I’m ready for my closeup, Mr Smithee…
I love the hubristic life story of hack Hollywood director Alan Smithee. Never heard of him? Not surprising really. This is a man who will never burst into tears of gratitude to the Academy while clutching a gold statuette and who will never have a retrospective season of his films screened at the IFI. He’s the director of such non-classics as Woman Wanted, Hellraiser: Bloodline and, yes really, the OJ Simpson Story. He’s the Anti-Spielberg, the inverse function of David Fincher. He is the worst director in the world.
Except he’s not. He’s not real at all. He’s a Chimera, an invention. The Director’s Guild Of America has a hard and fast rule regarding directorial credits. If you yelled cut and action on set, your name is listed as the director. If the film was a total, unmitigated, steaming heap of cack and you fear that having your name officially credited as creating it would lead to shame, penury and reprisals against your family, then Smithee’s your man. The DGA won’t allow randomly chosen pseudonyms. You either take the rap or hand the clapper board over to the fictional Alan Smithee.
I’ve been wondering if something similar might also be needed in the car industry. Not just for the embarrassingly bad cars but also in the case of a car being so brilliant that everyone want to take credit. In which case we would have the fabulous case of both the Lamborghini Miura and Alfa Romeo Arna both having been designed by Alan Smithee, engineered by Herr Dr Ing Alan Von Smithee and sold and marketed by SGM (Smithee General Motors).
The Miura was a classic case of success being the child of many fathers, all scrambling for credit. Gianpaolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani and Bob Wallace all jointly, and amicably, took the plaudits for the chassis and engineering but for th styling credit for this most beautiful of cars there was an unseemly meleé. It came down to a slug-it-out fight between legendary Italian stylists Giorgetto Guigiaro and Marcello Gandini. Decades on the two are still barely on speaking terms and perhaps it would be better for all if final credit was simply given to Gian-Alan Smithioso.
And the Arna? A terrible mismatch of eighties Japanese styling and rustproofing with eighties Italian engines and electronics, it was a car so unloved that you could easily imagine a glowering teenage Arna grumpily awaiting the outcome of a paternity test on the Jeremy Kyle Show while Alfa Romeo and Nissan shift uncomfortably in the are-they-or-aren’t-they seats. Changing its production credit to the Smithee Motors Arna would just be a relief to all and would get the monkey of Alfa’s back as it gears up for its new Japanese collaboration with Mazda to produce the new Spider and MX-5.
Presumably, some other car makes would be happy to unload their howlers onto the hapless Mr Smithee. Pontiac, post-mortem though it is, would probably happily despatch the unlovely Aztek SUV into Smithee’s orbit and you get the feeling that the Peugeot 1007 would also find a happy home there.
And, God knows, Smithee would find some gainful employment in motoring journalism. I bet the un-named soul who banjaxed the first Jaguar XJ220 engine in a half-million-quid mistake wishes Smithee would take retrospective blame and I personally would love to hand over credit to him for that time I said the Fiat Stilo was a better car than the Ford Focus. Oh dear.
Actually, a greater societal good could be done by Smithee if he became a blame hound for all our bad motoring purchases, a sort of fictional NAMA to absorb all the unnecessary depreciation we’ve put ourselves through. Thus, when I finally come to trade in my 2003, petrol, automatic, estate Renault Laguna (I know, I know…) I could devolve responsibility for the catastrophic loss of resale value. “It wasn’t me. It was all Alan Smithee’s fault…”