Late at night while on a recent visit to San Francisco, I found myself channel surfing. Too tired for porn and terrified by the likes of the Kardashian family, I happened to tune into the opening credits of AMERICAN PSYCHO. The Mary Harron directed classic is easily one of my favorite films, so clearly my search for great quality late night viewing was over. I was once again enthralled by a film I’ve watched numerous times, and one that I will most certainly watch again. Afterwards, it was some other crappy movie so again I found myself lost in a sea of bad TV. Then suddenly some trashy preview of a movie based the life and death of Anna Nicole Smith came on that looked BEYOND dreadful. Vulgar, classless and tawdry, there was nothing I wanted to do with this atrocity and then it happened… Directed by Mary Harron! What the f*ck is wrong with this world?!?
When Ms. Harron was originally hired on as the director for AMERICAN PSYCHO – she along with Guinevere Turner wrote the script based on Bret Easton Ellis’s novel – it wasn’t an easy road. From big names including Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio with filmmakers including Stuart Gordon and David Cronenberg, the birth of the cinematic adventures of Patrick Bateman was a treacherous journey. However, fresh off the critical success of her feature film debut I SHOT ANDY WARHOL, Harron was able to bring a thrilling and darkly comic anti-hero to the big screen. The movie was not only a major indication of Harron’s talent, but it also featured Christian Bale in a highly praised performance. It may have lacked the morbidly grotesque mystery of the novel yet Harron ably gave this feature a her own elegant touch. This helped guarantee a massive cult following for the ambitiously powerful tale of 80’s narcissism and greed.
Here is the problem. I loved what Harron did with AMERICAN PSYCHO and I was a fan of I SHOT ANDY WARHOL as well. She was a fresh face in a genre that seldom opens their arms to women directors. After the cult success of PSYCHO however, the director seemed stuck in the world of television with only a couple of seldom seen flicks including THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE in 2005 and THE MOTH DIARIES in 2011. With the lack of a great follow-up film to the killer classic, Harron found her place directing quite a few episodes of television shows which is all fine and good in my book. Yet how can somebody create such a fascinating feature and then delve into the depths of such a trashy looking Lifetime movie-of-the-week?
To be fair, I did not watch this dreadful looking bit of trash television. I did however decide to try and give it a go for this columns sake. Yet I didn’t get far. That being said, I did peruse a handful of clips including the great Martin Landau as J. Howard Marshall watching his future bride strip. Besides wondering why the f*ck a great actor such as Landau would do this, I also caught a glimpse of what Harron can accomplish. As a filmmaker, she has a ton of style and is able to present a scrumptious image no matter how unsettling the events taking place may be. One scene featuring Anna Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) having a steamy bit of sexiness with another woman in an elevator. The model soon gets a reality shock when the elevator doors open revealing her son waiting outside. Sure it seems as depraved and lousy as you’d expect, but even still there is an artfulness deserving of far better material. Hopefully she got paid a whole hell of a lot for this mess.
Let me get this out of the way right now… In no way do I mean any disrespect to the real life Anna Nicole, or her friends and family. In fact, a huge reason I have a problem with this is the fact that “Anna Nicole” looks completely tawdry and cheap. I know very little about the real life woman aside from the headlines and what was on the gossip magazine covers back in her heyday. Given the overly aggressive media coverage Anna Nicole was given it is no surprise that they would eventually make a film about her. It is also not all that much of a shock to see it treated as tacky as the coverage she received throughout her career. Perhaps hiring Harron seemed like a good idea for the producers. Maybe they felt that a woman behind the camera might give “Anna Nicole” a little respectability. Or maybe she was just available, willing and in need of a paycheck. Who the hell knows!
Maybe it’s the booze talkin’, but it truly is disturbing that the director of such an important genre flick like AMERICAN PSYCHO is slumming it with an exploitative TV movie about Anna Nicole Smith. I get that her feature film career didn’t necessarily take off and she has found a home directing television. What is really frustrating is that I think she still has major talent as a filmmaker. Hell, for a frustratingly bad TV movie “Anna Nicole” still looks well done. Of course, the ratings for this Lifetime movie were stupendously huge so perhaps this is what it’s all about and who am I to judge. Either way, I will always have my AMERICAN PSYCHO and maybe this will give Harron better opportunities in the future. If you want to check out the trailer for “Anna Nicole” you can do so here… at least Agnes Bruckner is really sexy to look at so it’s not a total loss.