“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” (2016) dir. Jeff Feuerzeig

Some random thoughts on “Author: The JT LeRoy Story,” which I finally caught up with on my day off today:

1. “Author: The JT LeRoy Story” is the best film I’ve seen in 2016 … a funny, shocking, thought-provoking, ultimately, devastating experience.

2. I’m not a fan of altering folks to “trigger warnings,” but if that phrase means anything to you, there’s about 9 billion of them in this film, so the easily disturbed or traumatized should steer clear. For further context, watch the attached trailer.

3. When I first heard that “JT Leroy” was a literary hoax in the mid-2000s, I wasn’t surprised. I’m not saying I knew it was a hoax back then. But everything about LeRoy’s backstory seemed too “on the nose” to be believable. Prostitute mother: check, child/teenage prostitute: check, HIV-positive: check, Southern Gothic abusive religious grandparents: check, transgender issues: check. And the publishing world, multiple celebrities, and the public bought the LeRoy backstory hook, line, and sinker.

4. The big question … why did so many people buy the LeRoy hoax? I think it’s because in a heavily-edited / crafted celebrity culture and “reality-TV” world that’s anything but “real”, we’re forever on a quest for “authenticity.” For some reason, we seem to equate suffering with authenticity. And because we all want to root for the underdog and LeRoy’s backstory was so horrific, there are many who desperately wanted to believe it was true. Because of this belief, many overlooked the fact that LeRoy would only do interviews by phone, the fact that the voice of the actress playing LeRoy in public (Savannah Knoop) and the person doing the interviews over the phone (Laura Albert, the real writer behind JT LeRoy) had different voices. Many people will ignore cold, hard facts when they desperately want to believe something is true. You and I could point fingers, but we ALL (in either a moment of weakness or delusion) have believed something that fit some narrative that most of the people around us called “BS” on.

5. Regardless of whatever you think of Albert … the real writer behind JT LeRoy’s stories/novels … the books she wrote were labelled “Fiction” … not “Non Fiction” or “Memoir.” If the stories moved or haunted you, the work should stand on those merits, and not whether Albert invented a backstory for the person you thought was the author.

5. I have a newfound respect for “Deadwood” creator David Milch, Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan, director Gus Van Sant, and Courtney Love. All of them either knew the real story before it came out and/or were supportive of Albert after the hoax was revealed. All of them recognized the real Albert as a talented writer and more importantly, as a human being worthy of support and love.

6. The final revelation about the source of Albert’s painful past (obesity, mental illness, parental neglect/abuse, literary fraud) is like a body blow, but sadly puts her entire life (and subsequent writing and lies) into context. Yes, maybe even THAT might be false given everything we’ve witnessed, but I don’t think so. And even if it were, you don’t lead a life like Albert’s if you’re well-adjusted or had a healthy upbringing or vision of self-worth.

7. The fact that Albert is on camera painfully revealing about her life and how the LeRoy hoax came into being … and the fact that she has the audio tapes to prove it (she literally TAPED every conversation she had during that period, including many embarrassing ones with celebrities) leads to many astonishing moments.

8. The fact that this wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar is total bullshit. Hopefully, the Academy will nominate it for Best Picture instead, but I’m not holding my breath.

Do yourself a favor and check it out. Director Jeff Feuerzeig has put together not only the best film I’ve seen in 2016, but possibly one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It matches Terry Zwigoff’s notorious 1995 documentary “Crumb” for its audacity, daring, and sensitivity.

Advertisements

“Milius” (2013) dir. Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson

Video

Today, John Milius is probably most famous for being the inspiration for John Goodman’s character Walter Sobchak in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic “The Big Lebowski.” But Milius was arguably the first of the so-called “Hollywood Brats” of the 1970s to score big in Hollywood. Milius went to USC film school at the same time George Lucas (“Star Wars”) and Randall Kleiser (“Grease”) did and became one of the most in-demand screenwriters during the 1970s. His larger-than-life, gun-toting, right-leaning persona startled, but also fascinated many aspiring talents of the period, including Steven Spielberg, Paul Schrader, and Martin Scorsese. Milius has been credited for creating the “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?” line from “Dirty Harry.” But he’s probably most famous for penning the script for Francis Ford Coppla’s legendary 1979 Vietnam epic “Apocalypse Now.”

Milius also became famous for directing the cult surfing film “Big Wednesday” as well as the box-office hits “Conan the Barbarian” and “Red Dawn.” However, despite the box-office success of “Red Dawn,” the film arguably also led to a reversal of fortune in Hollywood due to “Dawn’s” right-wing political leanings (the film’s political stigma alienated many in Hollywood). Coupled with an accountant friend who looted Milius’s vast earnings, Milius was eventually reduced to asking for a staff writing position on the HBO show “Deadwood” in order to pay for his son’s law school. “Deadwood” producer David Milch gave Milius the money and was shocked when Milius paid the entire amount back. Milius had a comeback of sorts creating the HBO series “Rome,” but then had another setback in 2010 when he suffered a stroke. Milius has fought valiantly back and was able to regain his mind and his writing abilities which he hopes to realize with his long-gestating “Genghis Khan” project.

Regardless of where you stand politically, “Milius” is one hell of a documentary about a true Hollywood character and survivor. The fact that so many famous people agreed to be interviewed for this documentary (including Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, Schrader, Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, George Hamilton, and many others) only demonstrates how much love and respect he has generated over the years. The one common denominator everyone praises is Milius’s gift for storytelling, which apparently hasn’t been destroyed by his stroke. Directors Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson do a splendid job of telling one of the most fascinating true Hollywood stories you’ll ever see. It’s now available for viewing on Amazon Prime.

You can also hear an interview with Figueroa on the excellent “Projection Booth” podcast:

http://www.projection-booth.com/audio/Epx31-Milius.mp3