Sunday, April 5, 2015

Please Bear With Us...

Twice in four days, I attended screenings at the Roxie which could not be completed and the audience was turned out of the theater.

Welcome to New York starring Gérard Depardieu & Jacqueline Bisset; directed by Abel Ferrara; English & French with subtitles; (2014)
The Cult of JT Leroy; documentary; directed by Marjorie Sturm; (2014) - Official Website
Henry Fool starring Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak & Parker Posey; directed by Hal Hartley; (1997)
Fay Grim starring Parker Posey & Jeff Goldblum; with James Urbaniak & Thomas Jay Ryan; directed by Hal Hartley; (2006) - Official Website

I saw Welcome to New York at the Little Roxie on April 2, The Cult of JT Leroy at the Big Roxie on April 2 and Henry Fool & Fay Grim at the Big Roxie this afternoon.

The picture (but not the sound) went out during Welcome to New York with about 40 minutes left in the film.  I could hear the projectionist mentioning the bulb was out but they did not have a spare.

The picture began to skip and ultimately froze during the screening of Henry Fool with about an hour left in the film.  The staff announced there was something wrong with the disc.

In both cases, the Roxie offered patrons a refunds or passes to future screenings.

Although I am sympathetic to these problems given the Roxie's hardscrabble existence, I am also disappointed and concerned.  The core business of the Roxie is to exhibit "films" and when it cannot do that, I wonder if it is a sign that they are on the verge of failure.  From an outsider's perspective, it seems to me that basic maintenance is being ignored and critical supplies are not being stocked which resulted in the cancelling of Welcome to New York.  In the business world, that is frequently a sign of a company which is having serious problems.

As for the films, they were a mixed bag.

As we get further removed from Ms. 45, I am finding that I enjoy Abel Ferrara's films less and less.  Such was the case with Welcome to New York which was a thinly disguised retelling of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape allegations.  Gérard Depardieu played Devereaux and Jacqueline Bisset was his wife Simone.

Welcome to New York was told in a perfunctory, almost documentary style.  Even the sex scenes seemed clinical in their depiction.  For the most part, this is a disservice to the film.  Simone in particular seethes with resentment towards her husband (her marital complaints long predate the rape allegations) but their arguments have a staged quality to them which renders them less emotional.  The only time this approach works is during an extended sequence when Devereaux is booked into jail (presumably The Tombs).  Told in real time, the 20 minute sequence portrays Devereaux's arrival at the jail, his being placed in a shared cell with other inmates, his fingerprinting & finally his strip search. The detached method by which the corrections officers go about their business contrasts with the menacing behavior of the fellow inmates towards Devereaux and the CO's periodic threats borne from their petty frustrations of Devereaux's behavior.

The other part of the film that I thought was a disservice was the casting of Depardieu.  In his current condition, Depardieu is bordering on morbidly obese.  A little extra weight would have served the wealthy character well but Depardieu (or at least his portrayal of Devereaux) seemed to be laboring just to take off his underwear during the strip search.  It's hard to imagine that this character could have had sex with three women in one night (with drugs) and then be able to rouse himself to action with the chambermaid the next morning.

The film cut out while Devereaux was facing rape charges.  I don't know how closely the film followed the actual DSK case so I don't know how the film ends.  Frankly, I was laboring to maintain my interest in the film when prematurely ended.

The Cult of JT Leroy played at the 2015 San Francisco Independent Film Festival.  The Roxie had already published their scheduled for April so I knew the film would play at the Roxie so I skipped the IndieFest screening.

JT Leroy was a male author who was very popular author for about a decade starting in the mid-1990s.  His official biography stated that he was the son of a truck stop prostitute who was eventually pimped out by his mother.  He had been anally sodomized so many times that he needed corrective surgery on his rectum.  Transgendered and HIV positive, Leroy sought counseling in San Francisco.  Encouraged to keep a journal, Leroy chronicled his horrific experiences into three autobiographical novels with first one being published when he was 16 years old.

Extremely shy, Leroy initially refused public appearance while having celebrity proxies read his work at book readings.  Later the androgynous Leroy would make appearances at his events and eventually take the center stage himself.

The only problem is that JT Leroy does not exist.  His fiction is the work of Laura Albert, a thirtysomething woman with a varied background.  Albert's boyfriend's younger half-sister (Savannah Knoop) played Leroy in public...with Albert always nearby.

I have always found the story fascinating and the movie did not disappoint.  I've always been a little skeptical of the damage caused by Leroy.  Albert was found guilty of fraud charges as I guess the authorship of a story matters.  As the plaintiff said, if it didn't matter who wrote it, why did Albert go to such great lengths to give the impression it was written by a 16 year old transgendered prostitute?

Portrayed as manipulative and borderline sociopathic, Albert may have been channeling some of her life experiences through JT Leroy.  Albert describes an simultaneously funny & disturbing event from her childhood.  She created a Swedish exchange student that was staying at her house during her junior high years.  Having a crush on a boy in the class, Albert would pretend to be the Swedish girl and call the boy.  She made up reasons as to why the girl couldn't leave the house but eventually realized the hoax could not go on so she gave the girl a rare, fast-acting cancer which claimed her life.  The boy was very upset and his mother went to visit Albert's mother where upon the hoax was revealed.  Albert has had a talent for lying since her early teens.  Albert did not participate in the making of the film but I found her presence to be disquieting although that could be through selective editing.

 The title The Cult of JT Leroy refers to the multitudes of people who were drawn into the hoax and believed it despite some of the retrospectively obvious problems with the story.  As is frequently the case, JT Leroy preyed on the lonely and marginalized.  Even if you weren't lonely and marginalized, being a fan or friend of JT Leroy showed you cared about the lonely and marginalized.  


Last Friday, Ned Rifle was released in theaters.  Ned Rifle is the third entry in the film series which began with Henry Fool and continued with Fay Grim.

Henry Fool is a shady character.  He makes vague references to being an assassin but seems more like a failed novelist/poet.  He latches onto Simon Grim, a Queens garbageman who is socially inept.  He encourages Grim to keep a journal and is impressed by his musings.  In the meantime, Fool sleeps with Simon's mother after rebuffing a pass from Simon's slutty sister Fay (the always charismatic Parker Posey).  I wish I could say what happened next but the film went kaput at this point.

Fay Grim picks up seven years after Henry Fool.  Apparently, Fay and Henry got married and had a son named Ned.  Simon is in prison for murder.  Henry has disappeared.  Jeff Goldblum plays an FBI agent who is looking for Henry's lost journals which are a matter of national security.

I couldn't get into Fay Grim because I kept wondering what happened in Henry Fool.  Of the two films, I much preferred what I saw in Henry Fool to Fay Grim.

I am going to give my opinion of both films as incomplete and state I am much more disappointed in not finishing Henry Fool than Welcome to New York.

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