Earlier this morning, I came across a press release for a new movie called Detachment. About to skip it—every morning I come across a press release for a new movie—I saw the name Tony Kaye and continued reading. Tony Kaye has been a fascination of mine since the release of his 1998 feature directorial debut, American History X, which devolved into a messy battle between Kaye, the film’s star, Edward Norton, and the film’s studio, New Line, over final cut. Specifically, Kaye was enraged to find that 15 minutes of footage had been tacked on to the end of the film when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Of the spectacle, a proud Kaye told me a few years ago, “I don’t know if it was the biggest, but it was certainly the most publicized Hollywood battle over a cut, ever.”
Things then got weird for Kaye: he was essentially blacklisted in Hollywood; he tried to change his name, unsuccessfully, to Humpty Dumpty after New Line refused to take his name off the film’s billing; he started an acting class with Marlon Brando, but they too fell out after Kaye showed up on the first day’s seminar dressed as Osama Bin Laden; at one point, he stopped talking on the phone altogether, soliciting strangers to make calls for him from public telephones.
He returned triumphant to the big screen with 2006’s Lake of Fire, a searing three-hour documentary about abortion. It was well received and perfectly constructed, but it didn’t put him back on the map as a major filmmaker. That might change with Detachment.
The film stars Oscar winner Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher and drifter who never stays at one school long enough to grow attached to its staff and students. It also stars Marcia Gay Harden (herself an Academy darling), Christina Hendricks (whose chops I’m curious to see in a full-on dramatic feature role), Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad), Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, James Caan, Betty Kaye (Tony’s daughter!), and Tim Blake Nelson (who recently directed Kaye’s nemesis, Edward Norton, in Leaves of Grass). This is how you stage a comeback. The film is currently shooting in Queens and Long Island.
Until we have more on Detachment, I’ll leave you with something Kaye told me, perhaps the most interesting thing any film type has ever told me. When I asked him about falling to pieces in public, and about losing his credibility for a time, I suggested that perhaps it was all a game, something he himself was cultivating. Kaye replied, “That’s right. That’s 100% right! As a dramatist, not having the fortune to be an actor, I did it in real life. And that can be cataclysmic. But to be honest, it was tremendously good fun. I don’t drink, and I don’t take drugs, so it’s not as if I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew perfectly well what I was doing. Every step of the way, I knew what I was doing. What eventually happened though was, ‘Shit, I really want to be working. And shit, maybe I’m never going to be able to do that again.’ I was wrong. I sold my soul—wait, I didn’t sell my soul to the Devil. I had become the Devil.”