Jobriath A.D. (2011)
Directed by Kieran Turner
First of all, it’s pronounced Joh-BRAI-ath.
What separates Jobriath A.D., about the first gay non-rock star Jobriath, from most documentaries is the animation used within it. Being created by four different animators, they all have a coherently colourful aesthetic. And unlike animation in other documentaries, which is often used for infographics, these segments attempt a narrative purpose. But it might also be one of the movie’s weak spots, as they just repeat the points within the other parts of the movie.
The documentary sets up this joyful mood, starting where many contemporary gay movies begin – the late 1960’s, the gay movement being a residual from that decade’s sexual revolution. Jobriath, who played Woof in the first regional productions of Hair, outshines the musical’s major characters through his vocal energy. After the musical’s last performance in LA the cast has relatively gone their separate ways, Jobriath beginning to write his first album. The movie’s talking heads belong to two groups. The majority have been around during the music’s composition and recording, affirming the optimism they have for this talent. A minority were the people from newer generations who have discovered his music, telling the camera of the music’s uniqueness and influential value. The music was operatic but it fit within rock music and its cousin, glam rock. Jobriath was willing to make the transition, even outdoing the subgenre’s stars like David Bowie. He and his manager Jerry Brandt plan to outdo Bowie by playing on the homosexuality angle. That’s before realizing how much they’ve miscalculated.
NOW Magazine’s Benjamin Boles describes Jobriath as the pre-Internet Lana del Rey, both acts being hyped up before seeing them perform. There are other parallels among Jobriath and other real or fictional musicians. I suspect that he might have influenced This Is Spinal Tap and Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s flamboyant shoestring theatricality. The same hype was built around Gabbo and 50 Cent, if either had failed. All these examples were objects of mockery, which Jobriath was in his time, but the movie rightfully turns this backlash against him as a tragic phenomenon that destroys his life.
Brandt might have been the person who helped ruin Jobriath, and he’s also one of the movie’s talking heads. Another of the movie’s problems is that it lets Brandt hijack it the first time he appears on screen. But at least Keiran Turner’s documentary is comprehensive, showing Jobriath’s life and the people in it before, during and surprisingly after Jobriath slipped in and out of his multiple personas.
‘Rock-umentaries’ are all about immersing the audience in the musician’s work and convincing them to buy and download and whatever. To do that it shows footage with him in the studio doing what he does best – o hai Richard Gere in the background – as well as Jake Shears, Stephen Merritt and the lead singers from Okkervil River and Def Leppard lauding him. But despite showing these things it never fully gets me to that level, and there are many possible reasons for that. Either because there’s something I can’t articulate within the movie’s presentation that hinders it. That Jobriath’s music is too esoteric for his own good, a quality oft-repeated by the movie’s talking heads. Or that I’m not into rock or The Scissor Sisters or The Magnetic Fields at the moment. But I did Youtube one of Jobriath’s videos so I might just be getting there slowly, like a steep tower that he mounts, unable to reach his zenith when he was still alive.
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