I’ve never been so nervous or star struck as when I was recently graced with the supreme honor of speaking to the one and only Allen Smithee. This was no ordinary film director. Prior to the interview, I was racked with stressful indecision. Would I ask him about his directing an actress of a high caliber such as Jodie Foster in BACKTRACK (1989)? Or would I query as to what sort of preparation he went through prior to the filming of BLOODSUCKING PHARAOHS IN PITTSBURGH (1991)?
A.S. is a distant and mysterious man whose career in filmmaking spans multiple decades and genres, both within the Hollywood system, and in the muddy shit-caked trenches of the independent B-movie world. Smithee can only be called an enigma, in the fact that his work is never encumbered with a constant distinguishable style from one film to the other. Some have said this very fact is that which casually liberates him from deserved fame. Truly, from his first feature, a rather routine western named DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER in 1969 (“Sharply directed by Allen Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail” –New York Times), to one of his most recent offerings THE CORONER in 1999, no two Smithee efforts are even remotely the same.
Thus his brilliance.
But who is he? Little is known about Smithee himself outside of his famous name. Originally born Allan Smith, he soon was known as A. Smithe, before changing his moniker to Allen Smithee. M’man Allen is best known — nay, notorious — for stepping in and taking over films from other directors who have proven not to be up to the sort of challenge that a godlike man like Smithee can take care of without so much as picking his ass. In fact, this inflammatory usurping behavior has become his trademark over the years, with Smithee occasionally even subbing in as the role of producer, as on the failed slasher comedy STUDENT BODIES (1981) and the medical knee slapper STITCHES (1985). Some people around the industry have taken to calling him “The Scapegoat”, a nickname that I don’t really understand or approve of.
Allen is — in my opinion — the most guarded and unavailable director to the media in the world of film. I can’t honestly remember if I or anyone I know has even ever seen an interview with the secretive scribe. So when his contact info fell into my lap, (from an un-named source whose identity I will take to my grave) I realized that the chance to talk to this reclusive renaissance man in an interview context was to be the single greatest achievement for either myself or The Cultural Gutter to this date.
My God people: This was the big time, perhaps even — the biggest time. Behold:
Robin Bougie: Hello? Mr. Smithee?
Allen Smithee: (Sound of breathing on the phone)
A.S: “How did you get this number? Who are you?”
R.B: Mr. Smithee… I um, what is your.. uh… I’m a big fan! I do a magazine called CINEMA SEWER and I’d like to do an interview wi-
A.S: CLICK (Hangs up)
RB :(Phones back) Mr. Smithee? Please don’t hang up. My p-
A.S: (Screaming) “YAAAGH!! IEEENNEAH!!! PFFFTTT!! GIBBIFAAA!!! YOU SEE? YOU SEE???” (CLICK — Hangs up)
Perhaps it was not to be. I now understood why this astonishing filmmaker has made himself so unavailable to the outside world. We simply couldn’t understand him if we tried. He goes right over our heads. He is a magnificent cosmic joke with no punchline. He is beyond this world… he is… SMITHEE.
And thank the Hollywood gods for that.