October 12, 1992
Part Spalding Gray-type monologue, part cinéma-vérité
Americana and 100% camp. "American Fabulous" is
basically a forum for the distinctive chatter of its real-life
Jeffrey Strouth (who died of AIDS last year) presents himself
as a flamboyantly queeny, white trash denizen of the Midwest
- one whose saga would have worked well as an early John
Waters pic. His bottomless well of lurid, often funny experiences
constitute a kind of gay Jack Kerouac odyssey.
Holding forth from the backseat of and old car as it rolls
around Ohio backroads and highways, Strouth says with some
pride that "my very existence is a crime in most people's
eyes." He's clearly reveled in being an outsider all
his life but his story has more than it's share of brutality:
beatings from an alcoholic father, poverty, a teenage prostitution
stint, a bloody escape from a psycho and heroin addiction
In his colorful oral history, though, even the bleakest
episodes (like a sister's suicide and funeral) take on giddy
comic hues. Drag queens, pathetic pickups and the Salvation
Army are among the characters summoned up in various absurd/tragic
Film is "spontaneously written and performed"
by Strouth, resulting in a weird hybrid effect: His delivery
is to an extent annoyingly calculated, but the material
isn't neatly tied up into completed anecdotes or a full
life's overview. Whether the stories are entirely true or
not is an open question that comes with the tall-tale style.
Tech work is okay considering that the camera rarely does
anything but point at the subject from the car's front seat,
with primitive wipes between sequences. While hardly presenting
a progressive gay image, docu does offer implicit respect
for its hero's wild nonconformism.
Gus Van Sant and playwright Tony Kushner are acknowledged
in end credits.