With his penchant for issuing such statements as "I consider myself the greatest craftsman/director/imagemaker on this planet," it is not surprising that bald, intense filmmaker Tony Kaye embroiled himself in one of the most colorful creative battles in 1990s Hollywood.
Raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, British-born Kaye bucked his working-class roots to forge a career as an artist. To fund his art, Kaye entered the British advertising business, discovering that commercials could become an avenue to filmmaking as well. Honing his craft for ten years, Kaye became a highly paid, award-winning creator of public service announcements and TV spots for Nike and Mercedes-Benz. Kaye also gained notoriety as a conceptual artist whose "hype art" included ads anointing himself "the most important British director since Hitchcock."
Finally ready to put Hollywood money where his mouth was, Kaye signed on with New Line Cinema in 1996 to direct the Nazi skinhead drama American History X (1998). Serving as his own cinematographer, Kaye made it through the production without problems. During the editing, however, Kaye clashed with New Line and star Edward Norton, going so far as to attend a studio meeting with three holy men in tow to foster a more respectful atmosphere. After Norton took over editing, Kaye placed 35 oblique ads in the trades to express his disgust, publicly questioned why he didn't have the creative control afforded Stanley Kubrick, and demanded that his name be taken off the film and replaced with "Humpty Dumpty." After the Directors' Guild refused that request, Kaye sued them for violating his First Amendment rights. When American History X was finally released in 1998, Kaye's stylish combination of black-and-white and color photography, and gritty, hand-held immediacy, as well as Norton's performance, earned critical kudos (and Norton an Oscar nod), but Kaye was not appeased. His plans to shoot a Tennessee Williams script starring fellow Hollywood thorn Marlon Brando have yet to come to fruition.