Auteur or consummate professional? A historical study of the film career of John Schlesinger

2020-07-23T12:15:04Z (GMT) by Julie Lane
The career of the British film director John Schlesinger (1926-2003) spanned a period of forty years and was distinguished by a number of notable films made in Britain and the United States. Throughout the 1960s he would be increasingly appraised as a key director, culminating in the critical and commercial success of the Academy Award-winning Midnight Cowboy (1969). From the 1970s, however, critics frequently disapproved of his more commercial and genre-based projects, with a consensus emerging that Schlesinger had made artistic compromises and consequently declined.
In the thesis, a more nuanced and balanced account of Schlesinger’s career and its fluctuations is presented by means of a detailed consideration of historical production and reception conditions. The varied production contexts within which Schlesinger worked, including British filmmaking of the early 1960s, the Hollywood Renaissance and big-budget studio production, are examined for the ways in which he was subject to a range of opportunities, constraints, collaborations and conflicts. Similarly, a recognition of film reviewing as historically situated and subject to ongoing change permits an examination of the ways in which conventions and shifting preferences in criticism influenced particular critical representations of Schlesinger.
Throughout the study, Schlesinger’s agency and contemporary representations of it emerge as subject to a range of specific industrial and critical practices. Despite critics’ intimations that Schlesinger made artistic compromises in the latter part of his career, an examination of actual production and reception contexts indicates that he was consistently subject to particular limitations and that various changes occurring throughout his career would limit his opportunities for making the kind of films with which he had made his name. Inattentive to such realities and attached to the evaluative criteria that had earlier seen Schlesinger appraised as an auteur, film reviewing would work to enhance the sense of Schlesinger’s decline.