When James Cameron and Patty Jenkins engaged in a war of words last week over Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, the ground-breaking film-makers were engaging in a time-honored tradition: the director feud. Sure, their spat had higher stakes. Instead of quibbling over artistic, financial or personal differences, theirs was a political disagreement over who gets to define feminism. Spoiler alert: the man lost, at least on social media.
Still, feuds between directors are nothing new, and it’s easy to see why. Film-making is a highly competitive business engaged in by artists who are accustomed to having total control over their final products. Some sniping between artists is inevitable, but in some cases, the early warning shots can escalate into all-out war.
Kevin Smith v Tim Burton
The feud between Smith and Burton started when Smith noticed that an image at the end of Burton’s 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes – a statue of Abraham Lincoln but with the head of an ape – looked like it was ripped from a comic book written by Smith. The Clerks director made a public statement that he was contemplating legal action. He claims he was joking, but Burton was not in a laughing mood, responding: “Anyone who knows me knows I would never read a comic book.” Smith retorted, “Which explains ‘Batman’.” Despite the swift escalation, the feud did no lasting damage. Burton has become Disney’s go-to guy for live-action blockbusters, with Alice in Wonderland and the upcoming Dumbo, while Smith has been dining out on the story for years, telling it first on an episode of IFC’s Dinner for Five and then regularly on his speaking tours.
Jean-Luc Godard v Francois Truffaut
The seminal French New Wave filmmakers were once close friends – they were critics at the influential Cahiers du Cinema together before they started making movies – but as their careers progressed, their paths diverged. In the 1970s, Godard’s films became more political, while Truffaut explored commercialism. After his Oscar-winning film Day for Night, in which Truffaut essentially plays himself making a film within the film, was released in 1973, tensions finally boiled over. Godard sent Truffaut a letter, chastising him for misrepresenting the film-making process. Truffaut wrote back to tell Godard that he had been “acting like a shit” for…