A Bunch of Fives: films about identity confusion

AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY (Jeff Feuerzeig, US 2016) Author is the story of JT Leroy, teenage truckstop hooker, ingenue and literary genius.

Leroy was in fact the creation of an unemployed mom and her sister-in-law Savannah (who dressed in a wig and shades to appear in public as JT). It was a literary hoax that sucked in writers, filmmakers and musicians, including Courtney Love, Asia Argento and Dennis Cooper.

For ten years, Leroy stunned the US with writing that was queer, biblical, southern and raw. Leroy contributed to films by Gus van Sant and music by Billy Corgan and made public appearances across the world.

Unmasked by a New York Times journalist, the hoax made worldwide headlines, and the documentary explores the story from the skewed and rather bizarre perspective of Leroy’s creator, Laura Albert.

This fascinating and original movie is being shown by the Tyneside Cinema, and it’s not the only cinematic exploration of identity confusion worth seeing.

1. ORLANDO (Sally Potter, UK 1993) The incredible Tilda Swinton stars as the ever changing Orlando, a noble androgyne instructed by Good Queen Bess (played by Quentin Crisp) to live forever. Traversing genders, Orlando ventures through Europe finding happiness in art, poetry and love.

2. I’M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes, US 2007) A biographical musical drama based on episodes in the life of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There breaks all rules by featuring not one but six actors in the role of Zimmerman. Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Richard Gere are amongst the facets of this unusual and many-layered movie, which also features a stunning soundtrack (Sonic Youth, Karen O, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Cat Power amongst others).

3. THE IMPOSTER (Bart Layton, US/UK 2012) The true story of Frederic Bourdin, a French confidence trickster who impersonated a missing Texas schoolboy, The Imposter is a complex mystery revolving around child abuse, government power, and secretive small town America, with a real sting in the tail. Recommended.

4. CATFISH (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, US 2010) Another documentary, but this time the characters are more sympathetic. Lovestruck Nev builds a relationship with a woman online, to find on further investigation that all is not as it seems. On release Catfish was a timely warning on the dangers of taking internet romance too seriously. That it’s dated so quickly says everything about the pace of technology.

5. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Steven Spielberg, US 2002) Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, a con artist and forger, Spielberg’s movie turns an incredible crime story into a breathless chase across the US, as Tom Hanks’ FBI bank fraud agent Carl Hanratty tracks Abagnale while he impersonates airline pilots, doctors and lawyers.

This article orginally appeared at Narc Online in August 2016.


A Bunch of Fives: Girl Gang Movies


GHOSTBUSTERS (Paul Feig, US 2016) This summer’s biggest blockbuster is a reboot of a comedy-horror buddy movie from 1984. Remade with the four main roles played by women, this was a movie that many hoped would fail. That it didn’t is due to the inspired casting of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon as the supernatural sleuths. The addition of a black actress, the amazing Lesley Jones, had chauvinists frothing at the mouth with barely concealable reactionary anger.

This film is a riot, made memorable by the aforementioned female cast, souped up special effects, and a sleazy and believable villain in Neil Casey’s Rowan North. A new classic ‘girl gang’ movie then?

It surely is, and it takes it’s place on a fascinating list of excellent female buddy cinema.

1. THE DOLL SQUAD (Ted V Mikels, US 1973) Schlock king Mikels inspired Charlie’s Angels with this cheap cheapo story of five fantastic female agents, who tackle a mad and evil genius about to release bubonic plague on an unsuspecting world. It’s worth digging around for a copy of this insane romp, not least for a typically camp and over-the-top performance by Tura Satana.

2. FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (Russ Meyer, US 1965) Satana also turns up as one of a trio of over-excitable, underdressed, sports car driving, killer go-go dancers, in Russ Meyer’s most memorable film. Set in the southern Californian deserts, FP!K!K! is a sorry tale of bad behaviour, kidnap, extreme violence, and low morals. Yes, it’s THAT good.

3. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Lou Adler, US 1982) Rarely screened and therefore rarely seen, The Fabulous Stains’ exploration of girl-powered punk rock pre-dated riot grrrl by a decade, and delivers some punchy home truths on the state of the music business and power of the media machine. The Stains wage musical war on rivals The Looters, who, it’s worth noting, feature former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and Ray Winston on vocals.

4. WE ARE THE BEST! (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden 2013) A sensitive and realistic portrayal of the trials of teenage girlhood, explored through the lens of three punk pubescents and their adventures with boys, bands and struggling parents. Friendships flourish and then flounder against a background of guitars and cheap alcohol.

5. MUSTANG (Deniz Gamze Erguven, Turkey/France/Germany 2015) Five orphaned sisters living in rural Turkey attempt to find freedom through rebellion in a conservative village. Swimming with male school friends, attending football matches, kissing older boys and driving cars, the sisters are progressively picked off for marriage. The film has a gloriously positive ending, and despite some brutal and depressing events, is a joyous and unusual example of teenage rebellion (and an important critique of Turkey under arch-conservative President Erdogan).


This article first appeared in Narc Online