What if that writer you love so much never really existed? Don’t worry, this isn’t the new “historical” film by Roland Emmerich, but the new documentary by award-winning director Jeff Feuerzeig (who got best documentary director at Sundance in 2005 with The Devil and Daniel Johnston).
Meet Laura Albert, a depressive 28 year old who shares a flat with musician boyfriend Geoff and deals with her suicidal thoughts by calling children help lines, and telling fictional abuse stories, mostly from a male perspective. When Dr. Owen urges her to write those stories down, “Terminator”, a 15 year old androgynous prostitute, is born. From then on, the legend grows and JT Leroy is born, and given a physical presence by Geoff’s sister, Savannah. As his fame grows and celebrity friends add up, and as Laura starts to create a writing career for herself, suspicions start to arise – is this guy a bit too good to be true?
Feuerzeig’s care in presenting Laura under the truest light possible, yet refraining from judging, is the greatest strength of The JT Leroy Story. We can’t help but sympathize with this highly creative individual, who used avatars to interact with the world as she didn’t feel she could do justice to her own personae, and that manages to fool the world for so long, staying in the background while someone else takes the glory for her writing. This is so much more than a story of a pseudonym that went a bit wrong – this is a reflection on the nature of fiction, and how we seem to want a certain kind of people behind a certain kind of writings. Would we accept Laura as the writer from the beginning, would we have paid so much attention? And why is that people felt so deceived, when it was all a fiction to start with? Was the writing good because it was autobiographical, or was it just good writing, full stop?
Creatively using footage, stills and animation to imprint dynamism to a story mostly told in the past and using recorded phone conversations, The JT Leroy Story is as stylized as the writings of the person it portrays, and sometimes we end up wondering how much of the documentary is real, and how much of it is the so called “artistic freedom”. Still, a strong presence at Sundance this year, and a reflection on how much society allows you to separate yourself from your artistic persona (apparently, not that much, when you’re a writer, and it’s no accident that the people that understood Laura were artists themselves), The JT Leroy Story is the 21st century’s take on F for Fake, and how much an audience will allow themselves to live in delusion.
The JT Leroy Story will be in UK cinemas from 29th July 2016