Kieran was kind enough to share Jobriath A.D. with us and, on many levels, I just loved it and think that a lot of Dangerous Minds readers will really love it, too. Narrated by Henry Rollins and featuring interviews with Marc Almond, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt, Ann Magnuson, Kristian Hoffman, Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters and Jobriath’s manager Jerry Brandt, Turner’s film seems set to perform the same task for Jobriath Boone, rock’s first out and proud “fairy” that Andrew Horn’s The Nomi Song doc did for the once similarly obscure Klaus Nomi.
I caught up with Kieran over email:
I was completely wowed by Jobriath A.D. My wife loved it too, and she absolutely hates Jobriath’s music, so that’s really saying something, as well. You won her over.
Kieran Turner Now THAT fascinates me. I had a conversation with a journalist in the UK and wondered what people who didn’t like Jobriath’s music would think of the film. For instance, if you go see this film not having heard anything before and you are exposed to the music and you’re sitting there scratching your head, is the rest of film just a complete wash? Would you just sit there with your arms folded and a sneer on your face every time someone popped up onscreen and offered up some praise? Or could a viewer appreciate the story and say- okay, I don’t like the music, but the guy broke ground, and this is an interesting cautionary tale and great period piece. I honestly didn’t know the answer to that question, and looking at it from my own perspective, I wasn’t sure I could, so how could I expect anyone else to? Because I know everyone isn’t going to like this music and I never expected that in a million years, nor can I fault anyone for it. So to hear that your wife, who doesn’t like Jobriath’s music, was able to take something away from the film and enjoy it- that thrills me to no end.
Jobriath, until the last few years, at least, was not an artist who it was “easy” to find out about. I discovered him myself, completely accidentally at the Sixth Ave Flea Market flipping through albums and going “What’s THIS?” How did you first hear about Jobriath?
You know, I had always heard about Jobriath, as I am a huge music freak and particularly obsessed with the 70s and gay history. I’m too young to have been around during Jobriath’s brief heyday, so I never got exposed to the music. And every time I read about him, he was always described as a joke, so I believed it, since I was unable to hear the music. I guess I stumbled upon the compilation Morrissey put out while I was online, took a chance and ordered it and was just blown away by the music and the talent. And after that, I was obsessed. I wanted to know everything. I was expecting to hear a 70s version of Pansy Division and what I got was a real artist.
I never had any desire to make a documentary. In fact, I had been gearing up to make my 2nd feature film in 2007, and our funding fell through 4 weeks before casting was to begin in NYC and I had nothing going on, no job, I’d sublet my apartment, so I had this chunk of time and I just started researching. I took 14 months to really track down enough people, get enough information, lock the music up (which was crucial) and feel comfortable enough to know it was safe to start the cameras rolling, which we did in January, 2009. I shot on and off for 2 1/2 years, still researching, finding new people, new information, new materials the entire time, and then began editing last summer.
Where did you find the vast treasure trove of images and film footage that you uncovered for Jobriath A.D.?
All different places. Honestly, it was a bitch. And we were finding material up until January of this year. In fact, we had what we thought was a finished cut and then a photographer came out of the woodwork with some fantastic photos of which we nabbed a half dozen and put them in at the last minute. And the interview footage with Jobriath and Jerry Brandt was a complete accident. I had been told that the LA NBC affiliate had filmed Jobriath’s first night at The Troubadour in 1974 and did a simulcast, which I always found very suspicious. Why would a Big 3 network do that? It made no sense. That, coupled with the fact that the filmmakers who were doing a doc about Zolar X, who had opened for Jobriath at those shows, had done a thorough search for the footage and had come up with nothing led me to believe it was a myth. Anyway, my co-researcher found some footage at NBC that matched the time period of the Troubadour, but no one knew what it was, only that it was 30 min. So I paid to have it transfered and they sent over a quicktime. I was so nervous to watch it, I sent it to my editor and the two of us watched it over the phone together. Well, there was NO performance footage, just 10 minutes of rehearsal and then this AMAZING 20 minute sit down interview. I was near tears, I was so happy, because the dynamic between Jerry and Jobriath, which was just missing from the film up until that point, was so clear in this interview footage. You watch one tiny section of it and it sums up their relationship immediately.
Speaking as a longtime Jobriath fanatic—one of your interviewees, Ann Magnuson, told me about 20 years ago that I was probably the only straight guy in America who even knew who Jobriath was—the part about how all of his costumes and belongings were thrown away after he died was so heartbreaking, but now that your film exists, and is such a testament to this vibrant, talented supernova individual who once existed, more people will hear of Jobriath than ever did during his lifetime and that was very gratifying to contemplate. The film seems such a labor of love, what was the impetus behind the doc and how long did you work on it?
It was sort of three pronged, my reasons for wanting to make this. First, I thought it was hugely unfair that Jobriath was a pioneer of the gay community, the first openly gay rock star (and I mean OPEN and not the bullshit bisexual pose of Bowie, et al, who were just using it for shock and had wives and girlfriends to fall back on). And I get very tired of people throwing out other examples of artists they think were openly gay back then. Trust me, I did the research. In America, it was Jobriath, then Steven Grossman, who even fewer people had heard of. You had Long John Baldry, who was very fringe and really in the UK. But I don’t want to hear about Liberace, Little Richard, Elton John and all those others. It was Jobriath.
But I would not have made this film if the music wasn’t good. Really good. Because what’s the point? Then you ARE making a doc about Pansy Division who, all they have going for them is the gay gimmick. And I don’t mean to bash PD. I don’t know them, I don’t have anything really against them. I do find the music to be incredibly reductive and rather infantile, but I also know that people do enjoy it, I guess. I just feel like as a gay man, it doesn’t thrill me to have an openly gay band singing about sucking cock and cruising the local skater boys down at the park. But they do have a following, so they’re doing something right.
With Jobriath, I was just so thrilled that it wasn’t only a gimmick and that there was some major talent there. Of course, not everyone will like the music, but it’s silly to expect everyone to like something. I just thought there was a larger audience out there who wasn’t aware of him and who would get it.
And lastly, I felt like I could identify with Jobriath as someone who is creative and and often has to depend on the permission of others in order to share my creativity with the world, whether it be through funding or reviews or getting my foot in the door. How many of us really just want to share what we’re passionate about with the world, but because someone in power deems it unworthy, we’re pushed aside or have the door slammed in our face? That’s all Jobriath wanted to do, just put his gift out there to the world and the world said “Fuck you.” Before they ever heard the music. Because they didn’t like the image, because they didn’t like being told they should embrace something, because they weren’t the ones to discover it, because they were afraid of it—whatever the reason. And it destroyed him. And who can’t identify with that, with putting yourself on the line for something that you’re passionate about, only to be rejected? And that is why I think this is such a universal story. You don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to like the music, you just have to be human.
Often filmmakers are obliged to cut something out for running time’s sake. Anything juicy that we’ll have to wait for the DVD to see?
Oh yes, we cut out a LOT of material. Jobriath was in the running to play Al Pacino’s lover in Dog Day Afternoon. I found that quite interesting, but we just didn’t have time for it in the film, so there’s a section about that. There’s also a section about a musical he wrote which Joe Papp was developing called Popstar, which I have some material from. There’s also some interesting sort of heresay about him and Bowie in terms of a perceived rivalry. I investigated it fairly thoroughly and the reason I didn’t put it in the film was because I couldn’t come to a conclusion. For as many people who said there was an issue, I had just as many who said there wasn’t. It’s something worth examining and letting a viewer make up their own mind, but it didn’t fit in the film and it didn’t further the story. And there is certainly more about Jerry Brandt, more about the family. I also have a lot more interview material with the musicians in the film (Jake Shears, Joe Elliott, Marc Almond, et al) who I had to cut most of for time. This DVD will be packed with extras, I hope. We have the material, it’s just a matter of what sort of distribution deal we wind up getting. But if you like the movie, you’ll want the DVD.
Jobriath A.D. aside from reviving an interest in Jobriath, as both a musician/composer and also as someone who will ultimately be seen as an important and pioneering gay figure in the arts, also seems like it could provide one last big wave for Jerry Brandt to ride. Something like a Broadway musical, as he says in the film, is entirely plausible, don’t you think?
You know, who knows what will happen? Jobriath is a niche figure. I certainly don’t expect FunKo to go into production on a series of Jobriath bobble-head dolls, if you know what I mean. I think everyone involved with Jobriath needs to take it one step at a time. I mean, the music is back out of print, so let’s start there before we make lunchboxes. I’m being facetious, of course, but I think Velvet Goldmine has proven exactly what sort of a market there is out there for fictionalized glam rock.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Jobriath: Rock’s Fairy Godmother
Below, Jobriath and the Creatures on The Midnight Special in 1974: