In 1998, director Tony Kaye made one of the most auspicious debuts in film history with American History X, yet it was a film he disowned. He railed against the system that didn’t allow him final cut, and he perpetuated a myth that the film’s star, Edward Norton (who gave a galvanizing performance as a Neo-Nazi that catapulted his name onto the A-list) meddled with the film at the behest of the studio to make it his own and not Kaye’s. The end result was a film that became a cultural touch point for my generation. It was probably the most talked about film in my dorm room freshman year of college. It was a film so raw and violent in its emotional outbursts that it ranked as one of those films “I only care to see once” yet I will never ever forget the “upper jaw to the curb” or the “dinner table Neo-Nazi tirade” scenes so long as I still have a coherent memory.
In Europe, Kaye’s enfant terrible persona would’ve been celebrated, but in Hollywood, he was subjected to a modern-day blacklisting. Since that time, he’s made a few documentaries (including an apparently incendiary one about abortion that even I am too scared to watch entitled Lake of Fire) and has one completed film mired in legalistic backlog (how ironic) interestingly titled Black Water Transit. And yet…in 2012…somehow…against all odds, quietly emerges his newest film, Detachment.
In its tale of inner-city teachers struggling to survive and connect with out-of-control students neglected by vapid parents, Kaye’s film (scripted by Carl Lund) is full of grotesque stereotypes, overt symbolism and some of the most annoying hand-held shaky-cam aesthetics I have ever endured. Yet for all of its Crash-like didacticism and reductionism, when Kaye (who also served as the director of photography) allows his camera to stay static and his actors to fill the scene with their soliloquies, the result is positively electrifying and poetic. Continue reading