What's Up with Tony Kaye?

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On Wednesday night, members of New York's advertising and production industries gathered at the Museum of Modern Art to see Dreams, a sort of short film festival put together by Young & Rubicam and Sony to showcase the 24P Cinealta camera by putting it in the hands of commercials directors to do with what they pleased. The night included a very funny short film by Radical Media's Frank Todaro, a few hallucinogenic montages from HSI's Peggy Sirota and RSA's Jordan Scott, and a poignant remembrance of September 11 by Bob Giraldi.

And then there was about 30 seconds of Tony Kaye in bed snoring, dressed like Osama bin Laden.

The audience was mostly silent, save for some nervous laughter. Some were offended. Not because of the bin Laden reference, but because Kaye had obviously put so little effort into the project. But what do you expect? It's Tony Kaye. The industry's resident eccentric.

"It was just a spontaneous thing I did because it amused me," he explained yesterday in a phone interview. "I just got asked to do this by the agency and I didn't see what other people did, but I imagined that other people would do more serious, trying hard things, and I thought sticking some stupid piece of shit in the middle of all of it would make people laugh. That's why I did it. To avoid pretension at all costs."

Besides, Kaye has lately become very serious about Osama bin Laden. Shortly after the terrorist made his first appearance on American television following September 11, Kaye began donning Osama drag and showing up at comedy clubs in New York. "When I saw him on CNN with a microphone I thought it was funny," he says. "I thought he looked like an idiot, and I thought that would work on the stage of a comedy club."

"When he first told me he was doing this, I was scared to death," admits Kaye's rep, Tim Case. "I thought clients wouldn't want to have anything to do with this." But, actually, Kaye has been working somewhat steadily. He shot a package for Reebok and Berlin Cameron & Partners that aired this fall. And -- demonstrating that even when Kaye doesn't look for controversy, it finds him -- he shot a surreal brand spot featuring a man in a metal suit for the now infamous Enron Corporation. "I think it's one of the best things I've ever done in America," says the director, who moved to the U.S. from England in the mid-'90s to pursue feature films, with unhappy results. After shooting American History X he had a run in with the studio, New Line, and tried to have his name removed from the film without luck. He's currently self-financing a feature titled Lobby Lobster that, he says, has him in "much financial distress."

"I would shoot a baked bean on a plate if somebody asked me to," he says.

Kaye didn't make it to the Dreams screening on Wednesday night, however. Although he's been in New York all week, he's been working, reportedly on a PSA slated to run during the Super Bowl for -- who else? -- the White House. Dreams, meanwhile, will be screened next Tuesday, January 22, at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.

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