Tony Kaye and The Hell of Compromise


I went to see Tony Kaye talk at a D&AD President’s Lectures event last night. Except he didn’t just talk. He played some of his songs (one was called ‘The Hell of Compromise’). He read out a poem (accompanied by live music) about how he got a job as a junior art director at CDP despite his severe stutter (he recorded himself saying “Please can you put me through to Neil Godfrey” and played it down the phone when the secretary answered).

He showed us half of a new documentary he’s working on based on his battle with Hollywood over the editing of his film American History X (Marlon Brando: “You have to accept the way it is Tony. You can’t win this thing.” Tony Kaye: “Even if I lose, I can’t actually lose.”). He talked about the huge frustration of that “David v Goliath fight”. How he just wanted to create the best piece of work he thought possible, but had been beaten down by a combination of Edward Norton’s ego and New Line Studio’s financial clout. When the studio refused to remove his name from the film, he told them he wanted to change his name to ‘I hate this film’ and then ‘Humpty Dumpty’. “I was a spectacular pain in the arse” he said. He told us that his preferred cut will finally be shown, at the Toronto Film Festival, soon. He told us about a new project he’s working on, ‘The Merchant of Shanghai’. That he’s inspired by ‘Breaking Bad’. He broke down in tears and had to stop, twice.

It was a unique, intense evening with many jaw-dropping moments. But despite all the drama and theatrics, the most amazing parts were when the lights went down and we watched TK’s highlights reel. His beautiful ad for the Real Coal Association, his thrilling Nike ad, ‘Twister’, the dinner table scene from American History X, his shocking anti-drink driving ad ‘Kathy Can’t Sleep’, the heart-breaking ad for the Museum of Heritage (below), a scene from his recent film Detachment (which is brilliant, see it!) and one from Lake of Fire. It’s a magnificent, awe-inspiring body of work from a singular, fearless talent. For me, he’s beyond advertising and up there with British creative greats like Tony Hancock, Kevin Rowland and Morrissey. As a creative person, looking at his work you could easily get disheartened and wonder how you could ever hit those amazing, consistent heights. Or you could be inspired and get cracking. After all, as Tony said, “It’s only too late if you don’t start now.”


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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