One thing that has never been discussed regarding cinematic auteurism is the film critic as auteur. But look back closely. Just as the “camera-pen” became a new medium for expressing artistic authenticity in Alexander Astruc’s view, so the real pen played the same role for him as critic. Denouncing Dad’s cinema as dead, François Truffaut not only consecrated original directors but also signaled the birth of a fresh, trenchant, passionate criticism by the son’s generation. It only became wittier, more erudite and idiosyncratic in Jean-Luc Godard’s hand. La politique des auteurs proposed by these Young Turks to advocate film authorship could also apply to themselves. They were literally authors, each of them leaving a palpable signature of their own perspective and style between the lines. Their writing made them writers.

Indeed, to read André Bazin is more than to follow his film analysis. It is to taste his aesthetic taste, to sense his profound sense of intellectual balance, to feel his personal philosophy, his love for animals, and his devotional attitude to écriture. Serge Daney delivers his thrilling insight and ethical fervor in scrupulous but vital sentences unbound to academic formulas, thereby going beyond them. No film critic could be an auteur without the unique sensibility for writing itself. Roger Ebert’s succinct rhythm with sharp punchlines exemplifies classical lessons on how to write well; Jonathan Rosenbaum’s expansive free-association embodies literary modernism in exploring the multilayered core of his topic; Jim Hoberman’s rhetorical bravura maximally condenses vast information and pungent criticality in a postmodern style of journalism. The list can go on...

“The death of the author” could then be reviewed as the death of the critic. In fact, the cinema’s hall of fame has been shining with ever more directors-as-stars, whose authorship has survived all historical backlashes against auteurism and now function as brand name in both the commercial and critical markets of film reception. But the critic as auteur has become an endangered species especially in the digital age. To be a critic means little, when virtually anyone can scoop up widely distributed knowledge about films and expose criticism directly to global viewers in new media outlets, from websites to blogs and now social networks. The “do-it-yourself” spirit is much more realizable in writing than filming, diluting the elitism of institutional criticism and democratizing the monopolized right to express. The ideal of freedom of speech, then, flattens a critic’s authorial voice onto the limitless plane of innumerable voices, which do not need to listen or care about it.

Of course this phenomenon is to be less lamented rather than welcomed in many aspects. A notable point is, however, that a film review appears less and less as a serious text to “read.” It is rather linked, clicked, glanced, scrolled, consulted, copied and pasted. To be digested like online fast food, it is not “written” as a text attentive to writing itself, whereby a certain literary, even aesthetic chemistry between a film and a critic occurs to make criticism creative in duration. In most journals, a film review is fabricated as an info-packed linguistic trailer spiced with some critical comments without spoilers. More noteworthy is the socially networked word-of-mouth criticism. Today no book is read more than Facebook, where millions of minimal reviews are generated in response to the big Other’s profile-opening question, “what’s on your mind?” Sure enough, “facebooking” is a sort of mind-game playing the desire to be viewed, noted, or shared by friends and beyond. Even lengthy reviews published elsewhere by critics and academics are eagerly advertised in this domain of social visibility and symbolic capital first, though often just “liked” without being read. Twitter optimizes this sociability and marketability of film criticism in its haiku format.

Nonetheless, the death of the critic as auteur is not the death of critical activity. Neither nostalgia nor pessimism stops the spontaneous evolution of the language of film criticism. Writing is modulation now, skillfully rearranging its components, flexibly adapting to diverse yet convergent media, ephemerally produced and consumed while permanently archived and renewed. It epitomizes performative qualities required for and by cognitive capitalism, juggling with immaterial assets of information and recycling their variations on a world wide web of resources. The critic-auteur would gain its autonomous authority within a film community that s/he serves and guides, embodies and enlightens. But the communal sense of cinematic experience itself is no longer solid enough to sustain or even necessitate that critical auteurism. Or, now, the auteur is an agent with autonomy becoming agency, a causative force of networked writing. It activates critical responses to contingent stimuli by traversing and transforming rhizomatic “idea-bites” dispersed over ever-growing amorphous databases of films and their reviews. This digital auteurism circulates the blood of critical cinephilia through virtual capillaries of global film networks. Here, cinematic life is never dead, but rather undead, as even old critic-auteurs’ writings are digitally embalmed and auratically enjoyed. Long live the new flesh!

Author biography:

Seung-hoon Jeong is Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University Abu Dhabi. He received Korea’s Cine21 Film Criticism Award (2003) and the SCMS Dissertation Award (2012). He wrote Cinematic Interfaces: Film Theory After New Media (2013), co-translated Jacques Derrida’s Acts of Literature into Korean (2013), and co-edited The Global Auteur: The Politics of Authorship in 21st Century Cinema (forthcoming in 2016).