Writer and enigmatic figure JT LeRoy was real, but perhaps not in a conventional sense. JT was made of human emotions, wires, and triggers. A cat’s cradle of nerves and synapses, thoughts and ideas. And the eclectic gathering of people around the author were also comprised of repressed feelings. But they were also fictional beings in the impending sight-line of an eraser: They were simply outsourced by reality.
All of the fictional characters in polarizing author Laura Albert’s mind became, at one point in time, tangible entities made of sinew and bone. They drew shadows and pulled capes, closely, across their faces like old Dracula films. And while many of the characters lived in the skewed vibrations of reality, they had but a sole set of fingerprints: They all belonged to a single Brooklyn-born writer. A person who had created them as a way to psychologically bloodlet, to remove painful abscesses from her fevered recollections. The smoke and mirrors came with a real fire.
Albert’s work hummed and hissed under the pseudonym of JT LeRoy, a boy whose wily, acerbic and perceptive prose earned him celebrity. The avatar of JT was played by someone else entirely – a placeholder, you could say – and was used as an aesthetic stand-in. In her mind, Laura Albert was simply not the visual representation of LeRoy. “Everyone was there to see this hip, cool writer and I’m not it,” Albert explained. But the character of Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy was the perfect visual accompaniment of how the author saw herself: Unpredictable, warm, beguiling in brevity, and one to not overstay a welcome.
Director Jeff Feuerzeig’s exploration into the viscous, strange, and maddening world of JT LeRoy is full of spooled tapes and crudely drawn notebook scribbles. His direction is smudged with grease and gruel. Feuerzeig paints with large, bleak, broad-sized brushes. You feel the grime on the receiver of a dislodged cordless phone. You see the stains on college-ruled notebook paper. Most of the documentary takes stylistic turns from Jonathan Caouette’s “Tarnation” and Brett Morgen’s “Montage of Heck”, complete with downtrodden animation cues and ink that materializes on blank pages. “Author: The JT LeRoy Story” also shares the same intimacy as the aforementioned documentaries. There aren’t a bevvy of experts straightening their ties for Feuerzeig’s camera. There are no hot-takes on Laura Albert’s psychology: This is a deliberately esoteric – and yet telling – document of one person’s life as an author, human, and historian. You are in the hands of an unreliable narrator, but, much like JT LeRoy himself, there’s some textural poetry in that very uncertainty.
“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” is a brume of photographs, fluttering footage, and ghostly recordings. It lives in a world where “hoax” preceded the now popularized “catfished.” Laura Albert’s story, and this sidecar of a documentary, is important as a conversation starter: What does anonymity mean? What is celebrity? How is talent valued? Though only ten years removed of the events in this documentary, everything is exceptionally different and yet entirely the same. May our secrets live to tell the tales.