Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Author: THe J.T. LeRoy Story’ and ‘Fangar’

‘AUTHOR: THE J.T. LEROY STORY’ (AMAZON, APPLE, GOOGLE PLAY, VUDU, YOUTUBE)

Somehow, the story of author J.T. LeRoy fell under my radar, so this documentary opened up entire worlds of fascination for me. LeRoy came to the public dye through his debut novel, “Sarah,” in 1999, a semi-autobiographical work that pulled from his background as a truck stop prostitute alongside his mother.

Immediately heralded as a masterpiece, the reclusive LeRoy found the call of his public to be too enticing and began to make personal appearances, which led to his entrance into the world of celebrities, where he was embraced, nurtured and courted. The whole thing came to an abrupt end when it was revealed that LeRoy did not actually exist, that he was the creation of a woman named Laura Albert and that her sister-in-law had been hired to play LeRoy in public.

“Author” allows Albert to tell her side of the story, tracing her own troubled teen years through bouts of telephone fraud that led to the creation of the LeRoy character and then finally the novel, as well as her take on the behind-the-scenes misadventures in the celebrity universe.

It’s a fascinating story, but be warned, this film is also a monologue by Albert, and she is an unreliable witness. There are stories that are easy to swallow, but sometimes her ease at depicting her ability to fabricate does taint aspects of her own biography, as well as other claims plus her inability to admit her role in this as a form of fraud against real people.

But even as the film does a mesmerizing job at documenting her story, it does a better one at unveiling the nature of celebrity in the modern world, examining the insularity and incestuousness of the celebrity class and revealing just about any hipster celebrity you can think of — Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Asia Argento, and on and on — as a little desperate to attach their own brands to an up-and-coming one. And it captures these aspects through audio recordings — Albert secretly taped all her phone conversations.

You won’t find yourself liking Albert, but there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate her fraud and its revelatory side effects.

‘FANGAR’ (SUNDANCE)

To any devotee of the women in prison genre, a show taking place in Iceland is going to raise some eyebrows. Not for any titillating reasons. It’s more that even the most seasoned viewer can’t possibly imagine what an Icelandic version even looks like. Well, it looks very different.

“Fangar,” translated as “Prisoners,” is the result of three years of research work in which the creators interviewed former Iceland women prisoners for their stories and used those as inspiration for this drama. But the show also goes the extra mile of filming in an actual former women’s prison in Iceland. It’s no longer in use because the prisoners there were transferred to a co-ed jail.

Here’s the kicker, though — look out on your street. Look at just about any two-story house. That’s the size of the Icelandic women’s prison featured here. I don’t even think there are 12 prisoners in it. But that doesn’t dampen the high drama or low violence associated with the genre from breaking through Iceland-style.

In the show, Linda (Thora Bjorg Helga) is on remand after assaulting her father. We know all the reasons she did so, but I won’t spoil it. I will say that one thing complicating Linda’s case is her older sister Valgerður (Halldra Geirharsdottir), a rising political party star who is leading a siege against the party leadership and the prime minister, and her sister going to jail is the last thing she needs.

What unfolds is the common fish out of water introductory story that ushers in these shows, with Linda, who’s not exactly an innocent fish, learning the ropes of the place under the tutelage of the bubbly junkie Brynja (Unnur Ösp Stefánsdóttir), while also falling into conflict with other hostile prisoners, ranging from a raging mom who’s trying to keep her family together to an unhinged and unpredictable murderer.

The cultural differences alone will keep your attention, but the dramatics build in an alluring way, unearthing worlds you never really considered existing — the gritty crime and drug cultures of Iceland.


Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.

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