Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Sundance London: Author: The JT LeRoy Story

 This year I got to go to the Sundance London film festival, probably the closest I'll get to original Sundance but I hope not. I only got to see one film but this was worth it.

I can't remember exactly when or why I read 'The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things' but I did back in college. I think it might have been the fact the film adaptation was being released around that time and I found out about the books. I was oblivious about the scandal that come out not long before and just absorbed the book. It was harrowing to say the least, as remember, I thought this was still based on some sort of truth. I decided I did not want to see the film but the book was something else.

A few years later, my friend, who had admired the work of JT LeRoy since he was a teenager, told me about the so called literary hoax. My opinions of the book I read before didn't change. It was still a book, stories like no other. But my interest was piqued as I love a 'behind the artist' story and this was amazing. The real author, Laura Albert had written the all the JT LeRoy stories as well as fabricate a whole cast of characters surrounding the mythical author. JT LeRoy was in fact Savannah Knoop, Albert's sister-in-law, who appeared as 'him/her' in public. The whole story is incredible, mostly with how JT LeRoy had such a following with celebrities and how everyone kept up the acts. The work that Laura Albert created stands alone, the story behind it's creation was another story entirely.

The documentary, directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, weaves an amazing story that pieces together, almost step by step how JT LeRoy came into existence. Laura Albert is the heart of the story as she talks to the camera literally telling her side of the story as well as talking about her childhood, how and where she grew up, the abuse she suffered and her inner feelings about why she needed to write from the perspective of a 14 year old boy who was hustler.

Albert's storytelling skills are brilliant and the perfectly accompanied by photographs, home video, archive footage and animated sections from the books. The stand element in all this has to be the extensive use of recorded phone calls. There were many people who refused to be interviewed and appear in the film BUT these calls are like interviews themselves, words straight from the 'celebrities', friends, associates mouths. The fact that this whole creative journey, yes, that's what I'm calling it, began on the phone when Albert reached out by calling a crisis helpline. What was interesting, that was brought up in the Q&A after the film, someone asked how the call recordings were obtained and why did Albert have them. Jeff Feuerzeig said that Albert was a writer, she keeps everything. I can completely understand this.

Writing this may not make sense but when Albert explains her actions, its seems, in some way, rational. She isn't a malicious person in any shape or form but the headlines claiming the story, her stories to be a big hoax is not possible. Everyone involved with JT LeRoy, the transgender teenage street hustler, might have known that at some point the truth would come out. I'm glad it did so that Albert could get the recognition that she deserved rather than being 'Speedie' in the shadows with her not very convincing British accent. She can now can step out into the light.

A fantastic documentary that finally sheds some light on Laura Albert's side of the story. The film is brilliantly pieced together and I think would be fascinating to watch even if you were not aware of JT LeRoy before.

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