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Author: The JT LeRoy Story
USA 2016
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig
Running time 110 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Writer-director Jeff Feuerzeig’s fascinating documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story has a remarkable story to tell and does it remarkably well

JT LeRoy was supposedly a HIV-positive former teenage male prostitute who became a minor literary sensation in the early 2000s and the darling of the rock smart set after the publication of his allegedly autobiographical novels ‘Sarah’ and 'The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things'. In fact JT LeRoy was the pseudonym of Laura Albert who we see at the outset of the film and who takes us through her incredible journey from suicidal depression to accidental glory and, ultimately, public disgrace.

Literary pseudonyms are nothing new but the twist in this tale is that not only was JT one of Laura’s personae but once her books took off she got her young sister-in-law, who had the suitably androgynous Edie Sedgewick looks for the part, to pretend to be JT while to make sure everything went smoothly Laura took on another persona, that of Speedie, JT’s manager.  As JT’s fame spread she became the darling of the scene with people like Billy Corgan, Courtney Love. Madonna, Winona Ryder, Lou Reed, Tom Waits and Bono courting her.  Or at least that’s what they thought they were doing when they spoke to her largely by telephone, the means by which the decidedly plain and overweight Laura was able to perpetuate her hoax. Gus Van Sant apparently optioned ‘Sarah’  but eventually it was turned into a film by Asia Argento (shown at Cannes but presumably never released as I can find no mention of it on IMDB.  JT, however, had an executive producer credit on Van Sant’s 2003 film Elephant which although shown in the documentary is not listed in IMDB either). In 2005 the house of cards collapsed when ‘New York’ magazine then the ‘New York Times’ outed Albert.

As a real life story Author is extraordinary, as an exposé of the self-congratulatory world of celebrity culture it is withering, but it is also fascinating as a portrait of Albert, who denies any suggestion of multiple personalities but who had a remarkable ability to switch personae with complete conviction. Added to which she is not only clearly exceptionally imaginative but moreover is unusually articulate. I haven’t read her books but their much-praised quality of immediacy is evident in Albert’s felicitous to-camera narration of the JT story.  

Feuerzeig, whose previous film, the 2005 documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, brought us another truly exceptional figure who briefly flirted with pop cultural fame weaves, with the help of editor Michelle M. Witten, a rich store of archival material (Albert appears to have taped all her telephone conversations) to tell us a truly absorbing one-of-a-kind story.  

Available from: Accent Film

 

 

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