Ever watch a movie and see the name Alan Smithee pop-up as the director, or maybe the writer in the credits? Wonder how this one person could possibly write and/or direct so many varied films, and they all…well, happen to not be very good? You may find my questions coy as most of you already know that Alan Smithee is an alias usually regulated to a filmmaker who wishes to have their name removed from a project. This name-change is usually the result of a long, strenuous battle between filmmaker and studio, or when cuts and edits are made to a director’s film against their wishes. Whatever the case, here at Grizzly Bomb it got our gears moving on a new list, this one focusing on the many films in which a director disowned their own film, sometimes using the Smithee alias, storming off set, or staying silent about the film altogether. Some even had the clout (either at the time or later on) to lock the film up away from the public altogether.
Without further adieu, let’s get this list started:
Alien³ – David Fincher
The film’s production was marred by constant rewrites, resulting in four finished screenplays before the final draft. One, written by Vincent Ward, was famously set on a wooden monastery floating in space and easily one of the great unproduced film projects in sci-fi history. The finished film is still impressive in spots, with Fincher’s technical expertise, but as a whole it’s all over the place. Conjured up out of a myriad of ideas and tones into a sort of mish-mash that the director has long since distanced himself from. The project almost turned Fincher off from directing films altogether (what a shame that would have been), he was also the only filmmaker to not participate on any of the Alien collection Blu-rays and DVD’s. Recognizing how bad the film was, Fincher notes, “There’s nothing worse than hearing somebody say ‘Oh, you made that movie? I thought that movie sucked’, and you have to agree with them”. Things have shaped up for the director, Fincher now has complete control over his films and is contractually entitled final cut.
American History X – Tony Kaye
Tony Kaye pressured New Line Cinema to allow him more time to edit and refine his film American History X. The studio granted him the opportunity but still ended up releasing the longer 119 minute version of the film, with the help of star Edward Norton. Kaye became so enraged that he petitioned to have his name removed and replaced with the alias Alan Smithee. His petition was unsuccessful, but he remained passionately opposed to the released version of the film, saying his shorter cut was better. The interesting thing about this title is that it is widely-acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. Could this be an outlier in which the director’s original version may not be the desired version by fans?
Babylon A.D. – Mathieu Kassovitz
Ever seen the 1995 film La Haine? It’s directed by the same man who directed this unbelievable turkey of a sci-fi actioner, Mathieu Kassovitz, who hasn’t made many films, but showed he had an incredible voice back in 1995. In talking about 2008’s Babylon A.D., Kassovitz has gone on record saying “I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience”. What happened between 1995 and 2008? Kassovitz ducked out of promotional duties on the Vin Diesel film and was apparently an ego-maniac on set. Given that he has never been able to repeat the raw, intense and often times, violent beauty of La Haine, it wasn’t a huge surprise that Babylon A.D. stunk.
Catchfire – Dennis Hopper
This Dennis Hopper directed film, starring Jodie Foster and Hopper was disowned even before the film was released, prompting the use of the infamous Alan Smithee alias. Although a longer version titled Backtrack (still doesn’t make the plot any more comprehensible) was released for television, Hopper infamously stayed away from discussing the film in many an interview. An incredibly vague and said by some to be a ‘torturous three-hour experience,’ this may be one case in which both versions of a film are unwatchable even though the studio’s version is a digestible 98 minutes, it’s still incredibly weird and bloated.
The Day The Clown Cried – Jerry Lewis
There are only two-known prints of this film in existence, and both are carefully guarded. In 1972, Jerry Lewis directed The Day the Clown Cried, which was about a circus clown sent to a concentration camp to lead children to the gas chambers or he himself will be put to death (yikes!). The film never got past the rough edit stages of post-production and The Day the Clown Cried was never released in theaters. “In terms of that film, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all and never let anyone see it. It was bad, bad, bad”, said Lewis in an interview from several years after. Simpsons alumni Harry Shearer has seen the film, which he calls “fascinating in its badness” and Lewis himself has only agreed to talk about the film once during a press conference (most other times he rudely yells or disparages a reporter for asking him about it). This is one of those long-lost oddities that fits snugly into that notion that the legend is so much more exciting than fact and Lewis probably intends to keep it that way.
The Dying Of The Light – Paul Schrader
Here is a very recent example. Paul Schrader’s film starring Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin is just being released (mostly on VOD) and already its a case-study of a director disowning his own film. Schrader is no newcomer to having his films re-edited, sometimes taken away from him altogether. He was the first choice to direct the prequel to The Exorcist and went so far as to film an entire movie only to have Warner Bros. scrap the whole cut and shoot a new movie (with many of the same actors and sets). To see both Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is to see a rare piece of movie history. The details on Schrader’s most recent film are still coming to light (sorry) but you can find a lot of interesting points on Schrader’s own Facebook page where he recently posted photos of Cage, Yelchin, and the films producer Nic Winding Refn posing in “non-disparagement” T-shirts.
More to the point, The Dying of The Light is an apt title for a film in which much of Schrader’s vision, style and storytelling has been turned into a messy action-espionage film with very little heft or interest, it’s a bad movie only because it’s so forgettable.
Fear And Desire – Stanley Kubrick
You might think of the word “perfectionist” a lot on this list but if anyone is deserving of such a title it would be the legendary Stanley Kubrick. Fear and Desire isn’t so much a bad film, or even one in which a studio interfered or demanded cuts to, but a film in which Kubrick himself was never satisfied with. He would even go so far as buying any prints available in order to keep it out of cinemas. There was only one legal print of Fear and Desire at the George Eastman House (Kodak) archive, and it received a restoration and re-release in 2012. Kubrick himself thought it was an amateur’s attempt at filmmaking, filled with unpolished style. Many would argue it’s an incredible artifact of an individual often cited as a master of cinema.
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline – Kevin Yagher
Kevin Yagher wanted more story and less Pinhead, in the fourth Hellraiser, so cuts were made behind his back and he quit before the final scenes were finished. Joe Chappelle was brought on to finish filming and what was left is something not even hardcore genre fans can call worth-while. We’ve seen something like this before, having an iconic horror character displaced from their regular setting and tossed into outer space to wreak havoc in much the same way they would on Earth, except some studio execs thought it would be better if…they’re, like in space and shit. It can certainly be argued this is the nadir of the Hellraiser franchise, and considering some of the movies that came after this, that’s saying something. Furthermore, the film’s failure meant that it was the last Hellraiser film to be released in cinemas, and Clive Barker severed involvement with any subsequent sequels and/or spin-offs.
Supernova – Walter Hill
Credited to Thomas Lee instead of real director Walter Hill, the shlocky sci-fi thriller ropes in everything from aliens to exploding stars, but the end result is pretty unwatchable for the most part. Director Jack Sholder conducted substantial re-shoots once Hill’s work was done, with Francis Ford Coppola’s enlisted to help shape the film in editing, to little or no avail. That’s right, not even the man who directed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now could salvage whatever the studio supposedly did to this film (or maybe it was never very good to begin with). We are fortunate however, as Shout! Factory (under their Scream Factory sub-label) is releasing a Blu-ray edition of Supernova with a good deal of special features that will shine some light on this largely ignored film.
The Underneath – Steven Soderbergh
1995’s The Underneath, starred Peter Gallagher and was based on an old crime novel. The film is seems largely forgotten today, in part thanks to Soderbergh’s desire to downplay it, calling it “kind of a mess” that did nothing for his work but help him figure out how to use certain color and light. Interesting fact, for legal reasons, Steven Soderbergh was not allowed to use his own name to co-sign the screenplay so he penned it as “Sam Lowry”, the anarchist character played by Jonathan Pryce in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, an apt homage considering Brazil is a film about the madness one is subjected to in a totalitarian system (Soderbergh would feel that way about Hollywood to a degree). Though it was difficult to see for many years it’s currently available through the Criterion Collection as a bonus feature to the DVD release of his 1993 film King of the Hill.
What’s so interesting about our list is that all of these films are Hollywood, or at the very least American, releases. Excluding Kubrick, Lewis, and Soderbergh, all of these films came under the scrutiny and scissors of big studio interference and the inclusion of Paul Schrader’s The Dying of the Light shows this is still very much a regular occurrence in the business.
These are just a few examples, so let us know of any other films you thought should have made the list.
Images: 20th Century Fox, Kino Lorber, Universal Pictures,
Miramax Films, New Line Cinema, Alliance Films,
Lionsgate Films, Vestron Pictures, Premiere Magazine