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By Sarah Hepola

AUGUST 9, 1999:  Arguments over a film's final cut are the stuff of Hollywood legend, resulting in some of the juiciest controversies in movie history, as well as some of its most embarrassing films. Of course, even directors granted the coveted final cut can manage royal screw-ups, but there's something special about the hint of histrionics, the clashing egos, and the epic, expensive pissing matches that ensue when directors and producers go head to head. Remember United Artists scrambling to salvage Michael Cimino's four-hour stinker Heaven's Gate? Or Tony Kaye throwing a tantrum over a newly edited American X?

In some cases, the director remains so disgusted with the film's final results that he cannot bear to be associated with it, and in this situation, he can appeal to the Director's Guild to have his name removed from the credits and replaced with Alan Smithee. The strange Hollywood tradition began in 1969, after directors Don Siegel and Robert Totten locked horns during the filming of the Western Death of a Gunfighter, and both lobbied to have their names removed. The Directors Guild chose the name, at that time spelled Allen Smithee -- not exotic enough to raise an eyebrow, too oddball to be duplicated in real life. Later Smithee's name changed to Alan, and though his debut wasn't all that horrible, it certainly has been downhill ever since.

The Internet Movie Database credits the poor schmo with no less than 46 television shows and films -- that's more than Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone, and Quentin Tarantino combined. Although some of these are merely butcher jobs performed on already released films (like Rudy, which David Anspaugh yanked his name from after the story was tinkered with for television), Smithee stands proudly as perhaps the consistently worst-hitting director in Hollywood history.

Although his list of credits includes some predictably odious films, including the absolutely unredeemable Hellraiser IV: Bloodline, some of his films have surprisingly rich production budgets and are studded with stars. Just take the following two examples -- one a satirical misfire and the other a disaster movie before its time. Or after its time. Or perhaps without time. Or ... something. What makes the following films so fascinating to me is not just their dreadful, horrid lack of cohesion, but the fact that both contain so much potential -- potential whittled away in the grandest of Hollywood excess, pride. Coming straight from the increasingly popular so-bad-it's-good file, these films are alternately hysterical and tedious, but guaranteed to be rotten to the core. With a name like Smithee, it has to be bad.


An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn

D: Alan Smithee (1997)
with Ryan O'Neal, Coolio, Chuck D, Eric Idle, Richard Jeni, Sandra Bernhard, Stephen Tobolowsky, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan, Whoopi Goldberg.

The film "Hollywood doesn't want you to see" turns out to be the film none of its stars want you to see, either. This limply written, poorly acted, lamely conceived satire of Tinseltown tells the story of a real-life Alan Smithee (poor, poor Eric Idle) forced to kidnap his own film when the studio strongarms him into making a brainless blockbuster. After all, what's the director gonna do, pull his name from the film? He is Alan Smithee (tee hee). Told in a mockumentary style, the satire is played far too broad, with running jokes that hardly even register a smile, far less a laugh. Surprisingly, this turkey managed to corral several impressive cameos -- including Miramax head Harvey Weinstein as private dick Steve Rizzo -- a fact which proves its point about the pimps of Hollywood far better than the script itself, which slogs its way through almost 90 minutes of toothless gags and goofs. The film's biggest kick in the nuts turned out to be that its real director, Arthur Hiller (The Babe, The Lonely Guy), pulled his name from the credits after squabbling with screenwriter Joe Eszterhaus, the man whose sustained belch on Hollywood has also brought us the best rotten film of the Nineties, Showgirls. At one point in the movie, Idle's character tries to explain his reasons for stealing his own movie: "If we believe in film, don't we have a responsibility to protect the world from bad ones?" Sadly, Eric, the answer appears to be no.


Solar Crisis

D: Alan Smithee (1990)
with Tim Matheson, Corin Nemec, Charlton Heston, Jack Palance, Annabel Schofield, Peter Boyle.

Charlton Heston in Solar Crisis

Something is wrong with the sun. With befuddling exposition and a hailstorm of choppy scenes, exactly what is wrong with the sun remains unclear -- but, as we learn in the film's preamble, in titles which read like a bad English translation, it's the year 2050, and the "cremation of the earth is at hand." Must be a ... solar crisis. Matheson plays Steve Kelso, the daredevil of Skytown, who volunteers to captain the aircraft Helios in a perilous journey heading into distant space to thwart the ... solar crisis. But something is afoul. His brilliant female pilot, Alex Noffe (Schofield), in between making goo-goo eyes at him, has been invaded by space gremlins which cause the deterioration of the spacecraft and prompt the strangely menacing computer Hal -- I mean Freddie -- to self-destruct. Sound confusing? You don't know the half of it. Meanwhile, good ol' Heston is hoofing around the scorched desert looking for his grandson (Parker Lewis Can't Lose's Nemec), who is hitchhiking the earth with Jack Palance, too busy doing his best Dennis Hopper imitation to bother with the dialogue. "This solar crisis has brought the world together," Nemec's spunky teenager muses to the weathered Palance, and a tear wells up in the old codger's eye. It's a touching scene -- that is, it might be if we knew what the hell was going on. Seemingly stitched together from the cutting room scraps of better films, Solar Crisis is a pathetically muddled mess. Actually directed by Richard C. Sarafian, the film seems more akin to the disaster movies so popular in the past few years, especially Armageddon, but it lacks even that film's tension and sneering sense of humor. Instead, Solar Crisis is funny for all the wrong reasons. Somebody get this film some Mystery Science 3000 overdubbing, already. Although we wouldn't want their quips to drown out some of the film's truly choice lines, including a loose female crew member who shouts out in a moment of crisis (solar crisis): "I'd give these controls a handjob if it would help us get through!" Yeah, it's that kind of movie; Smithee's best work in years.


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