Author: The JT LeRoy Story

 

 

 

A story that seems set on confirming that fact can be stranger than fiction.

 

Author The JT LeRoy Story

Jeff Feuerzeig with Laura Albert (aka JT LeRoy)

 

Audiences are bound to find this film either intriguing or irritating and I am in the latter camp. I approached it without any prior knowledge of Laura Albert who found fame and acclaim anonymously by writing books under the  name of JT LeRoy, but there is no doubt that there is immense potential in a documentary that sets out to explore her extraordinary story. However, this film by Jeff Feuerzeig puts Laura Albert herself screen centre to tell her tale and if the term unreliable narrator did not already exist you would feel like coining it now.

 

The first book by JT LeRoy, Sarah, was published in 2001 but, although it was presented as fiction, it was taken to be a raw autobiographical  work centred on the experiences of a gay boy who was turning tricks at thirteen and whose mother, the titular Sarah, was a prostitute who had given birth to JT at the age of fourteen. But much more was involved than an author using a pseudonym since Laura Albert, who had grown up as  a troubled fat child who saw herself as less than pretty, had started to play the  role of JT LeRoy, the character she created. She became a patient of the therapist Dr. Terrence Owens after phoning him as JT and then approached the author Dennis Cooper whose agent Ira Silverberg became her agent. She was soon taking on another character too, that of JT’s best friend and representative Speedie and, once Sarah had been published, she started to appear in public as Speedie while her husband's half-sister Savannah would appear as the reclusive JT LeRoy whenever the author was due to show up at readings. The same game was played when joining the world of celebrities after famous people expressed admiration of her writing, among them two filmmakers interested in putting her work on film, Gus Van Sant and Asia Argento.

 

Albert’s invention of JT LeRoy and her taking on of the character is remarkable evidence of her capacity to invent, so one inevitably questions the reliability of what she tells us of her own life (including it seems being sexually abused at the age of three). Similarly one is asked to accept her take on her family and her celebrity friends. That Feuerzeig’s film while inventively including touches of animation also favours a degree of dramatisation only adds to the feeling that little here can be trusted. Albert denies the possibility of her having multiple personality disorder, but who can tell? Nor are we provided with enough of the writing to decide if the backlash regarding her reputation after the imposture became known was justified. The reality here is so complex that the film’s value depends on investigating it, but instead Feuerzeig has merely enabled Albert to spin her tale on her own terms, be it the truth, her truth or just another yarn by an adroit storyteller.

  

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring: Laura Albert, Savannah Knoop, Asia Argento, Dr Terrence Owens, Ira Silverberg, Winona Ryder.

                                                                                                                

Dir Jeff Feuerzeig, Pro Jeff Feuerzeig, Jim Czarnecki, Danny Gabai, Molly Thompson and Brett Ratner, Written by Jeff Feuerzeig, Ph Richard Henkels, Ed Michelle M. Witten, Music Walter Werzowa.

 

A&EIndieFilms/RatPac Documentary Film/Complex Corporation/Vice Productions-Dogwoof.
111 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: July 29 2016. Cert. 15.