When the laymen thinks “filmmaker” they imagine Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, or even versatile hyphenated talents like George Clooney. Rarely do they see the true face of that profession, the scads of video nerds who toil away at thankless jobs on television and in commercials, getting the same competent work done with the same substandard material every day. When these men and women graduate into feature films, it’s by fluke, and the work they essay is usually unseen, underappreciated, and forgotten by the time they’ve moved on to more lucrative non-entertainment jobs. David Giancola is one of those directors, and “Addicted To Fame” is the curious story of the end of his career.
Like many in his profession, Giancola found mid-level success shooting no-budget independent schlock, most of it largely unseen by the public. With one foot always out the door in search of a more financially-viable profession, he nonetheless finds himself punching the clock for what would be his magnum opus, “Illegal Aliens.” A fly-by-night alien invasion picture, Giancola’s hopes were pinned on the film showcasing a knowing sense of humor that poked affectionate fun on both 1950’s science fiction as well as his own z-grade material.
Convinced he had a more promising film on his hands than the usual time-waster cable fodder, Giancola answered the request of producers to hire what was then one of the world’s most famous women, Anna Nicole Smith. Having just married into exorbitant wealth, followed by reality show fame, Smith was, for better or worse, an attraction. In the hopes of riding a tabloid wave, Giancola hitched his wagon to the bubbly blonde, who appears in “Addicted To Fame” through copious archival footage and b-roll material.
Smith herself at least seems game to lampoon her image, and her attitude seems to capture the spirit of Giancola’s cheese ball vision, thrusting herself into action sequences, and covering up a failure to memorize lines with spirited improv. As the production continues, however, Smith’s life becomes a circus away from the film. The inquiry into her inheritance from her late husband had continued at an unprecedented length, and her career was only enabling hanger-on advisor Howard K. Stern, who had become a media figure as well. Giancola directed this documentary, and he places no judgment, particularly with a lack of facts surrounding the situation, though it seems clear Smith begins to self-medicate to an extreme extent, costing the production numerous days.
Her absence places a stress on the production no one can accommodate, and budget and schedule over-runs are only accepted given the excessive media coverage of the film, a first in Giancola’s career. Breathless entertainment news reports thrill to the exploits of “Illegal Aliens,” a film that few will actually pay to see. But the production is soon hit with the passing of Smith’s adult son. It creates a cynical schism among those involved in the production — all are crestfallen that Smith’s child has passed on. But the media coverage goes into overdrive, and suddenly, “Illegal Aliens” earns a mention in almost every story about Smith’s mourning. In an age right before Twitter, Google hits provide the film with the currency producers need to suggest a possible theatrical run.
Giancola cobbled this film together with all the behind-the-scenes material on “Illegal Aliens” he could find, but what’s interesting is the context it’s been given through his ambivalent voiceover. While he will not speak ill of the dead, respectfully mourning Smith’s passing as a co-worker and not as a pretend friend, he’s clearly torn over how this has affected his career. An epilogue mentions in text that Giancola now sells cars, but one could tell by the tone of his voiceover in “Addicted To Fame” that “Illegal Aliens” would be his final film. The picture is a failure, linked forever to Smith’s eventual passing as a morbid tchotchke, a movie no one wanted to see in the first place given ghoulish resonance. Time has given him perspective, though given his initial exuberance for the project was clearly not enough to shield him from the tragedy of Smith’s life.
Giancola never seemed to have an aptitude for filmmaking — even given concessions towards the chaotic shooting schedule, “Illegal Aliens” is a pretty inept film, if memory serves. His documentary-style seems more low-tech, and “Addicted To Fame” feels like a DVD confessional more than an actual film. There’s the sense that Giancola has no such aspirations to move into documentary filmmaking, but what “Addicted To Fame” lacks in nuance, it makes up for in insight and honesty. Indelicate, as Bill the Butcher once said, but fair. [B]