I wash my hands of the issue


How to say ‘fuck it; I’m out’ in the film industry

I’m Not Angry
Kyle Leitch

A&C Writer

As if the history of film wasn't already deeply entrenched with some really strange nonsense, occasionally I would come across a film that was directed by one Alan Smithee. At first, I wasn't really concerned about the name until I realized that Mr. Smithee has been attached to some very high-profile films: 12 Angry Men, Cool Hand Luke, and the original Christopher Reeve Superman in 1978. “Wow!” I thought naively. “What a career this Smithee has had! I better do some research.” Research I did. And laugh I did. See, Alan Smithee isn't one person, but several. Another history lesson? You bet, folks.

Alan Smithee first reared his head during production of the 1969 film, Death of a Gunfighter. Leading man Richard Widmark was unhappy with the film’s director, Robert Totten, and arranged to have him replaced with Don Siegel. Both directors had roughly an equal amount of footage used in the final cut of the film, but Siegel made it very clear to the Director's Guild of America (DGA) that neither he, nor Totten, had creative control over the film at all. Instead, it was Widmark who was running the show. This presented a bit of a problem because, at the time, DGA rules made it pretty explicit that the director was the primary creative force behind a film.

After some deliberation, Death of a Gunfighter was credited to the fictional Alan Smithee. The critics of the time fawned over this brilliant new director, whose keen eye for detail and ability to allow stories to unfold naturally made him a Hollywood darling overnight. The pseudonym was then retroactively applied to the film, Fade-In, and to the TV miniseries, The Indiscreet Mrs. Jarvis.

After 1969, the DGA adopted Alan Smithee; Smithee was the only pseudonym that was deemed useable by the DGA. For a director to attach the Smithee handle to a project, they had to satisfactorily prove to a DGA panel that they were unable to exercise full creative control over their project. Should a director have gotten Smithee rights, they were disallowed from discussing production of the film, and from acknowledging that they were, in fact, the director of the film at all.

For a while, Alan Smithee was the best-kept secret in Hollywood. But Smithee soon went the way of the first two rules of Fight Club – people began talking. In 1998, Eric Idle starred in An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, a film about the production of a movie in which the director named Alan Smithee wished to remove himself from his doomed project. He could not, however, because the only pseudonym he could credit as director was – wait for it – Alan Smithee (insert hilarity). The film was a box office failure. As a result of this very negative reception, the DGA discontinued Alan Smithee in 2000, to be replaced by the much more generic Thomas Lee.

Thus the thirty-one year career of Alan Smithee came to a close. A search of the Internet Movie Database will call up an approximate list of all of the projects Alan Smithee was ever attached to. Though the name has come and gone in film, I'd be very curious to see how Alan Smithee would fare in other branches of life.

“Mr. Speaker, to you and through you, I say fuck the Saskatchewan filmmakers!” roars Saskatchewan Party MP Alan Smithee. “I don't think that the English Department is in crisis,” says University of Regina Provost Alan Smithee. Alan Smithee, Arts and Culture Writer for the Carillon went on the record as saying that all of these thick-headed swine can go screeching back to hell. And Smithee might just be a little bit angry.

Photo courtesy  wayswelearnaboutfilms.wordpress.com

Comments are closed.