In Jobriath A.D., filmmaker Kieran Turner documents the travails of Jobriath, the most flamboyant rock star you’ve never heard of. The glam rocker and self-described gayest person alive teamed up with promoter Jerry Brandt in the 1970s to craft something of a marketing coup, plastering Jobriath’s Bowie-esque face on billboards and buses all over New York, Paris, and London, before anyone had even heard any of his music. When they finally did, few were impressed. Apart from his dubious musicianship, Jobriath’s extravagant femininity was not safely shielded by his enigmatic, Bowie-like aesthetics. His gender-nonconformity was actually articulated both as spectacle and as interview fodder (“Asking me about homosexuality is like asking James Brown if he’s black”), which pissed a lot of people off and didn’t sell records, forcing him to shed his mythic persona before he ever quite found the substance to match his aura.
Narrated by Henry Rollins, Jobriath A.D. focuses on its star’s intangible rise to self-delusional celebrity, his quick fall from grace, and subsequent failed attempts to reinvent himself as a clean-cut and less threatening Broadway singer. Sadly, the doc shows us very little of Jobriath’s talent even as talking heads exult him as a misunderstood genius with a Jagger-esque swagger and an “in-your-face faggotry.” This may be due to lack of preserved material, which the film tries to make up for with a few animation sequences that either reenact a moment in the artist’s life or a show he had envisioned. One such sequence consists of Jobriath climbing to the top of an Empire State Building-like phallus as the gorilla suit-wearing Marlene Dietrich from Blonde Venus.
For a documentary about overwhelming colorfulness, Jobriath A.D. is maddeningly straight-forward, traditional, and televisual. Despite the lack of an extensive body of work to draw from, the film seems more worried about telling Jobriath’s personal trajectory (he hustled, lived in the Chelsea Hotel, got AIDS) than showcasing his significance as the too-gay-to-bare revolutionary of glam. The fact that his work didn’t live up to the hype may tell us he was an artist before his time, considering how often it is that hype itself is put on sale nowadays. But the film never explores the depths and nuances that could actually place Jobriath in conversation with figures who came after him, however reductively.