Author: The JT Leroy Story
Apparently, “JT Leroy” refused to participate in Marjorie Sturm’s “The Cult of JT Leroy.” Instead, Laura Albert (who went by the pseudonym “Terminator” and then “JT Leroy”) participated in this film by Jeff Feuerzeig. And why wouldn’t she? She gets to tell her story the way she wants.
Here’s a quick recap of who JT Leroy is. He wrote the autobiographical “Sarah,” which was published in 1999. Leroy quickly developed an underground following. Calls were coming in from people like Gus Van Sant, Tom Waits and Courtney Love. These phones calls were recorded, and…while Waits comes off in a positive light being supportive…Love is her usual self. She asks if she can do a line of coke that’s in front of her while they talk. Van Sant even used some of her writing in his film Elephant.
Bono mentions reading her book in Rolling Stone, and she’s invited backstage to hang out with U2 and get career advice. Once it’s revealed that JT Leroy isn’t some transgender waif that has been abused, has HIV, and is the child of a truck stop prostitute also forced into prostitution; the famous friends stop calling. They obviously feel duped, but…there’s something bizarre about a celebrity wanting to latch onto the new, hip, underground sensation. That’s why we all got a kick in the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, when graffiti artist Banksy duped everyone with his fictional character that sold crappy art for high prices. The documentary starts with Winona Ryder on stage praising her, and talking about how they met “years earlier.” That makes her not only a shoplifter, but also a liar.
As we see Jon Stewart say into the screen on The Daily Show, in a sarcastic yell, “A fictional story, from a person that’s writing fiction. Oh no!!!!”
Yet it’s the same reason people were upset with James Frey, after Oprah praised his book “A Million Little Pieces.” These authors, artists, actors, and musicians…liked the package of the author. Somebody that had such a horrific life growing up, writing such powerful, cryptic, urban novels. Yet as we were read some of the paragraphs, I couldn’t help but wonder why anybody would buy the fact that somebody this damaged and uneducated, would write with such style. It didn’t seem to jibe to me, but…that’s easier to say when you already know the truth. The whole thing played out like a literary catfishing.
Laura Albert grew up in a broken home in New York, and moved to San Francisco in the 1990s. She would often engage in wacky behavior and one of those things was calling a crisis hotline, pretending to be a 13-year-old abused boy. While recording the phone calls with the therapist, he encourages “her” to write these stories down. I can’t say it was a therapeutic experience for her, because I’m not so sure therapy is what she was after. She wants to further her “career” and immediately takes these stories to literary agents and authors. They’re impressed with her writing, and they’re also duped by the backstory.
Once movie studios start calling for the book rights, and interview requests and live book readings are requested, the plot thickens. Her sister-in-law is brought into the fold, to play the androgynous character, with wig and big sunglasses.
Albert would be there too, as the personal assistant named “Speedie,” who for some reason, had a British accent. It became like a Cyrano de Bergerac thing.
The biggest problem is we’re hearing mostly from Albert. That’s also the most fascinating thing. She’s a helluva storyteller, and you can’t stop wondering just how nutty she is. Talented, sure. Then you wonder if she isn’t crazy, but the smartest person in the room. She continued to further her career and make lots and lots of money in the process. Even when things start going south, she gets a job writing for the hit show Deadwood.
Yet with her as the main talking head (no David Byrne reference intended), you’re left to wonder what is true and what isn’t.
She claims to have been fat-shamed, and called “Fat Albert” as a kid. She claims to have been sexually molested. She also tells us her mom put her into an insane asylum at age 13. Yet you wonder if maybe the mom was correct in doing that, and in fact, she was never abused at all. Albert is trying to elicit sympathy from the viewer as an abuse victim, but she’s lied about that before. She tells us it’s an effort to work out inner demons and not con the world. Okay. Maybe it was. Or maybe she just wanted the goofy band her and her husband were in to make it. I don’t recall her ever taking any responsible for anything.
The trailer for this movie is exciting, as we see all the photos of famous stars hanging out with JT Leroy. The documentary isn’t that action packed, but the stories we get are gems. One of them involves actress/model Asia Argento doing the film The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, based on a Leroy novel. What happens with that will blow your mind.
I also couldn’t figure out what Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins singer) felt about Albert, since he was one of the few celebrities that knew she created the fake persona.
I enjoyed the few animated sequences by Stefan Nadelman and Joshua Mulligan. It reminded me of last year’s terrific Diary of a Teenage Girl.
This is a must see for anybody that’s read a JT Leroy book, or remembers this bizarre story when it broke. It’s interesting enough for people to watch even if they know nothing about these characters.
You’re left wondering what is real and what is fake, but you’re certainly mesmerized by this character.
It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.