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Yet to this day, many viewers still don't know the often even more dramatic story that went on behind the scenes of the film, in which first-time feature director Tony Kaye fought with Norton and distributor New Line over the final cut of the film. He ultimately filed a $200 million lawsuit because he preferred to be credited as Humpty Dumpty rather than allow the studio's cut to be released under his name. Read on to learn more about Kaye's epic and absurd battles to preserve his vision (and how they led to Kaye's epic sabotage of his own career), as well as the rest of the off-camera drama behind "American History X."
1. Kaye was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in London. He made his fame as a director of commercials (consciously following in the footsteps of British admen-turned-filmmakers Alan Parker and Ridley Scott) and music videos, including such memorable clips as 's "Runaway Train."
2. David McKenna made his debut as a screenwriter with "American History X."
3. was reportedly offered the role of Derek Vinyard but declined because he found the material repugnant.
4. Edward Norton was not Kaye's first choice to play Derek. "Edward is a fantastic actor. I think he's technically brilliant, but he doesn't have that physicality and that anarchic emotion that was required for 'American History X, '" Kaye said in a 1998 interview with Kamera.co.uk. Still, Kaye said, New Line gave him several weeks to find someone better, and he couldn't.
5. There was one plus to hiring Norton, Kaye thought at the time. "One advantage of having Edward was that we had a shared vision of how to improve the script, " Kaye told the Guardian in 2002. "In casting him I was really buying another writer."
6. Although "American History X" marked Kaye's feature film debut, he considered himself a veteran filmmaker already because of his work in commercials and videos. A decade earlier, he was already billing himself as "the greatest English director since Hitchcock."
7. Kaye's initial edit of the film drew notes from New Line on how he might improve it. He spent a year recutting the film. "In that time, I found a whole new film, one that they never allowed me to finish, " he told the Guardian.
8. New Line found the second cut even more unacceptable. At that point, film editor Jerry Greenberg and Norton worked on a third cut. "I was so staggered by what [Norton] was doing to my film, and by the fact that New Line approved, that I punched the wall and broke my hand, " Kaye told the Guardian.
9. Norton wasn't the only star with whom Kaye had strained relations. He also had difficulty with (the "Terminator 2" actor, who played Danny, the younger brother whom Derek tries to keep from following in his own racist footsteps). During post-production, while he was on the phone with Furlong's management, he stomped on a VHS cassette of the studio edit of the movie and tried to flush the pieces down the toilet.
10. Kaye took out a series of nearly 40 full-page ads in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter criticizing New Line and defending his cut. He would quote and Shakespeare. In response, New Line took out at least one ad, quoting Dr. Seuss.
11. At one point, relations between Kaye and New Line became so tense that he tried to improve the karma by bringing a rabbi, a priest, and a Tibetan Buddhist monk with him to a meeting with New Line executives.
12. Kaye tried to have his name removed from the credits, using instead the name "Alan Smithee, " the official pseudonym used by Hollywood directors who disown their films. The Directors Guild of America wouldn't let him, however, since the Smithee credit comes with an agreement not to criticize the film or to explain why the filmmaker wanted to disavow the project.
13. To Kaye, that seemed like prior restraint of his First Amendment right to free speech. So instead of "Alan Smithee, " he tried to get the film credited to "Humpty Dumpty." When New Line refused, he sued the studio for $200 million.
14. During his battles against the DGA and New Line, Kaye befriended fellow Hollywood iconoclast . He did this by announcing that he'd acquired the rights to "One Arm, " a previously unpublished Tennessee Williams screenplay and publicly offering a role to Brando (who, of course, had become famous by starring in Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire").
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