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Who Is Allen Smithee?

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In 1969, the movie Death of a Gunfighter debuted starring Richard Widmark, Lena Horne, and Carroll O’Connor. The reviews were OK — IMDb gives it a viewer-powered 6.4 stars (out of ten) while Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 (out of 5). The New York Times made special mention of Gunfighter‘s director, noting that the film was “sharply directed by Allen Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail.” Ebert also lavished praise on Smithee:

“Director Allen Smithee, a name I’m not familiar with, allows his story to unfold naturally. He never preaches, and he never lingers on the obvious. His characters do what they have to do. Patch gradually gets in deeper and deeper. There’s another killing. The county sheriff is called in. The town council finds its self-respect threatened by this man who will not bend. The film ends in an inevitable escalation of violence, and in a last sequence of scenes that develops with horrifying understatement.”

All of this is high praise for the director. Only one problem: Allen Smithee isn’t real.

During the making of Gunfighter, the actual director — Robert Totten — and lead actor Widmark came to creative differences. In the middle of the shoot, Widmark successfully stumped for Totten’s removal; he was replaced in the director’s chair by Don Siegel. Siegel did not want to take credit for directing the film, having worked on less than half of it and, in his eyes, being something of a yes-man to Widmark (who Siegel believed was the de facto director). Totten, for his part, refused to take credit for the film. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) agreed, and instead associated the film with a made-up director, “Al Smith” — a name quickly revised to “Allen Smithee” in order to avoid confusion with real people with that common name.

The DGA used the name (and more commonly, “Alan Smithee”) officially through 2000, in order to disassociate directors and films as need be. Credited with the disuse of the Smithee name goes to another movie, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, in which the protagonist is a director named Alan Smithee. The rarely seen and poorly received movie managed to attract enough attention to the Smithee legend that the DGA decided the Smithee moniker had outlasted its value.

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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Can’t See the Eclipse in Person? Watch NASA’s 360° Live Stream
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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Depending on where you live, the historic eclipse on August 21 might not look all that impressive from your vantage point. You may be far away from the path of totality, or stuck with heartbreakingly cloudy weather. Maybe you forgot to get your eclipse glasses before they sold out, or can't get away from your desk in the middle of the day.

But fear not. NASA has you covered. The space agency is live streaming a spectacular 4K-resolution 360° live video of the celestial phenomenon on Facebook. The livestream started at 12 p.m. Eastern Time and includes commentary from NASA experts based in South Carolina. It will run until about 4:15 ET.

You can watch it below, on NASA's Facebook page, or on the Facebook video app.

Cephalopod Fossil Sketch in Australia Can Be Seen From Space

Australia is home to some of the most singular creatures alive today, but a new piece of outdoor art pays homage to an organism that last inhabited the continent 65 million years ago. As the Townsville Bulletin reports, an etching of a prehistoric ammonite has appeared in a barren field in Queensland.

Ammonites are the ancestors of the cephalopods that currently populate the world’s oceans. They had sharp beaks, dexterous tentacles, and spiraling shells that could grow more than 3 feet in diameter. The inland sea where the ammonites once thrived has since dried up, leaving only fossils as evidence of their existence. The newly plowed dirt mural acts as a larger-than-life reminder of the ancient animals.

To make a drawing big enough to be seen from space, mathematician David Kennedy plotted the image into a path consisting of more than 600 “way points.” Then, using a former War World II airfield as his canvas, the property’s owner Rob Ievers plowed the massive 1230-foot-by-820-foot artwork into the ground with his tractor.

The project was funded by Soil Science Australia, an organization that uses soil art to raise awareness of the importance of farming. The sketch doubles as a paleotourist attraction for the local area, which is home to Australia's "dinosaur trail" of museums and other fossil-related attractions. But to see the craftsmanship in all its glory, visitors will need to find a way to view it from above.

[h/t Townsville Bulletin]


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