“Sittin’ on a Million” attempts to shed light on the life of a Troy madam named Mame Faye. Owner of a whorehouse that operated in the early years of the 20th century, she was apparently a colorful figure in the city’s folklore and remembered by a handful of natives, some of whom recall meeting or seeing her.
‘Sittin’ on a Million’
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Annmarie Lanessey and Penny Lane
RATING: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 26 minutes
We encounter some of these people in a film by local filmmakers Annmarie Lanesey and Penny Lane, who will show their work at the Spectrum in Albany tonight; it is also slated to be aired on WMHT, the local PBS outlet, this weekend.
On first glance, the project has abundant promise, what with a narrative about an Irish-American Catholic operating a house of ill repute in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution where cities such as Troy were in the economic vanguard. (Its stature and setting prompted Martin Scorsese to choose Troy when he filmed “Age of Innocence.”)
Unfortunately, “Sittin’ on a Million” turns out to be a disjointed account that comes to us much like a first draft of a final project in a film class; it’s a flimsy work that sheds little more than slim anecdotal light on the character, the times and the city. It’s hard to tell what the filmmakers are trying to do.
If their document piques our interest about Mame, we learn little more than is known about hundreds of madams who opened shop in cities all over America. Most of the “evidence” is hearsay, although the most interesting memory is from a woman who claims to have been offered a job by the lady herself.
Without any convincing evidence, Lanessey and Lane seem to portray Faye as a mystery woman, the proverbial madam with the heart of gold. “She was good to people,” says one lady. “Bigger than the queen of England,” says another Trojan.
In one allusion to something of sociological significance, another interview subject asserts that “she treated the girls nicely . . . gave them a home most of the girls needed.” And why is it such a revelation that a prostitute can make more than the factory girl? Or rather, what’s the point?
We never meet Mame Faye’s relatives, who apparently paid for a gravestone in 2006. Nor do we learn anything about the Troy nephew who inherited $283,000 when Mame died in 1943. We do get a pointless series of interviews with a black woman who explains something about the nature of prostitution, a rendition of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” from a local singing group and a declaration from an actress playing Mame, proclaiming that if she had it do over again, she would not change a single thing.
It’s a curious declaration in this curiously irritating mixture of speculation and whimsical anecdotal recollection, especially when we consider that the movie does not offer one fact about Mame Faye’s character or motives.
I should mention here that a more thorough examination of prostitution in the community can be found in Bruce Edward Hall’s “Diamond Street,” a book about the once-flourishing prostitution trade in nearby Hudson, which had a street with 15 brothels and as many as 75 hookers.
The final word is the revelation that Mame Faye’s real name was Mary A. Fahey Bonter. If someone in the Fahey-Bonter family possesses facts or stories about their ancestor, we do not hear from them. Nor do we learn what prompted them to erect a stone for their famous or notorious Mame.