A New Breed of Auteurism in HBO’s ‘Girls’
Lena Dunham is naked. A lot.
Her hit show, Girls, has had a monumental rise since its first season began in April 2012, causing a stir in the ranks at HBO and paving the way for offbeat shows like Looking to find a place to call home. But can a creative writing graduate, a mere 27 years young, be the true Auteur behind it all? With a swath of celebrities paraded in front of products, we are reticent to take it all in (i.e. Snooki’s ability to be able to read, much less write a book). There must be a puppeteer behind the curtain controlling these people, right? But there is something different in the story of Lena Dunham, how she’s more than the face of an amusing and shameless Hannah Horvath of Girls; she’s an Auteur a decade in the making.
They say an artist will continue telling a variation of the same story until her or she gets it right. This is exactly what Dunham has been doing since she began her study at Oberlin College in 2004. During those angsty undergraduate years, she made three short films. In the year following her graduation, she was involved in five short films. After watching the films, it’s clear that bits and pieces of Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, come alive in each and every one of them. Whether she’s comparing a sneeze to an orgasm in Pressure or exploring family dynamics in Family Tree, it’s clear that Dunham has been writing and acting out this handful of characters for years. She even serialized her ideas in the YouTube mini-series Delusional Downtown Divas. She released her first full-length film in 2010, Tiny Furniture, which propelled Dunham into the spotlight. This gave her the power to transform the characters from her low budget films into the ladies on Girls.
Good old Francois Truffaut, the über famous French film director of the 60’s and one of the founders of the French New Wave, would likely give props to Dunham for her devotion. He championed Auteur theory and the idea that a director’s personal creative vision should shine through the interference from the studio and the collaborative process. Now, if you haven’t spent hours trolling the web for obscure student films by Dunham, this connection to Truffaut might seem suspect. But think about Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock, Tim Burton or Wes Anderson and you may see that “style” cannot quite capture what they are doing; it’s an understanding these directors have, one where they refuse to waver from their vision. These Auteurs often reach beyond the title of director to have greater creative control, taking the reins of writer, producer and sometimes both. Now, look back at Ms. Dunham. She’s one of the executive producers of Girls, has been the director on eleven episodes and has written thirty-one. Is this adding up?
It’s clear (now) that Dunham may be the Auteur behind her HBO show, but let’s just say that perhaps she got lucky, that she happened to have two successful parents in the New York arts scene and had merely been testing out Girls prototypes for years until something stuck. This is her show, she got lucky with its initial traction, and now she’s reaping the rewards–easy enough. Can we really crown her an Auteur at such a ripe young age in her career? Your silence is convincing enough. Let’s dig deeper.
Tom Peters, Stanford MBA badass and author of In Search Of Excellence coined the term “personal branding” and we can quickly grasp this idea if we think of one man: Donald Trump. Yes, his hair is ridiculous. Yes, The Apprentice was terrible. But for a silly man made famous on TV for pointing his crooked finger and saying, “You’re fired,” he has done pretty well for himself (net worth hovering around 7 billion). What does this have to do with Dunham? Trump has made his name and image into a business that goes far beyond his initial real estate company: hotels, restaurants, TV, even ties. And Dunham has done this also, in a less douchey and sell-out way. She has a massive following on Twitter and Instagram, feeding excerpts from her real life straight to her hoard of fans. These are the “free samples” of her brand that drive people back to her show (and soon enough, her book). This is a complex sphere that Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City could never have imagined. The character of Hannah Horvath appears to many as a real representation of Lena Dunham. Let’s be honest–she cast her real mom and sister in their real roles in Tiny Furniture. Suddenly, the show becomes not just about watching the characters, but about watching something real, someone real.
While Dunham describes herself in life as “years ahead” of her character on Girls, her fans can’t help but connect the two. With tweets like “I’m really trying to become germaphobic” or “I ate a hotdog for breakfast at the airport,” it truly feels like the connection between fiction and real life are true (i.e. creative nonfiction). This is a mark of personal branding mixed with memoir to cultivate a new, social media ridden form of auteurism that would make even Truffaut choke on a truffle. And Dunham shows no signs of slowing down: Dunham said to Vogue that she was interested in continuing Girls for at least two more seasons, in conjunction with a new HBO original she is developing. On top of that, she gained a 3.7 million dollar book deal due out in October. For Ms. Dunham, the vision of her future and her work has always been entirely her own. For the aspiring Auteurs out there, in the words of Dunham, “Enjoy going through life as yourself.”
1. Heller, Nathan. Lena Dunham: The New Queen of Comedy’s First Vogue Cover -. Vogue Magazine, 15 Jan. 2014.
2. Peters, Thomas J., and Robert H. Waterman. In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-run Companies. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. Print.
3. Thompson, Kristin; Bordwell, David (2010). Film History: An Introduction (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 381–383. ISBN 978-0-07-338613-3.
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