AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY. (2016) WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY JEFF FEUERZEIG. MUSIC BY WALTER WERZOWA. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY RICHARD HENKELS.
STARRING LAURA ALBERT, BRUCE BENDERSON, DENNIS COOPER, PANIO GIANOPOULOS, WINONA RYDER, ASIA ARGENTO, BILLY CORGAN AND IRA SILVERBERG AS THEMSELVES.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
THIS REVIEW RE-POSTED IN JANUARY 2023.
A note from the author, Sandra Harris: Hi guys, I’m re-posting this review which I penned last September 2016 because, last night, something rather wonderful happened to me. I turned up at the Irish Film Institute here in Dublin to see acclaimed writer Laura Albert talk about her work after a special screening of AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY, and see Laura I most certainly did.
We met quite by accident in the Ladies’ Toilet, yet another occasion on which I’m thrilled and infinitely thankful to have been born female, haha. She’s absolutely beautiful to look at, with a wicked sense of style, and she’s a really lovely person to boot. She was so generous with her time and more than happy to sign the four copies of her books I’d brought along with me. Yes, four…!
Actually, Laura enjoyed the story I told her of how my now grown-up daughter was sneakily reading her books in the early-to-mid ‘Noughties, and also watching the film THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS on the sly at a sleepover with a bunch of her teenaged chums, all without my knowledge, of course…!
I think I would have had a stroke on the spot had I known what my darling little girl was reading in her leisure time, haha. Now she’s an adult herself, we can talk about the books openly so it’s all good. Laura seemed tickled pink by this story of mother-daughter literary shenanigans.
Laura deserves all the success and happiness the future can bring her and I sincerely hope this happens for her. In the meantime, read the books and watch AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY. It’s a stunningly mesmerising watch and Laura is a character whom, I promise you, you’ll never, ever forget. Love and best wishes, Sandra Harris, film critic extraordinaire and a legend in her own lunchtime. Now read on…
I’ve watched or read a lot of author biopics/biographies in my time, but this one- how do I put this?- stands out somewhat. To be blunt, it was possibly the most bizarre, outrageous and yet strangely compelling author story I’d ever come across.
I’d missed seeing it when it came out in the cinema over the summer this year (2016), so I was thrilled to get a chance to review it for its home release debut. Whatever you think of it, it’s the author movie not only of the year but, let’s face it, probably of the millenium. You’ll most likely never hear a story like this again, so let’s take a peep at what exactly this superb documentary film is trying to tell us.
Okay, where to start? My mind is still blown from watching the film. Okay, let’s focus. A few years ago, a friend of mine (I can now admit that it was my own daughter!) handed me a book and told me to read it. I did, and thought that THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS (2001) was a terrific but really harrowing read.
It was supposedly written by a young American male called JT (or Jeremiah ‘Terminator’) LeRoy, whose tragic back-story included child prostitution, drug addiction, homelessness, all kinds of physical and sexual abuse and even the dreaded HIV. (You’ll have noted my use of the word ‘supposedly’ there…)
He was brought up (or dragged up, if you prefer) by his single mother, a truck-stop prostitute or ‘lot lizard’ whose succession of boyfriends all used her little son for their own nefarious purposes. It’s a story to make your blood run cold, frankly.
JT LeRoy famously brought out two books which were absolutely huge at the time they were published. The one I read myself, THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS (2001), is a series of ten linked short stories narrated by the boy ‘Jeremiah’ and telling the story of his miserable life on the road with his prostitute mother.
Mom apparently was a real headwrecker who alternately showed the boy both love and abusive behaviour, while little Jeremiah just craved her love and even wanted to be like her. The scenes of abuse Jeremiah received at the hands of his mother’s boyfriends and also his ultra-religious, child-beating grandparents are hard to read. I admit freely that I nearly didn’t make it all the way to the end, though of course I’m glad now that I did.
SARAH (2000) is narrated by an unnamed boy who details his grim existence as the son of Sarah, a ‘lot lizard’ who works the truck-stops in West Virginia. Like the mother in THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS, she by turns rejects him and shows him affection. It’s a sad, sad story. I’m getting depressed just thinking about it.
Anyway, the thing about these two iconic books is that they were presented to the reading public as the autobiographical experiences of this shy, troubled young man, JT LeRoy, who only ever appeared in public heavily disguised in a blonde wig and huge visor sunglasses.
Celebrities flocked- and I do mean flocked- to his side, all anxious to take the reclusive author under their wing. Bono from rock group U2 (of course…!) was one of the first in the queue, armed with the apparently legendary ‘Bono Talk’ about the industry and the fickle, heartless Bitch-Goddess that is Showbusiness. Well, I wouldn’t know about that now, Ted…!
Courtney Love, BLONDIE‘s Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Shirley Manson, the front woman from the band GARBAGE, Billy Corgan from THE SMASHING PUMPKINS and Asia Argento, daughter of horror maestro Dario Argento, are all clearly shown in the documentary sucking up big-time to JT, the then shit-hot ‘It’ boy of the literary world. Heh-heh-heh. Celebrities, honestly! Such utter twats. I’m actually sooooo fucking embarrassed for them. The state of them.
Anyway, then comes the bombshell. Rumours begin to circulate that JT is not only not whom he claims to be, but also that he never wrote those two books at all and therefore couldn’t even lay claim to having had those terrible experiences that had people feeling so sorry for him.
News about ‘the biggest literary hoax of the century’ began to hit the news-stands. The two people closest to the so-called ‘JT LeRoy’ knew the answers that an outraged media and literary public were seeking but, the thing was, were they talking…?
This is such a fascinating story. My friend (okay, daughter!) who’d given me that book to read a few years back watched the documentary with me and she’s still fuming over the reveal of the author’s true identity. She’d never heard anything about it before and she was stunned, to say the least.
For her, it was probably a bit like finding out that, say, JK Rowling hadn’t written the Harry Potter books or that her childhood heroine Jacqueline Wilson hadn’t really penned those lovely books about the trials and tribulations of being the daughters of divorced parents, haha.
I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. I actually much prefer the real author to the impersonator (who really bloody annoyed me) and that’s a fact…! I think the film will be of interest to non-writers as much as writers. It’s a gut-wrenching human interest story of gender confusion, real child sexual and physical abuse and overwhelming feelings of being unloved and unwanted (feelings that many people can identify with) that, frankly, I think everybody should try to see. There now, enough from me. I’ve done my bit. Now you guys can go watch the fim and do yours…!