Anna Nicole Smith was “famous for being famous,” or more to the point, “famous for being infamous.”
A voluptuous Playboy Playmate and Houston stripper who married an old man for his millions, showcased her vapidity on reality TV and never missed a red carpet or any other chance to shake her moneymaker for the paparazzi, she never achieved anything and didn’t live long enough to celebrate her 40th birthday. But the public couldn’t get enough of this blonde template for the Kardashians to come.
If you’re a direct-to-video moviemaker longing for his shot at the big time, what could be better than landing this attention-magnet for the lead in your new movie? That’s the devil’s bargain that writer-director David Giancola made when he landed Smith for his 2006 “Charlie’s Angels”-meets-“Earth Girls Are Easy” parody, “Illegal Aliens.”
He had publicity, more than he could have dreamed of. The Vermont filmmaker, who’d used people like Bruce Campbell and Sean Astin and a very young Jesse Eisenberg in earlier movies, had a film Hollywood had at least heard of and might be interested in distributing. To theaters, even.
‘Addicted to Fame’
DIRECTED BY: David Giancola
DOCUMENTARY WITH: Anna Nicole Smith, David Giancola, John James, Lenise Soren, Gladys Jimenez and Chyna
RATED: Not rated GRADE: C
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
Fiasco from first
But it was, as you might guess, a fiasco — a diva star who was plainly out of it all the way through the rushed-shoot, an “actress” who couldn’t act, even if she had been sober, and a movie that wouldn’t have warranted any attention at all if she hadn’t agreed to take the leading role.
And that was before tragedy overtook Giancola’s film and his shot at the big time.
Giancola was clever enough to hedge his bets, having videographers crawling over his production all during the shoot, getting all this candid behind-the-scenes footage that he might be able to use if the movie he’d planned “doesn’t work out.” And that “doesn’t work out” is very much up in the air all through the 15-day shoot. Smith feigns illness, is habitually late, cannot remember her lines, looks stoned and acts stupid every second she’s on set.
Giancola, looking back, is blunt to the point of cruel in his regard for Smith. He said at the time, filming her was “like working with a 2-year-old, or 3-year-old.” But it’s hard to feel sorry for him. He made this deal and cannot believe it’s blowing up in his face.
Tempers flare as director, screenwriter, the star and the star’s entourage wrestle for control of the script, or try to figure out ways to film around Smith and her parasitic lawyer-beau, Howard K. Stern.
Then, just as you think the end is in sight, the filmmakers (John James of “Dynasty” is his producer) have their finished farce in the can, tragedy strikes. “Addicted to Fame” takes us inside the whirlwind of cable news coverage that surrounded the death of Smith’s son, then her own untimely demise. Giancola is frank enough to admit he loved the attention, stunned enough to realize that no movie is worth this. As low-grade as his movies had always been, this sort of exposure was beneath even him.
No new ground
This modestly compelling documentary breaks between scenes with vapid little inter-titles, showbiz truisms and homilies. “There are good days and there are bad days,” it quotes Lawrence Welk as saying. “This is one of them.”
“Addicted to Fame’ isn’t an exposé and doesn’t break a lot of new ground in “celebrity can kill you” cautionary tale territory. But like that earlier film-blows-up-on-filmmaker disaster “Overnight,” it should be required viewing in college film classes. The pitfalls of not knowing the difference between “notoriety” and “fame” were never clearer.