“The Cult of JT LeRoy”: How Much About JT LeRoy is Too Much About JT LeRoy?

  • By Jonathan Kiefer
  • Wed Mar 11th, 2015 5:00pm
  • FilmFilm

How much can we ever know about JT LeRoy? How much do we still want to know? At least enough that local filmmaker Marjorie Sturm's documentary, which had its West Coast premiere at IndieFest last month, now returns to the Roxie for a full weeklong release. At least enough that another documentary, from Vice Media, is already in production. Meanwhile Sturm's The Cult of JT LeRoy offers a sober yet somewhat punch-drunk reminder of what it felt like when the local literary wunderkind with a disturbingly tragic past was shown to possess an even more disturbingly tragic future, on account of having become a celebrity without ever having been an actual person. (Not that that ever stops anyone.) “Hoax” is too superficial a term for what this was, says San Francisco clinical psychologist Terrence Owens in a videotaped deposition, notably using the term “psychopathology” in the same sentence. Sturm patiently traces a daisy chain of witness-participants in the so-called cult — and that does seem like the right term — whose collective testimony likens the figure of LeRoy to Satan, the Messiah, and, as one book agent more circumspectly puts it, “an extraordinary found object in the literary field.” As Laura Albert, LeRoy's creator, and Savannah Knoop, his public (if often obscured) face, did their dance and stumble on the fine line between intellectual fraud and postmodern performance art, many other people became intimately involved. And the heart, deceitful though it is above all things, goes out to all of them.

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