Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig
Opens September 9
A classic episode from the annals of truth-stranger-than-fiction gets the newsmagazine treatment in Author: The JT LeRoy Story. Late-90s scenesters will recall that JT was not an author per se but the persona adopted by one Laura Albert, under which she published two acclaimed books—and that according to the backstory Albert invented, Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy was a gender-fluid teen raised in truck stops by his prostitute mother. JT became an object of fascination for all sorts of cultural luminaries, some of whom are heard here in phone conversations taped by Albert, including Gus Van Sant, Mary Karr, and Billy Corgan.
By Albert’s account, the alter-ego began as an impromptu therapeutic crutch, a device to provide the distance she needed to address past traumas and the security to risk giving her work an audience—though at the time she might not have been able to explain its utility. Eventually her success required the masquerade, at first limited to written correspondence and telephone conversations, to expand: Albert recruited her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop to make public appearances as JT, disguising her in a blonde wig and sunglasses. Her exposure reached its peak with the adaptation of her 2001 short story collection The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things into a 2004 movie directed by and starring Asia Argento.
The arrangement was uncovered by journalists not long after; in addition to taking predictable flak in the press, Albert wound up in civil court and on the wrong end of a six-figure judgment. A closing title card notes that Albert now writes under her own name, but director Jeff Feuerzeig doesn’t delve into her current literary reputation, or how her work as JT might fare with future readers who go in knowing the phony-backstory backstory, or the general relationship between a work of fiction and its author’s public image.
A story this rich in ironies and metaphysics ought to be big game for a filmmaker, but Feuerzeig gives the impression throughout that his chief concern is telling the best anecdote at the party, rather than conducting any sort of analysis or developing symbolic resonance. The benchmark films for undermining the notion of authorship are Close-up and F for Fake, formally daring works that reshape the boundaries of documentary—and eternal rebukes to rote info dumps like this one.