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Spa City Goes Hollywood

Boffo B.O. for Saratoga-shot comedy premiere at Albany’s Spectrum 8 Theatres

by John Rodat on August 10, 2011

Risky business? (l-r) Faugno and Bronson Pinchot in Virgin Alexander.

What do you think of when you think of August in Saratoga Springs?

Hey, us, too! Although, I think the plural is just “whores.”

Wait . . . did you say horses?

Never mind.

Saratoga Springs is, of course, best known for its prestigious race course and not for its prostitutes. And the recent film Virgin Alexander, which was debuted for appreciative local audiences with two special screenings at the Spectrum Theater on Aug. 3, isn’t likely to change that.

Not that filmmakers Charlotte Barrett and Sean Fallon were attempting to redefine the Spa City with their quirky, indie comedy about an accidental pimp. But Virgin Alexander does present a significantly different take on the town than, say, Seabiscuit.

In fairness, the Saratoga setting has more to do with production than dramatic issues. (The city isn’t even mentioned, specifically, in the movie.) Saratoga’s picturesque small-town aesthetic was certainly an attraction; but also the active encouragement of Saratoga’s film commission and the lack of an expensive permitting process was a boon for this “ultra-low-budget” film.

Fielding questions after the first of the two screenings, Barrett and Fallon said that their 18-day shoot in the summer of 2010 was like “film camp.”  They lucked out with great weather, and the stars of the film really took to the town. By shoot’s end, Barrett said, the female stars (including Paige Howard, daughter of actor-director Ron Howard) were promenading down Broadway in track-season-appropriate “huge hats.”

Though it was not that glamorous horse culture that inspired Barrett and Fallon to write the movie, at all. The couple had relocated to Las Vegas after attending New York University’s film school, and were struck by the rash of foreclosures that hit that city in recent years. Imagining a character who was “the least capable” of dealing with such an economic downturn was the inspiration around which their film grew.

From there, they spun out the tale of Alexander, a shy 26-year-old scrap hauler, inexperienced in the ways of physical love. When Alexander’s grandfather sticks him with a house in foreclosure, he scrambles to devise a plan to save it. With the well-intentioned but clumsy help of his friend and coworker Cliff, Alexander teams with Ruby, a prostitute who aspires to higher education, to run a brothel out of his home.

In the Q&A the filmmakers acknowledged a debt to the vaudeville tradition and said that their star, Rick Faugno, was provided Buster Keaton films as reference. To the extent that Alexander is a taciturn naïf thrown into chaos, he does hearken back to Keaton in some ways; but the humorous and non-judgmental presentation of oddball, inept, unethical, and outright criminal characters has a type of irony considerably more modern in tone. Barrett and Fallon also cited Godard as an inspiration, but viewers may be more likely to make even-more recent comparisons: the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona or Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket.

In between the screenings (a second was added late in the process due to demand), a small party was held in the bar area of the New World Bistro. There, Barrett and Fallon mingled with the night’s hosts, All Over Albany’s Greg Dahlman and Mary Darcy, various local cast and crew members, audience members and film writers wolfing down wasabi deviled eggs.