Tony Kaye (director)

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Tony Kaye
Kaye at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Detachment
Born (1952-07-08) 8 July 1952 (age 71)
London, England
Occupation(s)Director, cinematographer, producer, screenwriter, actor, writer, poet, singer/songwriter, painter
Years active1997–present
SpouseYan Lin Kaye

Tony Kaye (born 8 July 1952) is an English director of films, music videos, advertisements, and documentaries. He directed the 1998 film American History X.

Life and career[edit]

Kaye was born to an Haredi Jewish family in Stamford Hill, London, United Kingdom.[1]

He made his name as a director of television commercials with award-winning spots for British Rail InterCity ("Relax", 1988) and the Solid Fuel Advisory Council ("Furry Friends", 1988), as well as his 1993 advertisement for Dunlop Tyres ("Tested for the Unexpected") set to the sound of Venus in Furs by the Velvet Underground. By 1996 he had won 23 British Design and Art Direction (D&AD) awards,[2] and in 2012 was jointly named "most awarded director" (co-equal with Frank Budgen) at the organisation's 50th anniversary.[3]

Kaye made several music videos, including the video for "God's Gonna Cut You Down" by Johnny Cash, which won a Grammy Award, "Dani California" by Red Hot Chili Peppers, "What God Wants" by Roger Waters, and "Help Me" and "Runaway Train" by Soul Asylum.

American History X[edit]

His feature film debut was American History X (1998), a drama about racism starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. Kaye disowned the final cut of the film and unsuccessfully attempted to have his name removed from the credits.[4][5] The film was critically lauded and Norton was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film. The battle over artistic control of the film, which has become part of Hollywood folklore, all but destroyed Kaye's career. He delivered his original cut on time and within budget – but when the producer, New Line Cinema, insisted on changes, the arguments began. The debate quickly escalated. Kaye spent $100,000 of his own money to take out 35 full-page ads in the Hollywood trade press denouncing Norton and the producer, using quotations from a variety of people from John Lennon to Abraham Lincoln. He attended a meeting at New Line to which (to ease negotiations) he brought a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Tibetan monk. When the company offered him an additional eight weeks to re-cut the film, he said he had discovered a new vision and needed a year to remake it, and collaborated with Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott on new narration for the script.[6] Finally, when the Directors Guild refused to let him remove his name from the New Line version of the film, he demanded it to be credited to "Humpty Dumpty" instead, and filed a $200 million lawsuit when the company refused.[5]

Later career[edit]

Kaye's second feature, a documentary called Lake of Fire, was about the abortion debate in the United States. It opened in Toronto in September 2006. The movie was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (though it did not earn a nomination), and was nominated for Best Documentary Film at the Independent Spirit Awards, the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, and the Satellite Awards. Lake of Fire took Kaye 18 years to make.

Kaye's third feature film was a crime drama titled Black Water Transit starring Laurence Fishburne, Karl Urban, Evan Ross, Brittany Snow, and Stephen Dorff. The film was shot in New Orleans during the summer of 2007. A rough cut was screened at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival but the film was never released to cinemas. As of 2017 the film is unfinished due to the production company's bankruptcy and the ensuing litigation.[citation needed]

Kaye's fourth feature film, Detachment (2011), starring Adrien Brody, as well as featuring Kaye's daughter Betty, is a drama about teachers. It centers on Brody as a struggling substitute teacher in a failing New York public school.[7] It premiered in April 2011 at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film screened and won awards at the following film festivals: Deauville American Film Festival, Woodstock film festival (Honorary Maverick Award for Kaye) Valenciennes International Festival of Action and Adventure Films in France, Tokyo International Film Festival, São Paulo International Film Festival, and Ramdam Film Festival in Tournai, Belgium.

In early 2016 Kaye was set to direct Joe Vinciguerra's screenplay titled Stranger Than the Wheel, starring Shia LaBeouf,[8] and in 2018 he was to direct Honorable Men, a crime drama written by Gary DeVore.[9] However, neither project has since come to fruition.[10] Since 2020, he has announced several new projects in development: African History Y starring Djimon Hounsou; Civil, a drama set amid the civil rights movement; and Tremendum, a partially animated film inspired by conversations Kaye had with Marlon Brando.[10][11][12] He is also set to direct dark comedy film The Trainer written by Vito Schnabel and Jeff Solomon.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Kaye's wife is Chinese-American artist Yan Lin Kaye.[14] They have two daughters: Shanghai[1] and Eema Emet Kaye.[citation needed]


As director[edit]

As actor[edit]


  1. ^ a b Higginbotham, Adam (10 June 2007). "I did abominable things". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  2. ^ Geraldine Bedell, Too big for his ads? Profile: Tony Kaye, The Independent, 22 June 1996
  3. ^ Louise Jack, The Best Ads And Creative Talent Of The Last 50 Years, According to Britain’s D&AD, Fast Company, 19 September 2012
  4. ^ McCarthy, Todd (22 October 1998). "American History X". Variety. Archived from the original on 23 April 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2009. It is possible that some otherwise well-disposed critics may restrain their praise, even unwittingly, in knee-jerk sympathy with director Kaye, who disowns this cut and lost his bid to take his name off the picture.
  5. ^ a b Kaye, Tony (25 October 2002). "Losing it". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  6. ^ Waxman, Sharon (12 October 1998). "AN UNHAPPY BEGINNING". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  7. ^ Levin, Robert (16 March 2012). "'Detachment': A Movie About Teachers, Not Education Reform". The Atlantic. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  8. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (24 January 2016). "Tony Kaye Returns With 'Stranger Than The Wheel' Starring – The Playlist". The Playlist.
  9. ^ McNary, Dave (11 June 2018). "Film News Roundup: Tony Kaye to Direct Crime Drama 'Honorable Men'". Variety.
  10. ^ a b Lattanzio, Ryan (26 September 2020). "'American History X' Director Tony Kaye Lines Up 'African History Y' with Djimon Hounsou". IndieWire.
  11. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (16 July 2020). "'American History X' Filmmaker Tony Kaye To Direct 'Civil'". Deadline.
  12. ^ Grobar, Matt (30 June 2021). "Alejandro Corpus' Keithcity Group To Develop Animated Sequences For Tony Kaye Film 'Tremendum'". Deadline.
  13. ^ Grobar, Matt (18 March 2022). "Vito Schnabel, Julia Fox & Steven Van Zandt To Star In Dark Comedy 'The Trainer'; 'American History X's Tony Kaye Directing From Script By Schnabel And Jeff Solomon". Deadline Hollywood.
  14. ^ Pulverz, Andrew (6 July 2012). "Tony Kaye: 'I hope I'm having a moment now' – Nearly 15 years after American History X made him a Hollywood pariah, Tony Kaye has returned to feature films with the star-studded Detachment. So what's changed?". The Guardian. London.

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