When did the directorial cameo begin?
Jean Renoir in La Bete humaine?
And why did it begin in the first place? To save money? Because there was no one better? Out of desperation? Out of ego?
No matter, the directorial cameo is here and here to stay, so it's worth examining. So let's break it down. There are lots of degrees of the directorial cameo.
There's the see if you can find me cameo a la Alfred Hitchcock.
There's the has some dialogue but not too much as to botch the movie cameo which belongs to the likes of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Mel Brooks.
There's the director title isn't enough so I'm also going to star in it cameo and that goes to Spike Lee, Albert Brooks, Orson Wells and Clint Eastwood.
And then there's Woody Allen. I have loved him in Sleeper and Love and Death and Annie Hall and Radio Days and Crimes and Misdemeanors and New York Stories and good God somebody stop me. And when Woody isn't starring in his own movies, he's casting someone that can play his own neurotic, stammering bad self, like John Cusak or Will Ferrell. It wouldn't be so bad if Woody didn't put out about six movies a year.
There's no denying that Alfred Hitchcock's cameos are cool in that he makes it a point to not stand out. I would have to say that Scorsese's cameo in Taxi Driver is both brilliant and deeply disturbing. Spike Lee is excellent in all his movies. David Lynch playing agent Gordon Cole makes me laugh every single time. And I would have to argue that I can't really see anyone else in the role of Charles Foster Kane other than Orson Wells and knowing how egotistical Wells was, I'm not sure there was no one better to understand the character than him.
Come to think of it, I'm not sure that there has been one single movie that has suffered because of a director casting himself/herself. It might have been better, but I don't know that it was worse. But then again, I haven't seen Steven Soderbergh in Schizopolis.