The Movie So Bad It Forced The World's Worst Filmmaker To Retire
Ah, bad movies. Kids these days have it easy, complaining about their Artemis Fowls and Emoji Films and, erm – I don’t know, my brain is stuck on a loop reliving 1997 over and over again. The thing is: they don’t even make bad movies like they used to do.
Back in the day, when movies were so irredeemably bad they achieved gravitational collapse, the last resort was one man. And no, not to fix them, but to put the blame on him. Fortunately, such a sad man wasn’t real (Ted Cruz hadn’t been invented yet), but a made-up name created by the Directors Guild of America to be credited on movies disowned by those who helmed them. You probably know the name of this legend: Alan Smithee.
Yeah, Alan Smithee. We’ve talked about Smithee here at Cracked, even about this particular capital-e Event. Yet it deserves to be better known, even screamed from the rooftops, like when one’s in love, or tripping on acid.
By 1997, Smithee’s name was already kinda known after having been the official pseudonym of ashamed directors since the late 60s (and even if his early ‘career’ showed some promise). Thus, a movie riffing on the inside joke was developed by a bunch of Hollywood insiders with a bunch of Hollywood insiders. It was supposed to be Hollywood pleasuring itself, like, like… well, like Ted Cruz on 9/11... ok, we have blown our comedic rule-of-three early.
An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn was a 1997 mockumentary about an action movie called ‘Trio,’ which turns out so bad its director tries to get a pseudonym slapped on it. The problem, however, is that while the DGA’s pseudonym is ‘Alan Smithee,’ the director, played by Monty Python’s Eric Idle, is also named Alan Smithee. That’s the joke. Yeah, feel free to continue reading when you’re done laughing. Anyway, the ‘real’ Smithee hates Trio, can’t get a pseudonym because of the name coincidence, and so he snatches its only copy and makes a run for it in order to burn it. Hence the title. Truly a pinnacle of cinema.
Now, if that was it, it would just have been a lame idea driving a clearly forgotten movie. Yet the plot outline isn’t what should be remembered about this movie. Indeed, the truly interesting bit is the reality-warping meta-meta-meta-irony that came during post-production. For you see, the movie – not Trio but Burn Hollywood Burn – actually turned out to be awful, as director Arthur Hiller – the man responsible for such time-tested classics as 1970’s Love Story and 2006’s National Lampoon’s Pucked – disliked Joe Esterhas' cut of the movie.
Yes, that Joe Eszterhas.
We forgot to mention: An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn was written by Eszterhas. During the 80s and 90s, he was a very popular screenwriter, and the dude made bank. Yet even if he has written some decent movies (and hey, Basic Instinct is an objectively good film), he was also heavily criticized for his career ascension being fueled by trashy, gimmicky shlock, the sort of lowest common denominator Hollywood accountants love.
Like awful Star Wars lines, however, Eszterhas’ career and controversies are a good question for another time. Still, there is some credence to the notion his vision might have collided with Hiller’s – or maybe the whole thing was a publicity stunt to hype-up a bad movie, which in any case made Eszterhas’ career implode.
An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn ended up making $52,850 out of its 10 million budget, and got awful reviews from critics who found it uninspired, predictable, crass, misogynistic, and worst of all for a ‘comedy,’ boring. And it is very boring. For example, it tries to instill a ‘comedic tone’ with the friggin’ Woody Woodpecker song.
Yet the movie's true legacy is that it ultimately forced the DGA to retire the name Alan Smithee. Today, the legendary name continues to be used in film and other media, yet it is no longer the DGA’s official answer to awful movies. So this was the historical significance of An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn: Dawn of Justice: not to simply be a really, really bad movie, but a movie so bad it even destroyed the institutional standards for really, really bad movies.
Plus, it dared to misuse Jackie Chan and Die Hard with a Vengeance footage – burn in hell indeed, movie.
Top Image: Hollywood Pictures