[M/tv Logo] The Films of Alan Smithee



A Remarkable

Smithee and
Dolores Fangot

I Was Noriega's
Love Slave

The Seme-y
Seams of Seem

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On the Set
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Smithee at the University of Pennsylvania


On September 27, 1997, the Allen Smithee Group of the University of Pennsylvania held Specters of Legitimacy, a retrospective and conference on the films of Smithee. Ian Toll (x. trapnel) and I (Keith/Dekker) attended the event and presented a joint paper. We were welcomed warmly and treated quite graciously throughout the day — just like "the pros from Dover," as they say in M.A.S.H. The following is a diary-style summary of our experience, which I posted in Echo's Movies and TV Conference after our return.


Friday Night

We arrive in Philadelphia at the 30th Street Station and take a cab to the Gables, a bed and breakfast recommended by one of the conference coordinators. The Gables indeed has a proper Hawthorne-flavored look, and the interior is rather disquieting — I feel as if I'm suddenly Keir Dullea in 2001's Victorian "alien orientation" room. Each table in every room, including those in our bedrooms, is loaded with framed pictures and porcelain oddities. The walls are trimmed with gold paint and the lace curtains have floral or peacock patterns. One of the only anachronistic touches is the bathroom reading, which includes issues of People and Guideposts. Even so, none of the copies is more recent than 1995.

We meet Stephen Hock and Yoonmee Chang, two members of the University of Pennsylvania Allen Smithee Group, at Cafe Trio. We discuss tomorrow morning's proceedings. Yoonmee, who will moderate during our presentation, asks us many questions about our backgrounds and wants to know just what we're up to. Stephen expresses concern that members of the audience will wonder why two men, who clearly are not academics, are publicly engaged in a discussion of an "invented" Smithee filmography. He fears that someone will be confrontational during the Q&A that will follow our presentation. We tell him not to worry.

Back at the Gables, Ian and I wonder what we'll do if someone is confrontational during the Q&A following our presentation.

Saturday Morning

We walk to the University of Pennsylvania, even though we have been cautioned not to go by foot through the "bad neighborhood" that lies between the Gables and the campus; but the streets, in fact, are quiet and clean, and the houses are in good repair and well-kept. We enter the campus district by way of a street lined with fraternity houses. For the first time, after many blocks, we see litter and broken glass strewn across the walkways.

We find the Houston Hall Auditorium, and, following the keynote address, we give our little performance. It turns out that we had nothing to worry about — anyone who might find our presentation objectionable opts for the concurrent event, a paper titled "The Law of the Thing: Allen Smithee and Signateurism," being given in the room next door. Those who stay laugh appreciatively at our own "paper." This is a reworking of materials Ian and I had written for Echo, which we deliver as "a Platonic dialogue on Smithee." They even enjoy our playing a clip from Swordsman II and reading it as a Smithee movie, a stunt we thought would have the entertainment value of, well, "The Law of the Thing: Allen Smithee and Signateurism." During the Q&A we are asked about the forthcoming Smithee movies, Mason/Dixon and The Big Bopper, and we respond with satisfying answers and tantalizing speculation.

Ian and I spend the rest of the morning listening to the other presentations, which are serious academic papers and vary in interest. I enjoy Stephen Hock's Derridian analysis of Hitchcock's The Birds and Smithee's The Birds II, but find myself drifting during the rest of the proceedings. Fortunately, a women's martial arts class is in full swing across the hall, and I'm able to watch it through the wall's glass panels as I listen to the speaker from Harvard. His words make a nice counterpoint to the kicks and punches.

Saturday Afternoon

Sleep deprivation has kicked in, so I beg off for the rest of the afternoon. Ian chooses to listen to more of the speakers and I head for the campus book store. I pick out a copy of How Macs Work and find a chair. I immediately fall asleep.

I come to in time to meet Ian at 4:00 and see Andrew Sarris speak. The organizers of the conference consider Sarris' presence to be quite a coup, since the conference is devoted largely to critiques of auteurism. He is enthusiastically received, despite that much of his presentation is a blend of "what's the matter with kids these days" grumblings and an occasional swipe at Pauline Kael.

We are cutting it close to our train's departure time, but we manage to hang in long enough to see Alan Smithee — anyway, someone the organizers claim is Smithee — receive a Lifetime Achievement award. This is a donation from the martial arts class: a trophy, topped with a gold figure in karate garb delivering a flying kick. Alan is grateful.

We catch our train and sleep most of the way back to New York. That evening, I turn on the TV and find that The Birds and The Birds II are being broadcast as a double feature.


Copyright © 1996-2003 by Jon Keith Brunelle