Aura, Auteurism and the Key to Reserva

Kartik Nair


This essay revisits some of the most significant and enduring debates over the status of cinema as a popular form. The first debate is over the ‘aura’ and film. In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935), Walter Benjamin celebrated the democratic moment when technical reproducibility—culminating with film—abolished the centuries-old ‘aura’ of art. Conversely, in “The Culture Industry” (1944), Theodor Adorno lamented the anti-enlightenment standardization wrought by the assembly line under monopoly capitalism, and the movies were for him a primary example of this mindlessness. Arguably, auteurism emerged in the crossfire of the legacies of Benjamin and Adorno. Since it sought to cordon films off from the undistinguished mass of studio ‘product’ by elevating certain film-makers into the rarefied air of individual expression, ‘auteur theory’ may be said to have conferred a plenitude on its chosen few, a plenitude akin to aura. The second debate that I revisit is therefore that between Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, a debate surrounding the Americanization of the auteur.

Finally, the essay concludes with a brief focus on the short film The Key to Reserva (2007), directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a playful 9-minute experiment – part mockumentary, part homage – in which Scorsese attempts to ‘preserve’ a script Hitchcock developed but left unfilmed. I shall attempt to stage The Key To Reserva as an exciting flashpoint for discussions not only of the status of Hitchcock and Scorsese in Hollywood viz. auteur theory, but also as a flashpoint for discussions of mass reproduction and cinema; the commodity form and advertising; standardization and style; anonymity, authorship, and aura.


auteurism, martin scorsese, alfred hitchcock, film theory, genre, films, cinema

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