Through October 1, UW Cinematheque-at-home offers a subtly humorous look at a scam based in the myth of Hollywood.
Hollywood, truly one of the glitziest scams on the planet. It’s as shiny as the sun, and if you stare at it long enough, you might become starstruck. We’ve all probably taken up an interest in a specific actor and been scammed into thinking that we definitely “know” (and might even trust) them after watching endless YouTube interviews and keeping close tabs on their Instagram. Even if we don’t dream of snagging a leading role in a feature film, Hollywood’s mythos would definitely make us feel larger-than-life if someone offered us that chance.
Cue Narrowsburg, the 2019 documentary from director Martha Shane (and former 2020 Wisconsin Film Festival selection); it explores how, in the late-’90s, married couple Richard and Jocelyne Castellano used the myth of Hollywood to swindle a tiny town in Upstate New York out of a whole lotta cash, time, and hope with the promise of a real-deal movie that would’ve starred a sizable population of their community.
As much as I love watching a good scam unfold, I find it even more compelling to behold the grandiose behavior of scammers. Through frank interviews with the scammers, the scammed, and the unbelievers, Narrowsburg does an amazing job at pulling out subtle humor and making the Castellanos sound almost as absurd as Joanne, the queen of all scammers. The timing was impeccable: around the same time the Castellanos moved from The Big Apple to the titular, sleepy, one-theatre town with promises of feature films and movie festivals, Richard Castellano starred alongside big-guy Robert De Niro in the mafia comedy movie Analyze This (1999).
Just as I am having a hard time distinguishing Robert Pattinson from Edward Cullen as I work my way through Stephenie Meyer’s new Twilight companion novel Midnight Sun (2020), many of the people of Narrowsburg, including Zachary Stuart-Pontier (only a teen at the time), conflated Richard Castellano’s tough-stuff, fast-talking role of Jimmy Boots in Analyze This with “Richie,” their new neighbor with a direct line to Hollywood stars. Narrowsburg couldn’t resist the reality-bending allure of rubbing elbows with celebrities and fame, and I don’t blame them for it.
As much as I want to believe Hollywood might be a setting sun, I still rise with it each day to watch my silly little TV shows and movies. I’m wishin’ and hopin’, thinking and praying that I’m grasping at feeling humanity rather than being scammed into an unhealthy dependency on banking on what Hollywood may have to offer. If you want to ponder these scams and measure your own susceptibility, you can watch Narrowsburg at home like a mensch (through October 1) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the title of the film in the subject line.
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