Rating: 2/5It’s a 2007 interview with Anna Nicole Smith for her latest film, the Z-grade sci-fi spoof Illegal Aliens. She looks fabulous and completely, utterly stoned. Her mind is muddled and her eyes can barely focus, let alone blink at the same time. Most sentences trail off, but those she’s capable of finishing are often combative and angry. She is obviously unhappy and in some sort of indeterminate trouble, though we know this already; Smith has been dead since 2007.
Addicted to Fame is the story of the uneasy production of Anna Nicole Smith’s final film and her exceptionally troubled life. It is a tasteless joke about a recent tragedy, told deliberately to garner attention for David Giancola himself. Composed of behind-the-scenes footage during the shoot of Illegal Aliens, interviews and entertainment news footage, we’re shown how difficult it was for director Giancola to finish a film with such an unstable actress as Smith.
Anna Nicole Smith was the personification of a “bad news buffet,” to borrow a phrase. Her life was tumultuous and she was the focus of incessant tabloid attention. Giancola says he wanted Smith specifically because she was tabloid fodder, and he was willing to hire both Smith and wrestling star Chyna even though the film could not secure a completion bond if either were cast. So Giancola, courting trouble and free publicity with what must have been cartoonish dollar signs in his eyes, insured the film himself, of a sort, by hiring a crew to shoot behind-the-scenes footage. He warned Smith and her partner Howard K. Stern that if she did not complete the film, he would replace her by having her alien character morph into a banana, then he would release the behind-the-scenes footage of her antics and she would be put on, as Giancola said, “the acting blacklist.” The acting blacklist, mind you, as though there is a large leather-bound tome kept hidden in a dungeon somewhere just south of Burbank, guarded by wizened old character actors in retirement, names of misbehaving personalities carefully recorded in the ledger, their careers ruined, their names uttered only in hushed tones forevermore.
Addicted to Fame is not a proper documentary but rather one last desperate attempt by a low-budget director to achieve the cinematic success he feels he deserves, and the self deprecating film title doesn’t mitigate that one bit. Unquestionably, Giancola got more publicity than he bargained for when he cast Anna Nicole. Smith’s case regarding the inheritance from her husband’s estate went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and she stopped showing up to the set. After the film was finally completed, Smith’s pregnancy and her strange relationship with Stern kept her in the news. It all turned tragic when Smith’s son Daniel, who had been a producer on Illegal Aliens, was found dead in her hospital room two days after she gave birth. A few months after that, Smith herself died.
Giancola, airing his frustrations throughout, complains bitterly that the deaths of Anna Nicole and Daniel really put a damper on the release of his film. He whines that, during production, the cast only had one makeup trailer because the rest were being used by Hurricane Katrina victims. Footage of the many news stories after Smith’s death that essentially pronounced her worthless and unimportant is dragged out; he certainly believes that footage exonerates him, puts him in a better-than-them light, but instead it simply highlights the obvious hypocrisies within the entertainment media that better, more coherent documentaries have explored.
There is an air of asking for forgiveness throughout Addicted to Fame, of promising that lessons have been learned and second chances must be given. Yet very little is trustworthy about Giancola, between the obvious lies told during the production of Illegal Aliens and the ones he continues to tell. There is a running complaint from Giancola about Smith making a “man witch” joke that he hated, though he inexplicably includes footage of him laughing at the joke and encouraging Smith to flesh it out for the production. He asks for sympathy, but none can be given.
The same cannot be said for actor John James, the former Dynasty heartthrob talked into producing the doomed sci-fi spoof. He is an imminently sympathetic person in this situation, a man who is professional throughout the production and the disasters that followed. He seems just as used by the experience as Smith was, though more emotionally and mentally equipped to fix problems and control a terrible situation, and he very wisely had nothing to do with Addicted to Fame.
The film has a few interesting moments, mainly as we see the production of Illegal Aliens, watching the other actors and crew members work together. But there is precious little revelation in the film, certainly nothing new about Smith is revealed. Celebrity train wreck aficionados will be disappointed, as Addicted to Fame is about as scandalous as a mid-week segment on “Entertainment Tonight.”
Giancola is bitter and resentful, and probably unable to pursue his dream after the unmitigated disaster of Illegal Aliens. But nobody wants to hear him grousing about his shitty life when he is blaming it on someone else’s clearly shittier life, one that involves two premature deaths, an orphaned child and families and colleagues and friends hurt by tragedy. The director deliberately courted scandal; he played with tabloid fire and found himself with third degree burns, and he seems to be the only person who doesn’t comprehend how this happened. Giancola complains in Addicted to Fame that people have maligned him for using Smith’s life and death for his own gain, and somehow expects us to believe that this pseudo-documentary detailing precisely how he used a troubled woman for cheap publicity will convince people otherwise.