- Marketing David Mamet:Institutionally Assigned Film Authorship in Contemporary American Cinema
This essay addresses questions of authorship in David Mamet's cinema as these arise in the textual organization of promotional material that accompanies the release of a feature film in contemporary American cinema. The main focal point here is the film trailer as a representative sample of an increasingly large number of marketing strategies that also include film posters, television and radio spots, publicity stills, press kits, cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes documentaries, "making of" featurettes, and, more recently, web pages devoted to individual films. Specifically, this essay will discuss Mamet as an auteur by examining trailers for the films he has scripted and directed.1
This approach commences from the position that distribution companies use film authorship as an industrial category to increase the market value of individual filmmakers in a largely undifferentiated media marketplace. In this light, promotional material and marketing strategies become extremely significant texts in the production of the author.2 Consequently, this means that authorship here is not sought in the film text; instead, it is negotiated through intertext, regardless of whether a filmmaker could be constructed as an auteur through more traditional, textually determined processes. As a result, this strand of auteur criticism, which is labeled "industrial auteurism," could potentially reveal "a different author," an author whose presence is assigned institutionally, which often makes sense only in light of distributors' attempts to market a specific product to a particular audience.
This essay will demonstrate the distinct ways film distributors mobilized Mamet's authorship. It will argue that the use of film authorship in contemporary American cinema marketing depends on the nature and extent of a filmmaker's association with particular institutional apparatuses, such as mainstream (cinema financed by the majors) and independent American cinema, which are organized in different ways and which assign authorship for different reasons.
Industrial Auteurism: The Debate
The discourse of industrial auteurism has been shaped mainly by the work of Timothy Corrigan, Jon Lewis, and Justin Wyatt ("Economic Restraints"). Corrigan and Lewis, in particular, attempted to construct a critical argument that located questions of film authorship strictly within the industrial-economic context of what film critics have called the New Hollywood. Despite their different approaches to the area, which, interestingly, are marked by an examination of the discourses surrounding Coppola's work, they nevertheless advanced a similar argument that advocates the significance of the film director as an extratextual agency with the power to anchor the critical reception of a film.3 The concept of the extratextual authorial agency is fundamentally different from the textual ones advanced in earlier phases of auteur criticism. Consequently, it produces different kinds of arguments that take into consideration the increasingly complicated relation between audiences and film-related forms of media (magazines, interviews, on-location reports, reviews, and the making-of featurette), through which a celebrity director is aggressively (self)-promoted. As a result, various new forms of entry to a discussion about a film's reception are created. In the process this new approach to cinematic authorship also examines economic and industrial parameters in film production, distribution, and even exhibition (the size of the budget, the number of screens that the film is released on, box-office figures, the salaries of the key players, etc.) as these become influential in the ways audiences consume films. [End Page 60]
The strength of both Lewis's and, especially, Corrigan's arguments stems from their understanding that the filmic text can no longer be examined independently from the commercial and economic imperatives that characterize contemporary Hollywood cinema. These imperatives include contractual obligations of a film's key players (director and stars) to promote the film through an increasingly large number of media outlets. Through the filmmaker's engagement in public relations, audiences become familiar with the individual's background, interests, personal life, position in the film industry, and, finally, comments on the film itself. This extratextual entity consciously guides the audiences' reception of the film to such an extent that, as Corrigan argues, the film does not even need to be seen (106). In other words, the "industrial auteur" assumes the...