American Fabulous

A film by Reno Dakota  

Dennis Harvey in VARIETY
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 subject.
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 NYC.
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 tales.
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.



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