Richard Kelly Resigns Himself to Being a Pawn of the Studio System

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

Richard Kelly burst onto the scene with his intensely original first feature film, Donnie Darko, back in 2001, and immediately established himself with both critics and audiences as a directorial talent to watch. However, in the eight years since that film was released and became a cult fave, he's seen his reputation as a promising young auteur take some serious damage. The first blow came when his messy, long-gestating 2006 film Southland Tales was met with a chorus of boos at the Cannes Film Festival, a film which was then virtually ignored by the public at large when it opened in a handful of theaters in November 2007. To his credit, Kelly bounced right back and shot The Box, an adaptation of Richard Matheson's short story Button, Button, with stars Cameron Diaz and Frank Langella, back in February 2008. However, that film has also experienced more than its fair share of difficulties, the most prominent of which was when the film's release date got bumped from March 2009 to November 6. One might think that these difficulties would inspire Kelly to rage against the machine and go back to his independent roots, but in an interview that ran in this weekend's New York Times, he sounded much more like a defeated (if realistic) man.

While it remains to be seen whether or not audiences will flock to The Box, in the weeks leading up to its release, Richard Kelly certainly isn't brimming with confidence. "I have a lot riding on this film," he told Ari Karpel, before adding, "Until I have a theatrical hit, people aren’t going to keep giving me chances." We applaud Kelly for not being a megalomaniacal asshole who overestimates his place in the Hollywood food chain, but as the interview progresses, his mood seems to darken considerably. Not only was he challenged on the set of The Box by Cameron Diaz ("She would say, 'Richard, this logic doesn’t work'"), but in the wake of the bomb that was Southland Tales, he seems to doubt his own vision. As he explained, "I constantly have these voices — my manager, my agent, my producing partner — to make sure people can follow it, make sure it’s not self-indulgent." Again, kudos to Kelly for not being stubborn and being receptive to receiving collaborative notes, but this doesn't sound anything like the behavior that got James Cameron or Lee Daniels to where they are today, does it?

Most depressing to Kelly fans, though, is the note that the interview ends on.


Huh. Sounds to us like Kelly might be the kind of guy who would be content to just let Paul Verhoeven finish this motherfucker.

Huh. Sounds to us like Kelly might be the kind of guy who would be content to just let Paul Verhoeven finish this motherfucker.

Risk-Taking Director Pushes the Studio Button [NYT]