If you’ve been involved in the production of a film, you know how intoxicating it can be. The prospect of seeing your work projected in a theater is reason enough to put up with a nightmare of unrelenting stress — for some people, anyway. Others might struggle to understand how an entire town (Narrowsburg, an admittedly very small town in Upstate New York) could be so easily swindled by a cartoon mobster and a mysterious woman with a French accent who tells people she’s from South Africa or Normandy, or descended from French royalty. Then again, Richard Castellano did appear with Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro in Analyze This, and Jocelyne Castaldo, well, who in America wouldn’t be charmed by such an accent?
Narrowsburg is a new documentary directed by Martha Shane, and recently released on physical media and various streaming platforms. A former resident describes Narrowsburg as ‘one street: pizza place, Chinese restaurant, doctor, gas station’. In 1999, shortly after the release of Analyze This, Castellano and Castaldo descended upon Narrowsburg with a gust of wind, declaring that they would open an acting school, start a film festival and make it ‘the Sundance of the East’. Only two came true.
A typical scam follows: the school opens, there’s a real festival and soon people are talking about making a feature film. The town is over the moon: besides the revenue, people are coming from Manhattan and Los Angeles not just to work, but also to ‘appear’ at the festival. Castellano and Castaldo’s crew may be walking mobster parodies, but there are trucks in Narrowsburg with real film equipment. There are cameras, dressing rooms, makeup chairs and dozens of people standing around looking like they’re doing nothing. Clearly, a film is being made.
The film, Four Deadly Reasons, is no Analyze This. By the second festival in Narrowsburg in 2000, the devastated editor has to tell the audience that they’ve waited a year to see 15 minutes of B-roll: random shots and brief scenes that have no logical relationship and amount to nothing. Castellano is nowhere to be found. The checks bounce, the town cries and then gets angry, righteously so. Two residents (still there 20 years later) show off a binder of documents started when things started getting dark. Castellano is eventually found, arrested and indicted on larceny and fraud. He serves time, while Castaldo somehow skates through everything untouched. The media in Narrowsburg (the local paper) turn on the exotic duo immediately after the second festival, and here Shane’s film finds its truest realization in Narrowsburg of ‘the Hollywood experience’: getting built up and then brought down by the press. Even this is addictive.
One actor, Brian Vincent, describes the thrill of appearing in the opening and closing films of the first festival, and then receiving an award for Best Newcomer. He cries in embarrassment as he recalls knowing then as now that it was all fake — but not quite meaningless. The illusion persists and everyone is sufficiently gassed up to give their all — and for some elderly and likely senile residents, that includes their life savings — to save the production of Four Deadly Reasons.
Zachary Stuart-Pontier was a teenager at the time. His small role in the film was completely absent from the footage eventually screened. He was reportedly close to tears when he found out, but his is a real success story: at the end of Narrowsburg, we learn that he now works as an editor in television and podcasting, but who knew he edited Martha Marcy May Marlene in 2011? Only five years on from the nadir of his acting career in Narrowsburg, he was working on Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Stuart-Pontier’s most recent credit is as co-executive producer on Q: Into the Storm, an HBO Max series. The guy is doing well, and so are most of the people Castellano and Castaldo ripped off. The couple left surprisingly little damage in their wake.
Shane and her producer, Dan Nuxoll, plugged away at this project for nearly a decade before they arrived at Narrowsburg; the Kickstarter page for Narrowsburg is still up under its original name, The Mystery of Marie Jocelyne. The page, the original title and the final third of the documentary suggest a more interesting film, full of international intrigue, royalty, crime syndicates, black markets and ‘guys you will not want to see’, as Castaldo so frequently threatened (allegedly). Perhaps she split before they could get more: her interview was conducted in 2011. Castellano, a presence behind the curtain, was ultimately an easier subject to investigate. He is now dead. Castaldo was last sighted in Madagascar.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2021 World edition.