Streaming on Amazon Prime.
with Richard Castellano, Jocelyn Castaldo.
Narrowsburg, a movie shot over a period of roughly 15 years, from 1999 on, documents the period when a small town in upstate New York was visited by an actor, who claimed he wanted to make a movie there. Soon Richard Castellano, the actor who is a stereotypical goon in mob movies, brings in his wife, Jocelyn, who sets up an office on Main Street. The couple raise money from the locals. Richie as he is soon known affectionately by half the town, claims he wants to cast most of them in the movie. He starts an acting school attended by Zac Stuart, a high school student who aims to become an actor.
The point of view of the movie comes mostly from Zac, whose dreams were born and died during the course of the making of Four Deadly Reasons, the movie Castellano claimed he was making. The Coaccis, a couple who own the laundry in town, act as a sort of Greek chorus. Key commentaries come from a local reporter, and a judge, who adjudicated the criminal activity that resulted. Zac compares it to the Music Man, when Harold Hill comes in to a sleepy midwestern town, and promises to start a band, with uniforms, and instruments, and young people playing brilliantly as they march down Main Street. Wouldn’t that wake the people up? The Castellanos start by hosting a film festival where legitimate movies are shown, and actors are awarded prizes like “Rising Star”. Soon, they claim, their movie will put Narrowsburg on the filmmaking map. An actual director and screenwriter seemed to be working on something legitimate.
It took a while for it to sink in that everything the Castellanos said was not true. But by then it was too late. After raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting locals, checks began to bounce. It turns out that Richie was addicted to cash. The movie they were making that was to be shown at the second film festival, has only fifteen minutes to show for itself, and none of it takes place in the town. Narrowsburg‘s director interviews people so that their images project on a screen behind them, showing the two faces of actors. This device felt a bit pretentious, drawing attention to the movie within a movie, questioning who people really are, and distracted me from listening to what was being said.
Castellano’s real name was Castaldo, as was his wife’s, Jocelyn. The police went after him, and he eventually landed in jail. Visually, the documentary split its time between the double image interviews, the shots of Richie beating up people on screen, and the lovely landscape and river surrounding the town. Narrowsburg the town is beautiful to look at from a distance, sitting on the Upper Delaware River. It seems unsullied by industry, except for Feed and Grain store, with wooden triangles and green pipes on top of the roof.
During this pandemic, when we cannot watch movies in a theater with a bunch of strangers, I miss the experience of different people around me all reacting to the same thing. I saw a documentary about a ballet company in a theater where 90 % of the audience had performed in that company many years ago. They were thrilled to see themselves on screen as young vital dancers.
Documentaries can start out in one place and through the filming process end up somewhere completely different. If I had watched this movie in Narrowsburg, at the Film Festival last year, I would have sat with the people who were rooked, waiting for the villain to get his comeuppance.
Narrowsburg started out as a film about one con artist, a la the Music Man, and turned out to be about who the real con artist was. We learned these things in the very last frames of the picture, reading them in titles as they scrolled across the screen. There are so many reversals in these titles, my first reaction was, I didn’t want to read about it, I wanted to watch the results at the end. In that sense, the movie does not really succeed.
The director’s aim as far as I know was to show what happens when your dream hits you hard, and you can’t tell what’s real or when to give up. But that is what the con artists say. Zac Stuart may not have become an actor, but he is a successful film editor.
There is a Narrowsburg Film Festival now, that is legitimate, and shows a mix of feature films and documentaries. I am sorry I missed the showing of this film when it was screened there last year. As Richie Castellano would say, “We don’t want any bums in this town! We have a film festival to run!”