Empathy comes from the weirdest place and the least savory of intentions in the just-released documentary Addicted to Fame, B-movie director David Giancola's chronicle of his 2007 film Illegal Aliens - the movie that also has the distinction of being Anna Nicole Smith's last. She was hired specifically as a stunt, to cultivate the "oh my god they didn't" factor, as Giancola, puts it. But he never trusted her. To ensure her reliability, he got her to invest in the movie and, aware that he had a train wreck on his hands, he documented the filming process extensively.
Addicted to Fame shares a lot of behind-the-scenes footage of Anna Nicole being terribly out of it. She was clearly a drug addict for much of her career, but the difference between watching a functioning drug addict and a dead one is great. The same could be said for exploiting the image of someone who's around to co-sign on it versus doing so when she no longer is. In Giancola's transition from narrative B-movies to documentary, he loses none of his tackiness. If he did, though, Addicted to Fame would probably end up being some softball tribute that wouldn't be worth watching in the first place. Anna Nicole Smith's narrative was grimy; depictions of it are bound to be as well.
Some of the scenes, viewed through her druggy haze, are excruciating to watch; others display her endearing goofiness. Smith, for example, is unable to pull off a fourth-wall breaking rant about the stupidity of the film's plot that she supposedly wrote (it's more likely that it was her guiding hand, Howard K. Stern). Elsewhere, the effect of her indomitable entertainment bug is more forgiving. She describes Aliens as a "spoof... spoof movie... it's an alien spoof movie"; she attempts to work in a line in which she refers to her co-star Chyna's genitalia as a "Manwich"; she says her involvement in the movie came as a result of her going crazy; she guffaws at herself a lot.
But toward the end of her life, bullshit got in the way of Smith's charisma. She became distracted on set when she had to attend more court dates in her endless inheritance battle with her late husband J. Howard Marshall's son. Soon after wrapping Aliens, she gave birth to her daughter Dannielynn. The next day, her son died. A few months later, she died, too.
Addicted to Fame is a portrait of what happens when lightning in a bottle goes sour. Because Smith's life blossomed insanity in a rate that we hadn't really seen before, Giancola and his producing partner John James found themselves on CNN. Their stupid little b-movie that would have been ignored had Smith lived was suddenly being covered by major news outlets. In this respect, Addicted to Fame reminded me of the excellent documentary about Troll 2, Best Worst Movie. The idea of elevating a B-movie to the status where its creation and legacy are discussed in a feature-length documentary form is a very satisfying shattering of the high/low culture divide.
Giancola generally knows his and his film's place, although his narration occasionally falls into self-aggrandizement (he says that they were working on "the thin line between genius and stupidity," though much, much more of the latter is highlighted in Aliens). He and others discuss Smith's on-set difficulty at length, but we rarely see actual evidence of it, despite the seemingly endless supply of behind-the-scenes footage that appears in the documentary. As the film shows how the "Anna publicity gravy train" sputtered and then went of the rails, Giancola seems whiny, complaining about being "used" by the media when in fact what he set out to do was use. "We became another piece of the story, another angle, simply other characters in the media's new highly rated soap opera," he laments. But his explanation here is illuminating: "The attention was intoxicating." He got a taste of what it was like to be Anna Nicole Smith. When it's all over, the "addict" in the title seems to refer more to Giancola than to Smith.
Addicted to Fame is not so much about Anna Nicole as it is about what it was like to experience her, to become temporarily entangled in her Taz-like cyclone of celebrity. Giancola fixates on himself, just like Anna Nicole always did.