Mary Harron has one of modern cinema’s more unique, and uniquely cool, backgrounds. Though born in Canada she grew up in England, was an early contributor for the iconic Punk magazine and wrote for publications like The Guardian, and then moved into directing with the 1996 masterpiece (in my eyes) “I Shot Andy Warhol.” That film, the story of would-be Warhol assassin Valerie Solanas, is one of the finest films ever made about the Pop Art icon and the Factory scene.
She followed “Warhol” with an almost shocking departure: Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho.” Filmmakers like Oliver Stone and David Cronenberg had attempted and failed to bring Patrick Bateman to the screen, but Harron succeeded by giving the film the satirical spin it needed. She also helped make Christian Bale a star.
“The Notorious Bettie Page” came next, and it was handsome but rather dull version of the pin-up icon’s life. Her last feature, the 2011 vampire film “The Moth Diaries,” cmae and went without a trace.
So there has been a bit of a downward trajectory from her first film on. Still, I’m not sure anyone saw her next project coming: Lifetime’s recently-aired biopic “The Anna Nicole Story.”
I have not watched it — although I did set the DVR to record a re-airing — but it is hard to feel much other than unease at the prospect of so talented a filmmaker taking on so garish a subject. But Film.com’s Matt Patches has made the film sound much more sensible, and even unmissable:
“At first glance, Harron’s Anne Nicole Smith biopic looks like the usual Lifetime schlocky melodrama full of drug abuse, soft core sex, and ridiculous twists (‘SHE WAS AMISH?!’). The iconography of Smith’s life lends itself to the Lifetime aesthetic — as evidenced in the trailer, quick cutting, camera sound effects, and a moody pop song easily turn Anne Nicole Smith’s life story into drama worthy of ‘Liz & Dick.’
“‘The Anna Nicole Story’ could have been another movie off the network’s conveyor belt. No one who tuned in would have batted an eye (and, perhaps, the movie would have more buzz) if it was a campy, exploitive interpretation of Nicole’s life. Yet with Harron, Lifetime finds a credible and sensitive filmmaker, able to elevate the material and mine its dramatic potential. They may not be HBO or AMC or Sundance or FX, but with ‘Anna Nicole,’ Lifetime realizes the potential of their brand. Deal in celebrity-driven tearjerkers, but make them good. With movie studios dropping the ball, there’s a window of opportunity for television and even unlikely brands like Lifetime are seizing it.”
Patches even sees the film as a cousin of Harron’s “Notorious Bettie Page,” as Harron again “examines the seductive qualities of fame on a woman at her lowest point.” I still find it odd to see Mary Harron at the helm of a Lifetime movie — especially THIS Lifetime movie. But Patches has succeeded in making me approach it with an open mind.
Meanwhile, here is Harron on why she made the film:
“Lifetime brought it to me and at first I was like, “Lifetime… hmm.” But I read the script and I’m always interested in doing women’s stories. What drew me to the Anna Nicole story was that the script was very sympathetic to her, because so much of the tabloid coverage of her was so sneering. I’m interested in beauty queens, and Anna Nicole is a kind of a Marilyn Monroe/Bettie Page for the 90s, and for the modern age of tabloids and reality TV. It is a tragic story and a lot of the outlines for those beauty queen stories are the same. They’re flying too close to the sun. I’m interested in these outsider people that society looks down on. I find them sympathetic and I find them interesting and I think that for all of Anna’s many faults as a mother and all the rest, she was a sweet person who was looking for happiness.”
The rest of this week’s round-up is Anna Nicole-free:
- Sigh. The Stanley Kubrick exhibit recently ended its seven-month run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and this video makes me depressed about how great it looked. Tour, please?
- Here is a super-comprehensive site devoted to Cronenberg’s “The Fly.”
- Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” will not open for some time, but the director gave a few, ahem, tastes of what to expect this week: Here is the film’s “first chapter,” as well as the first released footage.
- The AV Club asks an interesting question: “Does ‘Before Midnight’ dodge the hardest part of relationships?”
- Channing Tatum takes a hit with the opening weekend failure of “White House Down.”
- And finally, two more bits from The Guardian: First, a gleeful takedown of the Google-adoring flop “The Internship,” and a wonderfully moving piece about autism written by “Cloud Atlas” author David Mitchell.