director Marjorie Sturm
After watching Author: The JT LeRoy Story, my initial thought was that Laura Albert, the actual author behind J.T. LeRoy, might have earned less scorn if she’s never convinced her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, to pose as a human avatar for her fictive creation. If she hadn’t done that, the whole celebrity thing would have been much more limited, the notoriety less, and many fewer people impacted. Some, like her therapist, might have even understood her use of a fictional self for her psychology and art.
However, Marjorie Sturm’s The Cult of JT LeRoy obliterates that. From Albert’s earliest publication and outreach to authors and fans, emotional manipulation and exploitation for financial gain were already serious trademarks. She just hadn’t upped her game to the higher echelons of pop celebrity.
The film follows depositions from a lawsuit that came about from the optioning of a screenplay from LeRoy’s first novel, Sarah. The scheme was neither simply one of mental health or artistic creation, but of opportunism and financial gain.
It’s interesting that Sturm was invited into the LeRoy circle as a local documentary filmmaker who worked with at risk kids in San Francisco’s Tenderloin (LeRoy’s supposed milieu), only to be rebuked after one of the crew approached Knoop in character in the Mission District following a photo shoot.
This was Sturm’s in-road to the world, and though her film doesn’t have all the illicitly recorded celebrity voices, she interviews a lot of people who had earlier interaction with LeRoy and the journalist who ultimately exposed the fraud.
No single picture really tells this whole story. But I think you can’t just watch Author: The JT LeRoy Story without watching The Cult of JT LeRoy and think you’ve got the whole narrative. Or vice versa. Or perhaps without even more material. Or ever.