even how it may be interpreted by audiences. We open this issue with "The Cinema of Affections: The Transformation of Authorship in British Cinema before 1907" by Joe Kember, in which the author explores the relationships between early film audiences and British filmmakers at the very beginning of the twentieth century. He concludes that the construction of authorial personae was key both to the ability of the audience to interpret the films they viewed and to the ways in which early film production and consumption was institutionalized. Jerome Christensen's case study on The Fountainhead and Warner Bros. moves us forward to the late 1940s. His analysis of how the studio cultivated a corporate sense of authorship illustrates how Warner Bros. was able to change aspects of trademark law, alter notions of corporate identity, entrench corporate ownership rights, and even establish new immunities for corporate speech. In her article Brooke Rollins looks at Touch of Evil and the discourses surrounding Orson Welles as writer, actor, and director, all conflated within the notion of "author" of the filmic text. Ultimately, the conflicting narratives surrounding Welles as author bury the contradictions surrounding his appointment and support master narratives of authorship and "masculinity," the "classical male subject," and the "genius auteur."
After Rollins's essay the articles turn to more contemporary issues, beginning with Matt Becker's work on "hippie" horror films. Becker argues a perhaps controversial stance—by shifting focus away from a single author—in order to illustrate how social politics and ideology infiltrate genres and influence authorship practices [End Page 1] on a more collective level. Becker argues that particular plots and formulas that surfaced in certain horror films of the late 1960s and early 1970s can be best understood as vehicles by which some directors chose to express the hopes and fears of the hippie counterculture. The innovations within the films were inspired by a collective cultural experience, as much as or more so than by the particular "authors" of the films. The article after Becker's returns to institutional issues, as Yannis Tzioumakis uses the case study of David Mamet to illustrate how distributing strategies can convert a director...