Produced and Directed by Kieran Turner
Newfest 2012, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Screened on July 28, 2012
In 1974, Bruce Wayne Campbell, who legally changed his name to Jobriath Boone, attempted to be the first self-declared gay pop star. His recordings were hailed by a scant few reviewers and most critics were either moderately impressed or dismissive. Commercially, he failed miserably. Moreover, he became a laughing stock of the broader press corps, particularly because they had been mega-hyped by his manager, Jerry Brandt, to expect a pop music savior--so they were nearly universal with vicious and vitriolic ridicule of Jobriath. The gay press said just about nothing, due to the macho man "clone" craze at the time, and Jobriath’s florid style certainly didn’t fit in with that. He quickly faded from view, later reinvented himself as Cole Berlin, a sophisticated saloon singer, and passed on from AIDS in 1983. Over the years, a considerable cult following focusing on his recordings grew, his music inspiring successful recording artists and a number of ardent fans who passionately felt that Jobriath’s story needed to be told and his music be heard.
Kieran Turner is one of those passionate adherents. In his first directorial effort, Mr. Turner has located and pulled together the materials to create Jobriath a.d., an entertaining and professionally mounted documentary. Existing fans of Jobriath will be overjoyed to see an abundance of him in photos and film, and clever animations when archival material was lacking. Hardcore Jobriath fans will have a field day. Those new to Jobriath with be provided with a comprehensive introduction to the basic elements of his saga and an abundance of his unique music musical creations. You will get a clear sense of Jobriath’s charm, and will hear from a myriad of friends and associates attesting to his talent, his ability to inspire others, and his occasional lapses into authentic lunacy.
I met Jobriath in 1968 and enjoyed a close friendship with him through the mid-'70s; I was close at hand during his big push for superstardom. Jobriath was probably the most universally talented person I’ve ever known, and at the same time, the most self-undoing. He was a genius with music, lyrics, and arrangements, and was also a talented painter, designer, and dancer -- in short, he was the kind of multi-talented artist/artisan that could do anything, and do it impressively. As a friend he was incredibly engaging and good company. He also was compelled by something in his nature to destroy the big opportunities that were afforded him.
The film provides the social/cultural background in which the substance of the story takes place, the basics of Jobriath’s early family life, his musical genius at a young age, his time in the cast of Hair both in Los Angeles and New York (mentioning in passing his firing from the NY Hair), and then moves on to the big venture to “stardom” with Jerry Brandt at the helm. The chronology is chock full of accurate information and a generally fair characterization of Jobriath, but provides a few key opportunities to quibble.
The film places the onus Jobriath’s failure squarely on Brandt. Brandt is indeed a phenomenon, and then some. (For the academic or just plain curious, the bottom line on Brandt is found in this article from New York Magazine in 1979, entitled “Got Tu Go Hustle” by Steven Gaines). As the film clearly shows, Brandt came up with a grandiose plan: keeping Jobriath from the press, with no previews of the albuml spending enormous sums on publicity -- 200-plus New York buses with Jobriath’s photo, a huge bill board in Times Square; -- Brandt delivering a multitude of interviews full of claims of what a wild sensation Jobriath would be; announcements of a theatrical performance with elaborate and intricate sets and costumes to premier at the Paris Opera House; on and on. Brandt was indeed a charming rascal in the film’s scenario, but it takes two to tango, or to pull off such an ostentatious and needless failure. Why Jobriath acquiesced to Brandt’s nonsense is never brought out in the film. Jobriath was not simply a victim in what turned out to be a huge fiasco. He was a willing participant.
As to Jobriath’s self-destructive tendencies, the film clearly explains that Jobriath got himself thrown out of the NY cast of Hair, which could have spring boarded him to a career in musical theater. The film makes no mention of why Jobriath was compelled to get himself dismissed.
The film totally omits any mention of the album created under the guidance of Michael Jeffrey, the late co-manager of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. An album was completed, and readied for release and Jobriath, as was his way, managed to wreck his relationship with Jeffrey and proceeded to place himself on to the skids in Los Angeles. Jobriath a.d. includes footage of a recording session during Jeffrey’s tenure with Jobriath in his glory directing a chorus of friends, and producer/engineer Eddy Kramer declaring how great is was to work Jobriath. It was the Jeffrey tracks that inspired Brandt to seek out Jobriath in Los Angeles. The film makes no mention of those tracks origin, as if they were merely demos, which they were not.
Jobriath had a track record of being compelled to undermine himself. Strike one: his behavior in the NY Hair -- upstaging other performers, going into his “quack, quack” duck act -- even though he had the discipline to restrain himself and keep on working. Strike two: he wrecks a completed recording project with Michael Jeffrey. Strike three: then on the rebound from wrecking his professional relationship with Jeffrey, he links up with Jerry Brandt, who promises him the sun, moon, and stars, and proceeds with a publicity build-up of such magnitude that Christ himself would have had a hard time fulfilling the expectations Brandt created. Brandt’s often-heard exclamation was “I know the streets,” meaning what the public wants. A few discerning listeners does not “the streets” make. The album did not sell. One way or another, he’d done it again. Three strikes, for whatever reasons, and Jobriath was in a far “out” mental no-man’s land. Jobriath a.d. omits the Jeffrey saga, which set Jobriath up for the near total breakdown I witnessed after the obligatorily contracted band tour was completed.
Even then, Jobriath didn’t have to remain out of commission After he calmed down from the mega-failure, there were many domains in which Jobriath could have continued to work and thrive: as a performer, musician, arranger, painter, writer, etc. (He could have also engaged a really good psychotherapist.) Jobriath’s ten-year contract with Brandt provided that all Jobriath earned would go to Pierrot Music Inc., and Brandt and Jobriath were to each retain 50% of the that sum after expenses. One way or another, Jobriath would get nothing and did get nothing. Why work, and have his money disappear into and never come out of Pierott Music? The film does not address this issue; thus Jobriath’s periods of indolence after the Brandt debacle seem to make little sense.
Jobriath a.d. is too soft on Jerry Brandt and affords him an inordinate quantity of screen time. It has been speculated that such was arranged so that Brandt would allow them to use Jobriath’s music and image, etc., essential to the film. Twice in the interviews, someone was allowed to call Brandt “a prick” and then some slightly similar names, but quickly all critical words ceased. (Brandt attended the screening at Lincoln Center and, after the film’s conclusion, held court in the lobby of the Walter Reade Theater. It was akin to Herman Goring being a guest at the prosecution team’s after-party, the team that had just successfully convicted him of crimes against humanity; but as Brandt might declare, there is no bad publicity.)
I wish the film had punched the following point with more force: the band and Jobriath, doing straightforward sets during their tour, were outstanding. If Jobriath and those fine musicians had just started out as they were those nights I saw them rock the house, they might have attracted a following and bigger things could have come later. The irony that constantly bothers me is, if they had started where they ended -- with a great band, great arrangements, and Jobriath performing at his peak -- it could have gone somewhere satisfying for all concerned.
Reiterating, Jobriath was probably the most talented person I’ve ever known and also the most self-sabotaging. He was given opportunities that others would have carefully protected and carried through to happier conclusions. Hey, we aren’t all perfect! Jobriath was a sensitive and magnificent artist, musician, and friend, and he had his demons, as do we all, albeit his had a tendency to be highly dramatic. Too bad his demons were often equal to, or more powerful than, his angels.
Leaving aside my insider’s qualms, Kieran Turner has done a phenomenal job in pulling together the archival material, assembling a myriad of interviews of Jobriath’s friends, admirers, and contemporary recording artists inspired by Jobriath, and creating a coherent and forceful portrait of a little-known brilliant artist. - Jay Reisberg
(photo of Jobriath and Jay Reisberg courtesy of Jay Reisberg)
Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, and bon vivant at large.