Written By Ash Karreau.
If you don’t know who Alan Smithee is, you probably shouldn’t be reading this website. Not to sound pompous, but I write for people who have enough of a grounding in film that they recognize crap when they see it, and enough of a masochistic streak that they embrace it willingly. Regular readers need the patience to visit this site daily in the vain hopes that a review will be posted of a popular independent film or hot-button political documentary, only to be rewarded time and time again with lengthy diatribes on ethnic cleansing cloaked in the trappings of a mid-sixties Japanese monster movie. They develop a thick skin, a repertoire of hostile racial stereotypes, and eventually acquire an encyclopedic reservoir of exploitation film trivia that will impress even the most jaded video store clerk into giving out a free week-long VHS rental. In return, they offer endless spam directing me to work-at-home websites and stay away in droves. Thanks.
For those still sticking around, Directed By Alan Smithee is a short documentary that attempts to tell the story of one of the worst kept secrets in the film industry. Alan Smithee is, of course, not a real person. He’s a fictional creation of the media, like Dear Abby, the people who write into YM magazine with embarrassing tampon-related stories, and homophobes who are actually gay. Since the 1960s, Alan Smithee has been the credit the Director’s Guild of America used when a director wanted to remove his name from a particularly terrible film. Though used commonly enough that the name became familiar to film buffs, Smithee could only be used under a series of strict regulations. The director’s film must have been altered without his consent, the press must not catch wind of the controversy, and Richard Dean Anderson must have been somehow involved.
Much of the documentary revolves around director Tony Kaye and his much publicized battles over the final cut of American History X. Kaye was unhappy with the way the studio was treating his vision of the final film, and the way the editing was being supervised by Edward Norton, the movie’s star, so he elected to opt for an Alan Smithee credit. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the documentary, the Director’s Guild also refuses to give the aforementioned credit if the film’s real director is an enormous cock, so Kaye was denied the somewhat dubious honor of hiding behind a pseudonym. Instead, he had to settle for looking like a re-animated heroine overdose and giving twitchy interviews about artistic integrity between Mountain Dew commercial shoots. Though the documentary is somewhat uninspiring, it does bring up the interesting question of a film’s authorship. Since the Cahiers Du Cinema in the 1950s, the prevailing winds of film criticism have favored the director as the godlike figure that creates a film from the void, guiding it, forming a mate from its ribs, and then teaching it to shoot abortion doctors and stone homosexuals to death. In reality, films are created much more organically. The director usually doesn’t write the film, nor does he produce it, light it, shoot it, edit it, or act in it, so the idea of his complete control, and thus, his complete responsibility for the final product may seem silly. Though Hitchcock’s films were undeniably his, sharing themes and stylistic elements despite having different screenwriters, the films of, say, Michael Bay are a bit less individual, unless the unifying theme is slow motion brain death. So, the issue of who to blame for a failed film is an important one. I, for one, tend to blame the person who first thought it would be a good idea to make a sequel to Code of Vengeance.