Jeff Feuerzeig has a thing for brilliant outcasts. His sublime 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston illuminates the tortured soul of the eponymous blues musician without resorting to sensationalism. Nearly a decade later, the director returns with another mad artist portrait, Author: The JT Leroy Story.
Questions of truth and perception are raised immediately with a quote from the great Italian master Federico Fellini. Then a hodgepodge of found footage, animated reenactments and phone recordings introduce the complicated life of novelist Laura Albert, who perpetuated a decade-long deception regarding her literary persona, JT Leroy.
As a tortured 30-something living in San Francisco during the mid-1990s, Albert began submitting short stories to different publishing houses under the pen name "Terminator." This wasn't just a pseudonym though; she communicated with agents, editors, and fellow writers as her alter ego. She played the part of a teenage abuse victim who grew up prostituting at truck stops. Eventually, this identity morphed into the legendary JT Leroy.
When Albert's first novel Sarah was published, it gained critical and commercial acclaim, and the myth of Leroy grew. Requests for book readings started streaming in, so Albert convinced her teenage sister-in-law to pose as the androgynous Leroy for public appearances using a wig and sunglasses.
Author, which opens Friday, Sept. 23, traces this insane set up using a host of first-hand interviews. Albert herself is featured heavily speaking about her past psychological traumas from sexual abuse and mental illness.
But Feuerzeig is far more fascinated by the tabloid nature of Albert's ascent to cult status. Sections involving celebrities like Asia Argento (who directed a film adaptation of Leroy's The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things) and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins feel like the cinematic equivalent of name-dropping.
Deeper questions about Albert's style and artistic identity are left underexplored, strange considering the film's abrupt title. Maybe there are just too many personalities in disorder for one feature film to handle.
Author: The JT Leroy Story: Documentary that uncovers the secrets and lies behind literary persona JT Leroy, who was eventually discovered to be a fictional creation of author Laura Albert.
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The Magnificent Seven: Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke lead a team of honorable outlaws who try to fend off a helpless town from an army of killers in Antoine Fuqua’s stylized remake.
The Vessel: In this spiritual drama, Martin Sheen plays an enigmatic priest who tries to help his small town recover from a natural disaster that took the lives of countless children. Screens through Thursday, Sept. 29, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.