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The way people collude in being conned has always fascinated me. Hence, when a documentary like Marjorie Sturm’s THE CULT OF JT LEROY comes along, I am immediately interested. The story of how Laura Albert, a woman in her 30s with uncertain mental stability, hoaxed the world, including people who should have known better, into believing she was an adolescent homeless male street hustler with a lifetime of abuse and addiction is one of the great hoaxes of our time. That the books she wrote under the name of her assume identity, JT LeRoy, featured solid writing that still sells today is a particularly interesting part of the story. And, for me, brought up issues of how people never see art in a vacuum.
When I spoke to Sturm on March 10, 2015, it was in the lobby of the fabled Roxie Theater in San Francisco, where it would be screening with Sturm in attendance, the following weekend. You can hear the street life of the vibrant Mission District floating in and out of the conversation. I started that conversation with my musings on art and its context, moving along to the culture of victimhood, the public’s capacity for self-delusion, and her own struggles with Albert, whom she began filming when the media hype was just starting. With a degree in psychology as well as filmmaking, there could not have been anyone better equipped to delve into this twisted tale of fame, fortune, and pop culture.
THE CULT OF JT LEROY is a provocative documentary about the fraud around the eponymous author who was lionized by celebrities and intelligentsia as a powerful voice for abused youth and the outcasts of society. Riding a wave of fame that saw book and movie deals as well as wall-to-wall press coverage, the reclusive, eccentric author was eventually revealed to be something other than the homeless child of a prostitute forced into prostituting himself to survive, and who used the process of writing books detailing his life to save his sanity. Sturm’s film examines the crush of accolades with interviews with the people caught up in the frenzy, as well as the participants who knew better, and, as a recurring motif, the therapist giving a deposition about the state of mind that gave rise to JT. More than a document of a particularly odd interlude in the culture of celebrity, THE CULT OF JT LEROY also asks us to examine how and why we react to art in a given way, and why it’s never about just the art itself.
Click on the link to listen to the interview(21:31): THE CULT OF JT LEROY — Marjorie Sturm Interview.