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15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About American History X

Behind-the-scenes drama wasn’t enough to derail Tony Kaye and Edward Norton’s 1998 gritty crime drama, which went on to win critical acclaim and a rampant fanbase. Here are 15 things about the making of the controversial film that might surprise you. 

1. IT’S DIRECTOR TONY KAYE’S DEBUT FILM.

Kaye, who had cut his chops directing music videos and art installations in the 1990s, made the jump to directing feature films with American History X. The movie is also screenwriter David McKenna’s debut. 

2. KAYE TRIED TO DISOWN THE FILM.

Kaye was unsatisfied with the final cut of the movie, so he tried to use Alan Smithee—the official pseudonym (coined in 1969 and discontinued in 2000) for directors looking to disown their projects—in the credits. The Directors Guild of America blocked the effort, however, because DGA guidelines stipulated that directors could only use the Smithee pseudonym if they agreed not to publicly disparage the film, something the overly vocal Kaye had already done. 

3. IT WAS PARTLY BASED ON THE LIFE OF REFORMED SKINHEAD FRANK MEEINK.

Meeink, who served three years in prison for charges related to white supremacist beliefs, is now an accomplished anti-skinhead author and lecturer. 

4. JOAQUIN PHOENIX TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE OF DEREK VINYARD.

He thought the film’s subject matter was too intense. 

5. NORTON WAS ALLEGEDLY CAST WITHOUT KAYE’S APPROVAL.

Norton stepped in when Phoenix passed on the project—reportedly against Tony Kaye’s wishes. Kaye wanted to find another actor, but let Norton keep the part because Kaye simply couldn’t find anyone better prior to the start of shooting. 

6. TO PLAY DEREK, NORTON HAD TO BULK UP AND SHAVE HIS HEAD.

The normally slight actor gained 25 pounds of muscle for the role.

7. NORTON WAS NOMINATED FOR THE BEST ACTOR OSCAR FOR HIS PERFORMANCE.

Roberto Benigni took home the trophy for Life is Beautiful

8. NORTON ALLEGEDLY TOOK A PAY CUT TO APPEAR IN THE MOVIE.

Reports claim he received one-fifth his usual $1 million-per-movie fee. 

9. NORTON TURNED DOWN A ROLE IN SAVING PRIVATE RYAN FOR AMERICAN HISTORY X.

He would have played Private Ryan (Matt Damon got the part instead). 

10. THE DINER DANNY AND DEREK GO TO IS A FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD LOCATION.

While it closed in 2000, Johnie’s Coffee Shop is immortalized in movies like The Big Lebowski and Reservoir Dogs.

11. EDWARD NORTON HELPED WITH THE FILM’S FINAL CUT.

While Kaye was editing the film (which took more than a year), Norton and the movie’s studio, New Line Cinema, would send him story notes. And after two of Kaye’s submitted cuts proved unsatisfactory, Norton stepped in to provide his own version of the movie, which is 20 minutes longer than Kaye’s. 

12. OUTRAGED OVER NORTON’S CUT, KAYE CANCELED THE FILM’S PREMIERE.

Kaye heard that the unauthorized cut of the movie was accepted at the Toronto Film Festival while he was shooting a commercial in Germany. The scorned director immediately boarded a plane to Toronto and had organizers pull the movie from the festival’s lineup. When it came time for the film’s wide release, he filed a $200 million lawsuit to legally have his name changed to Humpty Dumpty in the credits as his way of protesting of the unapproved cut. He also took out 40 pull-page ads in trade papers denouncing the movie. 

13. KAYE BROUGHT SOME BACKUP TO HIS NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE FILM STUDIO.

The studio allegedly called a meeting to hash things out with the distraught director, who showed up with a rabbi, a priest, and a monk to try to smooth things over. Kaye’s stunt didn’t work, and the working relationship remains sour. 

14. KAYE SAW THE MOVIE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2007.

Nine years after the film’s controversial release, Kaye agreed to introduce and sit in on a free screening of American History X at a YWCA in Wilmington, North Carolina. 

15. KAYE HAS CREATED A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE FILM’S CONTROVERSY.

The doc, entitled Humpty Dumpty, was never released.

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The Princess Ride: Here's What a Princess Bride Theme Park Attraction Might Look Like
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MGM

Do you fight the urge to say “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” when introducing yourself? Have you spent the past 30 years mispronouncing the word “marriage”? If so, you may be a diehard fan of The Princess Bride. The cult film (and the book on which it’s based) has inspired board games, merchandise, and countless pop culture references. Now, two theme park designers from Universal have conceived the inconceivable. As Nerdist reports, Jon Plsek and Olivia West have designed the plans for a hypothetical attraction called “The Princess Ride.

Their idea follows the classic river boat ride structure and adds highlights from the movie around each corner. After watching Buttercup and Wesley’s love story unfold, riders are taken past the Cliffs of Insanity, through the Fire Swamp, and into the Pit of Despair. The climax unfolds at Prince Humperdinck’s castle and leads up to the two protagonists riding off into the sunset. The last thing the passengers see is Miracle Max and Valerie waving goodbye saying, “Hope ya had fun stormin’ the castle!”

The ride’s designers make a living turning stories into thrilling attractions. Plsek works as a concept artist for Universal Creative, the group behind Universal’s theme parks, and West works there as a concept writer. While The Princess Ride was just a fun side project for the pair, it isn’t hard to imagine their ride bringing Princess Bride fans to the parks in real life.

For more of Jon Plesk’s concept rides inspired by classics like Dr. Strangelove (1964) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), check out his website.

[h/t Nerdist]

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13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter." She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: No team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

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