Kaye's seemingly madcap ads served a shrewd purpose, making it clear he was willing to back up his threat to walk off the film. It's difficult to market any movie with an Alan Smithee credit--few, if any films with that credit have ever turned a profit. It would be even more difficult to promote "American History X" without the director on board to defend its volatile subject matter. As it is, the film has a tarnished image, since its release date has been pushed back several times, a move that is often interpreted as a sign of trouble. (The film is now slated for a Nov. 6 release.)
New Line has been considerably more patient with Kaye than most studios, which would have long ago taken control of the film. New Line also gave Kaye unusual latitude during the making of the film, allowing him to serve as his own director of photography and camera operator.
New Line also gave Norton extraordinary input into the project. The young star, who took a reduced fee and rewrote much of his dialogue in the film, spent many weeks in the editing room, working with an assistant editor on a cut of the film that reflected his thematic and political concerns. He has also told New Line, DeLuca says, that "if he can't stand behind the movie, he won't do publicity" for the film.
Norton defenders say he was asked by New Line to be involved in the editing process, and did so with Kaye's full knowledge. "It's not normal to have actors in the editing room, but Edward's been like a co-producer on this movie," DeLuca says. "Sometimes it's just easier for the actor to try different edits, to demonstrate what he wants."
However, Kaye says that Norton, who did not respond to interview requests, was often an "uninvited" visitor. "I very much respect Edward's talent as an actor and I'm not opposed to actors' being involved in the editing process. But his abilities as a filmmaker are less than nil. He abused the process by politicking with New Line and telling them I didn't know what I was doing. Edward is not calling the shots. Tony Kaye is calling the shots, and if I don't end up calling the shots, I'll be gone from the movie."
If New Line were dealing with a more pragmatic director, it might have called Kaye's bluff. But Kaye, who with his shaved head looks like Michael Stipe's older brother, is known for his unpredictable behavior. In 1983 he took out an ad in the London Evening Standard announcing: "Tony Kaye is the most important British film director since Alfred Hitchcock," surely an example of hype art, since, as Kaye admits, "that was before I'd directed anything at all."
Kaye went on to become a top director of TV commercials, but remained a prickly free spirit. When British Airways complained he was using too many ethnic actors in one of his ads for it, he staged a public protest outside a London British Airways office, dressing up 50 film extras as Hasidic Jews.
In 1995, Kaye, who is an observant Jew, ran an ad in the Hollywood trades that announced: "Jewish car for sale. Four telephones, one fax machine, $3 million." It was half hype art, half truth. Kaye is chauffeured around town in a Lincoln Town Car with four phones, a fax and a California license plate that reads "JEWISH," although he admits he only leases the car.
In addition to "American History X," Kaye has been making "G-D," a documentary on abortion, and staged several conceptual art pieces. He has "installed" Roger, a homeless man he met in London, to walk around the Tate Gallery there. Not long after the Getty Museum opened here, he hired Lorraine, a woman he met on Venice beach, to appear daily at the Getty.
"She just walks round, looking at the art," he explains. "She was recently arrested for being drunk and disorderly, and I had to bail her out. When the judge admonished her for being a troublemaker, she told him she wasn't a troublemaker, she was a work of art at the Getty."
But is Kaye being a troublemaker? Or is he a director defending his work? And what will happen if he and New Line are still at odds when Kaye submits his cut in eight weeks? "We have an excellent movie," DeLuca says. "The issues we're debating are about subtle changes. Hopefully we can compromise, because I can't see this coming out as an Alan Smithee film."
But Kaye says New Line is going to see "an entirely different movie" in eight weeks. "If a baker makes a cake, it doesn't matter who manufactured the flour or mixed the cream, it's the baker who takes the ingredients and bakes the cake. And that's the way it is with this movie. Unless I've made the cake, I won't have my name on it."
Either way, the hype-art ads will continue. As Kaye puts it, "I'm on to something big here." Just how big he doesn't know. Asked to explain the ad that quoted Lincoln, he says: "It was very expressionist, in the sense that I'm not entirely sure what it meant either."