Can the authorial contribution of the individual cinematographer to classical, narrative-based film be identified and attributed? This article addresses this specific question, but the specific case of the cinematographer must acknowledge the wider debates about film authorship. The article examines contemporary attitudes to coauthorship in film, highlighting the fact that, in terms of cinematography, most commentators still defer to directors when discussing the creation of meaning within images. While examining the works of Gregg Toland and William Wyler, the article evaluates authorial attribution by means of a comparison between the films they made together and the films they made separately. In order to do this, the article defines a method for establishing authorship within the film image. Toland is a prime historical example of a cinematographer whose authorial contribution has been severely underestimated in the pursuit of glorifying the directors he worked with (Orson Welles, John Ford, and William Wyler).
‘I wrote the script and directed it. My name is Orson Welles.’ These words, spoken by the director over a shot of a microphone at the end of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), resonate far beyond their ostensible function of a delayed credit sequence. In the first place, to connoisseurs of Welles’s opus, this is highly ironic: the film for which the director claims entire credit was the first and, to many, the worst case of an endless series of studio cuts, recuts and various tamperings with Welles’s films that was to continue nagging the director throughout his career. The voice-over, therefore, becomes the signifier of a ghost, a voice claiming authorship for a text that no longer exists – the original, unmutilated Ambersons – , or the almost real signature of a fictional author. The real Orson Welles was not the director of this film. But then, who is this ‘Orson Welles’ who addresses the spectator from the fringes of the film?
As we launch this journal, we think of the scene in Citizen Kane when Orson Welles, as the young Kane, reads the “Declarations of Principle” he has just written for his newspaper The New York Daily Enquirer. We do not claim the same aims—nor anticipate the same future—but we feel something of the same excitement. Journals are not easy to get started, but this one came into being in a short amount of time after we conceived its goals. A number of very fine journals are already published on film, but none, we feel, puts film (and the visual arts in general) into the dynamic and developing intellectual current of our time.
Thursday, 11 August 2005. Killing time, I visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. This is coming to the end of a tour of the Arthur Murray dance studios up and down the West Coast. It is a hot break coming at the end of a month’s dance fieldwork in Sacramento. Rather than fly back to Belfast from San Francisco, I opted for LAX and bookended my research with a personal journey driving up and down the state. I had gone up through Death Valley where I had solo hiked into the desert and made a souvenir vial of Death Valley sand. Then inland north to get through Yosemite, living in my rental car, sleeping in motels. Back south, I was sampling the dance studios along the coast—waltz in San Francisco, rumba in Hayward, foxtrot in Redwood City, tango in San Jose, salsa in chic Santa Barbara, merengue in Beverley Hills. Along the way, I was taking in the tourist attractions: the boardwalk in Santa Cruz where the movie Lost Boys was filmed; Cannery Row, Monterey, described long ago by John Steinbeck; Hearst Castle, which had inspired Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane.