An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997)

Director: Arthur Hiller

Arthur Hiller died a couple of weeks ago after a lengthy and somewhat variable career, and so, out of sheer perversity, I’ve been driven to finally hunt down possibly his most notorious film. It’s another film about film-making (seen a few of those lately, haven’t I), this one turning on one of Hollywood’s most infamous non-figures… “Alan Smithee” was the name the Director’s Guild of America used when a director wanted their name taken off a film cos of studio interference or whatever, and though one of the conditions of being allowed to use it was that the director was supposed not to talk about “Smithee” really being them, he was pretty much an open secret (I’d first heard of “Smithee” via Reader’s Digest, I think, a long time before this film). So the great idea was had to make a film about a director actually called Alan Smithee (played by Eric Idle) who hates the horrible action film he’s making, but he can’t take his name off it cos, you know, Alan Smithee is his real name…

The crowning irony, of course, would be that Hiller would have his own name replaced by “Smithee” after conflicts with writer Joe Eszterhas, and the whole thing seems to have been remembered as one of the great Hollywood fiascos (Idle was apparently scathing about it in promotional interviews). Hence I was kind of amazed to find that, well, it’s not actually that bad. Not actually that good as such either, of course, but not really the catastrophe I’d expected. To be honest, the central conceit only really works if you know the story behind “Smithee”—the film doesn’t actually play this up as much as it perhaps should’ve done—and the mockumentary form of the thing probably wasn’t the best way to tell the story. For all its problems, though, I actually did find myself kind of amused by the thing in spite of myself, and perhaps even in spite of the film; Roger Ebert’s zero-star review enumerates what he saw as its many problems, and it’s hard to entirely disagree (he’s right about how good Harvey Weinstein of all people is). I laughed at it a number of times anyway. Take that however you like.

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