American Fabulous

A film by Reno Dakota  

American Fabulous is the videotaped oral history of Jeffrey Allen Strouth as compiled by his close friend, Reno Dakota. The piece, in it's final, released form is 103 minutes long, in color, completed in 1991.

Reno Dakota: I had lost many friends and acquaintances to AIDS by 1990. The "cocktail" was as yet unheard of. I was infuriated that the complacent American public seemed to me unaware of the gifted people and amazing personalities that were being obliterated. I knew that Jeffrey was in this same danger and I knew I could not let this life vanish altogether. Jeffrey had lived an extraordinary adventure nearly every day of his thirty-odd years, and had made a lot of impact on my life as well. I set off from New York with my two most valuable possessions, my Hi-8 camcorder and my 1957 Sedan deVille.

I knew Jeffrey very well. We had been friends since 1978. I lived though a number of his insane escapades. Thusly, I made the decision to do all the taping in the car, simply to contain him. To let him run amok and to attempt to capture the results was beyond my technical competence. I never told him we were doing this because I thought he would be dying before too long. And he only complied to yak all day out of vanity. (Also, I bribed him with eclairs and makeup.) We shot in two sessions, five afternoons in April of '90, and again in September of that year for five more sessions, facilitated this time with the help of my good friend Travis Ruse, who operated the camera while I drove the car and directed the proceedings via the rearview mirror.

I showed parts of the nine hours of footage that I had accumulated to various friends of the next few months and was delighted with the enthusiastic responses. I committed myself to the project even further by delving into credit card debt to pay for editing technicians. When the final 120 minute product was accepted by the Houston Film Festival, I came to a new understanding of the meaning of possibility.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey had contracted Dengue fever on a trip to Bali and his health had begun a downward spiral. I kept him apprised of our movie's successes, that it was winning prizes at film festivals and that it would be distributed. I read through his cantankerous responses his real delight. In May of '92, I came once more to Columbus, (sans Cadillac) to tape him at home. He weighed around 80 pounds, smoked incessantly, and peered through enormous eyeglasses while ordering his caregivers about. His prescriptions for pain had sapped his ability to stick with any subject in conversation and the furious message we had conspired to prepare for then-president Bush fell apart.

Jeffrey Strouth died from AIDS complications on the afternoon of June 28, 1992, at the home of his mother, Betty Maxine. It was Gay Pride Day. He had called me two days prior and told me how happy he was that American Fabulous would keep him around. I felt like a good friend.




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