To some, it was a major con, the kind of hoax that hurts. After all, author Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy hit the literary world hard with his novel Sarah (2000) and his short story collection The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2001). There were copious raves for these raw tales of child abuse, drugs, truck-stop sex and other bumps in the road for this HIV-positive, transgender male. Then, late in 2005, came the revelation that JT Leroy was the invented male persona of Brooklyn-born Laura Albert, a former phone-sex operator turned San Francisco housewife and mother.
Author: The JT Leroy Story tells the admittedly mesmerizing tale of why Albert created this avatar and how she got away with it for so long. Jeff Feuerzeig’s film has been deemed a documentary — but since the director examines the LeRoy legend almost completely through Albert’s point of view, you might want to retain a healthy degree of skepticism. Still, it’s undeniably compelling to watch Albert build her legend through such celebrity enablers as director Gus Van Sant, actress Asia Argento, and Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan. At one point, she asks her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, to pose as LeRoy in public, wearing a blond wig and dark glasses. Albert herself, using a British accent, played the role LeRoy’s friend and manager, Speedie. And, yes, that’s her rock-star wannabe husband Geoff Knoop joining the LeRoy entourage in the role of Astor.
Unbelievable? You ain’t heard nothing yet, and I won’t spoil it for you. Feuerzeig adds a few arty touches, such as clever animated sequences by Joshua Mulligan and Stefan Nadelman that illustrate LeRoy’s stories. But your reaction to Author will come down the question that haunts the film, and assuredly Albert herself: Do the widely-praised writings of LeRoy become less praiseworthy when you know they were crafted under false pretenses? It’s a question worth chewing on even if the film asking it stacks the deck.