In fictional storytelling, truth is something to strive for. Sure, few attempt to separate themselves from reality, but ultimately, only some succeed in the pursuit thereof. “Author: The JT Leroy Story”, a documentary from Jeff Feuerzeig, is as truthful as it gets. Yet its content is so wildly absurd, that it plays like a work of fiction.
When the story first broke in 2005, it was proclaimed “the greatest literary hoax of our time” by various respected publications. Today, nearly a decade later, it is difficult to think of another revelation (the film and subject makes quite the case against the use of the h-word) audacious enough to supplant it. The gist of it is as follows: for a decade, Jedidiah Terminator Leroy, a teenage boy struggling with sexual identity, with a background in prostitution, drugs, and abuse takes the literary world by storm. After years of anonymity as solely a cult hero, he emerges and subsequently becomes a celebrity in all artistic circles: fashion, film, and music alike. It isn’t until years later that the truth comes out — the wunderkind is but a literary persona for 40-year old housewife Laura Albert.
Saying anything more of the details would be a disservice to Feuerzeig’s fascinating documentary, in which Albert herself is given a chance to explain everything. It is a tell-all, a memoir of the life and death of a brainchild which offers an intimate and riveting look into identity and the very influential nature of art itself. In psychoanalyzing her own Frankenstein’s monster and speaking as if Leroy and all of those other colorful invented characters were truly other people, Albert reflects on herself and her own past (shown through flashbacks), convincingly conveying the power that fiction has over life as a form of escape.
Alternatively, it also contributes to the ongoing conversation taking the film world by storm in its commentary on separating the artist from the art — more cogently by granting Albert her own platform to speak her mind and explain her reasoning. It does this without judging her, instead offering up her explanation, the most significant explanation. Voices from celebrities on each side interject, and although their opinions on her are scattered, they are generally sympathetic.. It is easy to say that the value of her work should be upheld in spite of the whole debacle, but just as easy to understand how betrayed some of her proponents must feel. Thus, despite providing a subjective spin of events, Feuerzeig leaves us with the final opinion.
Visually, Feuerzeig tries very hard to give Albert’s explanation an appealing aesthetic: photographs, animated recreations of literary work, clips from other films, flashy scrapbook title cards, and the exterior shots of buildings and cities that are so common in documentaries are all edited together to attempt to illustrate the tale in interesting ways. Occasionally, it feels too much; practically, it is embellishment. The real magic of the story comes from Albert and her dialogue, so arresting in its bizarrity that it becomes difficult to look away. Recorded conversations between Leroy and various celebrities such as Gus Van Sant, Asia Argento, and Billy Corgan, as well as writers Bruce Benderson, and Dennis Cooper likewise offer gripping insights into the various worlds which they occupy
With plentiful justification from Albert herself, it is easy to feel just how necessary writing under that pseudonym and truly imbuing her soul into a work of art must have been. This, Albert’s voice, is what separates this piece from reports from other publications — those minute details spoken with such a nostalgic, heartfelt cadence, being revisited in the present, never spoken on screen beforehand. Tension can be found in her realization that she is losing control of her creations; joy can be felt through those connections she makes with those around her, and satisfaction, in the sheer creativity of the life of Leroy. [B+]