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Sarah Kozloff has written a refreshingly straightforward defence of authorship and intentional creative agency. Academics and their students, who have been told for the past forty years that the idea of the author is pernicious, badly need to hear what she says. She has a welcome ability to deal concisely with jargon-encrusted theory and is very good at pointing out the historical inaccuracies, logical weaknesses, evasions and contradictions in familiar arguments. Her book is a deceptively simple, well-reasoned intervention in the field.
— James Naremore, author of An Invention without a Future: Essays on Cinema

The Life of the Author

Sarah Kozloff (Vassar College)

When Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault proclaimed the ‘death of the author’ nearly fifty years ago, they did so in the name of freedom. They could never have foreseen that its indiscriminate embrace by many film theorists would turn the anti-authorship stance into a restrictive orthodoxy. Sarah Kozloff daringly advocates a new paradigm, a theory of film authorship that takes into account flesh-and-blood filmmakers, including their biographies, their intentions and their collaborations. Building upon scholarship by Noël Carroll, Paisley Livingstone, Robert Carringer and Paul Sellors, Kozloff argues that we watch films in large part to feel a sense of communion with the people behind them. Writing with clarity and verve, Kozloff moves gracefully back and forth between film history and film theory. She offers an extended examination of The Red Kimona (1925) in order to demonstrate how knowledge about the people who created this intriguing early feminist movie can change a viewer’s interpretation. She also weaves in the voices of numerous filmmakers, revealing these artists’ thoughtful intentionality.

I believe art works are made by people operating (struggling) within their historical moment. Without denying or downplaying larger cultural forces—indeed, while drawing them into the mix—I want to study films from this standpoint. Yet, I do not think of myself as a naïve fan. Filmmakers as famous, successful celebrities hold no interest for me. If I am teaching or studying a film, however, I do want to know how the filmmakers’ biographies, intentions and agency combine with these larger social structures to influence the text before me. If I can’t find kindred spirits within film theory, I will search elsewhere.
— Sarah Kozloff
5.5 x 7.5 in., 65 pp. Library PDF, ISBN 978-1-927852-30-9. Kindle, $10.

Sarah Kozloff is emeritus Professor of Film on the William R. Kenan Jr. Chair at Vassar College. Her books include The Best Years of Our Lives in the BFI Film Classics Series (2011), Overhearing Film Dialogue (2000) and Invisible Storytellers: Voice-Over Narration in American Fiction Film (1988). Her articles and chapters appear in numerous journals, anthologies and textbooks.