Thursday, July 28, 2016

Backstory: The Literary Hoax Behind AUTHOR: THE JT LeROY STORY

On August 12, AFS will present a special screening of the highly acclaimed new documentary AUTHOR: THE JT LeROY STORY with director Jeff Feuerzeig in person. Feurezeig will also join us the following day for a Master Class, copresented with IDA, the International Documentary Association.

Back in 1999, a novel called "Sarah" appeared on the scene. It was a work of raw force, telling the coming-of-age story of its then-20 year old (purported) author JT (Jeremiah "Terminator") LeRoy. The author was presented as the son of a truck stop prostitute, who turned came up the HARD way in West Virginia, and later, on the streets of San Francisco, where he turned tricks and shot needle drugs. His work thrilled reviewers like the New York Times' Catherine Texier, who wrote:
For a first novelist, J. T. LeRoy is astonishingly confident. His language turns the tawdriness of hustling into a world of lyrical and grotesque beauty, without losing any of its authenticity. One can clearly hear an Appalachian twang in his prose and, along with his gallows humor, the baroque religiosity of the South. In spite of Sarah's lack of sexual innocence, his language is always fresh, his soul never corrupt. His sweet and pure vision makes even the nastiest scenes bearable.
Soon, LeRoy's "Sarah" and subsequent novels, became underground touchstones, and were beloved by everyone from teenagers to rock stars. LeRoy wrote the original screenplay for Gus Van Sant's 2003 film ELEPHANT and was associate producer on Asia Argento's film adaptation of his THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS.

LeRoy could not have been a hotter property than he was in 2005, when it all came tumbling down. On October 10 of that year, Stephen Beachy published an article in New York Magazine called "Who Is The Real JT LeRoy." It was subtitled,  "A search for the true identity of a great literary hustler." Beachy provided years of evidence that added up to one conclusion, that there was no JT LeRoy.

From Beachy's article:
There are writers I love who create intricate layers of stories that only imply an unstated psychological reality grounding the dizzying production of narrative; others self-consciously play with the boundary between fiction and non. LeRoy has written about the way prostitutes fulfill other people’s fantasies and about the way the literary world can seem like simply a different form of prostitution. In an early version of one of JT’s stories, he wrote that he sometimes felt like the emperor with no clothes. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s the clothes that don’t have an emperor; it’s just a wig and sunglasses floating around a dizzying production of narrative.
It was the beginning of the end for the persona JT Leroy, and for the next few years the books fell into disrepute, littering clearance tables at book stores, but as the real author Laura Albert has come forward to reclaim her work, the books have again found favor with critics and readers, whether or not their author is "real" the books have value as works of fiction.

In 2010, Albert took the stage in San Francisco as part of the Moth Storytelling show and she shared a little of the complicated history of her life with JT Leroy:

And all of this is just the beginning. Feuerzeig's excellent documentary raises and answers scores more questions, and, like a modern F FOR FAKE, makes us examine what we value in the "real."

Here's Feuerzeig telling what attracted him to the story:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Watch This: An Insanely In-Depth Interview with Television Legend Norman Lear

Please note, NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU, the new documentary about the fascinating life of the legendary television producer (and social change vector) screens at the AFS Cinema on August 24 and 28.

In celebration of Norman Lear's 94th birthday we present this interview from the Archive Of American Television. Their page is one of the most informative websites out there, with many hours of interviews with the people who made (and make) television happen. Lear is a brilliant and fascinating figure in the history of television.

He tells his whole story over the course of this (over 4 hour!!!) interview. This is pretty deep stuff, and most people won't be interested in every bit of it, but the site helpfully provides a linked index of topics.

Click here to begin.

Friday, July 22, 2016

S.E. Hinton, the Original YA Rebel, and RUMBLE FISH

William Smith, Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke in RUMBLE FISH (1983)

Author S.E. Hinton (born on this date in 1948) has written only one screenplay, and her literary output has been sparse - her best known work was written before she turned 30 - but her cultural impact has been significant. Legions of socially disaffected young people have gravitated to her novels of young Oklahomans over the years, and the characters she created in books like "The Outsiders" (1967), "That Was Then, This Is Now" (1971), "Rumble Fish" (1975), and "Tex" (1979), provided examples of cool kids - very cool kids - who could still feel pain and need others.

As the Young Adult Library Services Association stated when they gave Hinton the inaugural Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1988: in Hinton's novels "a young adult may explore the need for independence and simultaneously the need for loyalty and belonging, the need to care for others, and the need to be cared for by them."

Hinton with Matt Dillon, her favorite actor, and star of THE OUTSIDERS, RUMBLE FISH, and TEX

Francis Ford Coppola became a major admirer of Hinton and her works. His first Hinton adaptation was THE OUTSIDERS (1983). Much like the book, it was a medium-sized hit that continued to exert its influence over several decades. For many, it is one of the definitive movies and perceptive movies about the teenage years.

During the shoot of THE OUTSIDERS, Coppola and Hinton, who was on set as the film's technical adviser, began writing a script for an adaptation of "Rumble Fish." The idea was to make it as a low budget art film on many of the same locations with some of the same actors. Coppola stated that it was his "reward" for completing the difficult OUTSIDERS shoot. The resulting film is quite different from anything Hollywood could have expected. It is shockingly avant-garde in its black and white cinematography, sparse scene-blocking, and use of symbolic and elliptical storytelling techniques.

Today RUMBLE FISH is not an especially well known film, but it is highly prized and loved by those who have seen it. In 2014, Richard Linklater programmed the film for an AFS series and many of those who saw it for the first time hailed it as a masterpiece. Linklater's remarks about the film are here.

Take a second to watch the trailer and wonder with us why RUMBLE FISH has not become a canonized classic (also - LOOK AT THAT CAST!):

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Watch This: Abel Ferrara Going Rogue on Late Night With Conan O'Brien 1996

Some people seem to carry their own cosmos around with them. That is definitely the case with writer/director Abel Ferrara (born on this day in 1951), who, even as he has created a body of work that is very impressive, has terrorized interviewers and others with his - shall we say - unpredictable approach to the art of conversation.

Here, in a 1996 interview with Conan O'Brien, the clash in their energies is notable. You can practically hear Conan saying "never again" to his booker. In hindsight, Ferrara wins the exchange, just by being so interesting. He seems to carry a little bit of Tompkins Square park around with him - maybe in his pocket.

Sample Exchange:
Conan: Why did Madonna want you to beat up Harvey Keitel? 
Abel: You tell me.
Conan:  I want to talk about Harvey Keitel.
Abel: Ga 'head. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Watch This: Maurice Pialat Wins 1987 Palme d'Or, Takes Stage to Chorus of Boos, Insults Crowd

Writer/director Maurice Pialat was a brilliant director but a notoriously difficult person. He was famous for his tense film sets, angry actors and his firing of multiple cinematographers and editors in a row on a single film. In general, it seemed he had a talent for making others despise him. 
The fact that this feeling was not universal among his collaborators was largely overlooked by the industry; people preferred to play up the horror stories. Evelyne Ker, the actress who played Suzanne’s mother in Pialat’s celebrated À NOS AMOURS, described her experience, which gives a more complete picture of the ups and downs of working with Pialat: 
“During the shooting we often had a good time. There was a tremendous bond between us, and lots of jokes. Pialat, its true, also needs psychodrama, tension, in order to create. So there were conflicts. Depending on his anxieties, depending on the day, he has his scapegoats. Something had to come from us that got him started, if not, he was bored, he got nothing done. But when we got started, it was endless like life itself, he just ate us up!” 
In spite of early critical and commercial success, Pialat’s name was never mentioned among the great auteurs of his period. His of popularity made him easy to ignore, as did his decidedly unique and untrendy aesthetic. 
But when UNDER THE SON OF SATAN won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1987, suddenly, the outsider that the industry loved to ignore was in the spotlight, for a film that the French public had already declared a bomb. In this video from the awards ceremony, Catherine Deneuve has to fight to silence the audience boos to let Pialat speak. Once he does, he gives it right back to them. Take a look at this incredible moment of Cannes history, now with subtitles.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Watch This: Ben Steinbauer's New Short - On the NY Times Op-Ed Page?

Ben Steinbauer is a filmmaker we've been watching closely ever since his 2009 movie WINNEBAGO MAN signaled the approach of a major new documentary voice. Since then, Ben has stayed very busy producing and directing, mainly shorts and commercials, and also carving out a place as an award winning instructor.

Here's his latest work, a brief peek inside an unusual subculture of car customizers as they come together to show of their "flying" cars.

Interestingly enough, it appears on the New York Times' site, on the Opinion page as part of the Op-Docs collection, which is well worth exploring.

Classic TV Moment: "Ida Lupino, This Is Your Life"

Ida Lupino, who is the subject of our July History Of Television presentation and our August Essential Cinema series, had quite a career. First of all, members of her family had been in the theatrical business in one way or another for about 350 years. In other words, all the way back to Renaissance times. She was discovered in her native England as a young teenager by Hollywood director Allan Dwan, who encouraged her to come to Hollywood. She did, and mostly treaded water for years as an ingenue. Eventually she persuaded director William Wellman to give her a substantial dramatic role, and, at the advanced age of 21, she finally found her calling on the screen, as a soulful performer of depth and range. Later, she became an independent producer and director who changed film history.

We learn a bit about all of this in the following segment of the long running television show YOU BET YOUR LIFE, as the apparently very nervous Lupino receives visits from relatives, friends and professional colleagues.