Who would have ever guessed that we’d ever see a documentary on the brilliant, but virtually unknown gay glam rock alien Jobriath? Yet here it is, Jobriath A.D., proudly taking its place in the parade of modern digital documents of niche musicians (2004’s The Nomi Song immediately springs to mind). Viewers are certainly familiar with the format: talking head interviews trace the subject’s life from birth to (usually tragic) death, the subject’s musical talents are endlessly praised, and formerly clueless moviegoers are left with a catalog of unheard tunes that they can explore when they get home. This film is no exception though in addition to being a weirdo musical savant, Jobriath also has the distinction of being the world’s first openly gay rock star, reason enough to warrant a documentary of his own.
Of local interest, Jobriath was born in Philadelphia and raised in King of Prussia. His early life has always been a bit of a mystery thanks to multiple name changes throughout his life and thus the film’s exploration into the musician’s early years is quite valuable, complete with an extensive interview with one of his brothers as well as one of his Temple University music professors who also happens to be the director of the phenomenal Oscar-winning documentary Marjoe. Prior to all that, the film explores Jobriath’s early days in the entertainment business from his start as a cast member of the L.A. production of Hair to his stint as singer for the short-lived rock band Pidgeon. The major thrust of Jobriath’s life story comes courtesy of former manager Jerry Brandt who dedicated years of his life trying to bring success to Jobriath as a solo act. Brandt portrays himself as a Barnum-like figure, taking the flamboyantly artistic musician and hyping him to the world through billboards, bus advertisements, and a highly-publicized (and highly inflated) advertising budget meant to heighten public interest. Brandt has his detractors amongst the interviewees, but his affection for both Jobriath the person and the musician is apparent and his self-admitted fall from grace is affecting.
Despite a noticeably absent Morrissey who championed the musician in the early 00’s when he was all but forgotten, the interview subjects include members of the GTOs, the Magnetic Fields, the Scissor Sisters, the great Ann Magnuson, and a whole bunch of close friends and collaborators. And Henry Rollins narrates.
Jobriath lived to the age of 36 and left only two solo records behind him, making this film pretty much the complete story on his life. It’s the standard heartbreaking tale of the short and tragic life of a young artist, you’ve heard the story before, but never in a voice like his. Highly recommended.
Jobriath A.D. screens this Saturday, July 14 at 2:30 PM, and Sunday, July 15 at 9:30 PM as part of the Philadelphia QFest 2012.