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Dark Roots: The Unauthorized Anna Nicole

Celebrity ambulance-chasers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (along with first-time co-director Gabriel Rotello) turn their bemused yet still tabloid-style attention to Anna Nicole Smith in "Dark Roots." Condescending docu is no more likely to get bigscreen release than subject is to stop dying her hair.

Having already “done” Tammy Faye Bakker and Monica Lewinsky, celebrity ambulance-chasers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (along with first-time co-director Gabriel Rotello) turn their bemused yet still tabloid-style attention to Anna Nicole Smith in “Dark Roots.” Condescending docu, already preemed on Showtime, is no more likely to get bigscreen release than subject is to stop dying her hair.

“Unauthorized” usually means sans participation of the actual biographee. And in this case, lack of direct input from the distinctive peroxide-blonde bombshell lends pic a parasitic tenor that neither confessions from her remarkably trashy estranged relatives nor a coarsely mocking tone can disguise. Like supermarket tabloids, it appeals to viewers’ lower, soap-operatic tastes.

Dubbed by one commentator “a train wreck with breasts,” Smith rose from dirt-poor Texas beginnings near Waco to notoriety as a Playboy and Guess? Jeans model. Before those breaks, she’d been briefly wed, birthed a son, divorced, and worked minimum wage jobs. She then struck pay-dirt as an exotic dancer whose breast implants vastly heightened her local popularity.

Especially besotted was frail octogenarian billionaire J. Howard Marshall, whom she married 14 months before his death. Legal battle between his son and Anna Nicole over the late hub’s estate is still dragging through courts a decade later.

Subsequently, the famous-for-being-famous sexpot exposed her acting non-talent in direct-to-video features (future camp classic “Skyscraper” is excerpted here), starred less willingly in endless tabloid scandals and finally scored her own current E! Network “reality TV” showcase.

But main focus here isn’t so much on Smith herself as on various Texas relatives and hangers-on all too willing to air their dirty laundry about the now-incommunicado celebrity. For the most part, they’re rather pathetic, limning a “trailer trash” stereotype which filmmakers eagerly underline.

One coup here is interview with a purported former lesbian lover whose levelheaded, fond yet critical recollections seem the least colored by resentment or media-attention hunger. Bizarrely, she still sports a tattoo of Anna Nicole’s visage — as do several family members, each apparently done at the nascent star’s own request.

Snide spoken narration (incongruously read by William H. Macy, whose neutral tone does help) and parodic fake-country-song likewise running throughout (with awkward couplets like “Marilyn Monroe was her favorite idol/If she couldn’t go blonde she’d go suicidal”) amplify air of cheap-joke exploitation. One ends up feeling that Smith herself deserves better than to have motley relatives, plastic surgeons, aggrieved in-laws and sleazy former confederates all giddily tattling on her.

Presentation is slick if very much in the TV-tabloid mode.

Dark Roots: The Unauthorized Anna Nicole

Docu

  • Production: A Showtime presentation of a World of Wonder production. Produced, directed, written by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Gabriel Rotello.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV), Teo Maniaci; editor, Blake West; music supervisor, Jeff Cardoni; sound, Brian Albriton; graphics, Bill Georgiou. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 27, 2003. Running time: 89 MIN.
  • With: <B>Narrator:</B> William H. Macy.