Author: The JT LeRoy Story – Film Review by Fran Winston
Directed by: Jeff Feuerzeig
Starring: JT LeRoy in all his forms
Showing in the IFI from July 29th
This is one of the best examples of fact being stranger than fiction that you will probably ever see. When author JT LeRoy burst onto the literary scene in the mid-1990s he was hailed as a breath of fresh air. Although his work was categorised as fiction his vivid and lurid tales of prostitutes and child abuse were seemingly drawn from his own background. He received celebrity endorsements – including one from Bono – and his work was even adapted for the big screen.
However while everyone thought JT LeRoy was a confused young transgender man he was in fact a dowdy New York woman called Laura Albert. Although Albert tried to keep him as something of an enigma she realised that LeRoy would eventually have to make a public appearance at some point so she enlisted the help of a family member to adopt the persona. However she was always in the background as JT’s handler and eventually, after losing weight and glamming up, she achieved her own notoriety as a singer called Speedie (which for some reason she adopted an English persona for) while continuing to write as JT.
As was bound to happen, people were beginning to question JT’s authenticity and eventually a damning expose was published which led to one of the biggest literary scandals of recent times.
This documentary attempts to get to the bottom of what actually happened but the whole story is so bizarre that it is nearly impossible. Told mainly from Albert and “JT’s” point of view through an extensive interview and telephone recordings she attempts to explain her reasoning for deceiving everyone but it is all extremely confusing. No one in this tale is who they seem to be and almost everybody is adopting at least one persona. The most astonishing part of the story is that it wasn’t exposed sooner but the glitterati were so keen to bask in the reflected glory of the flavour of the month that no one questioned it.
As Albert is the primary contributor here you don’t really get a very balanced overview or any sort of analysis of what may actually have been going on in her head. As fascinating a watch as this is it sometimes feels extremely self indulgent and it is very sympathetic towards her rather than being completely objective. There is a lot of focus on the celebrity lifestyle that “JT” and “Speedie” led and very little in the way of objectivity.
This is usually a bad thing for a documentary but this is such a bizarre story that it is only after you finish watching you realise how one sided it was. This may not be a great example of documentary making but it is a fascinating watch nonetheless just to see how easily well known and respected people were sucked into the deception. You don’t have to be a literary fan to appreciate the absurdity of this tale and it is just begging to be dramatised.