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15 Surprising Facts About American History X

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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 Director’s 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 Dumpy, was never released.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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