American Fabulous

A film by Reno Dakota  

Michael Musto in The Village Voice
October 20, 1992

Jabbering a mile a minute in colorfully detailed prose about "toothless, inbred motherfuckers" and such, Jeffrey Strouth was the kind of person every party cried out for. There were no silences around this man, unless he was momentarily sucking on a cigarette before vigorously launching into his next tale of the dark side of white trash. His mouth raced to keep up with his mind, and sometimes surpassed it, as he carried on about 400-pound drag queens in leisure suits and a waitress pal who "looked like a dressed guinea hen hanging in a butcher shop window," seizing one's attention with the viselike grip of his flowery, persuasive persistence.
American Fabulous- the film Reno Dakota decided to make when he learned that his friend Strouth had HIV- looks so effortless that it should be a lesson to those preparing other painstakingly overdone clunkers on the order of 1492 or Far and Away. Shot in Hi-8 video, then transferred to film, the movie merely puts its subject in the back of a Cadillac and drives him around his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, letting the generic landscape subliminally spark an endless array of funny/disturbing memories. Strouth has already done the real work of living his life- that of a perpetual outsider harassed and beaten down by oppressors, but rising back up twice as campily. Describing it- and perhaps embellishing it just a tiny bit- obviously comes as easily to him as it is for Dakota to merely point the camera and listen up.
As Strouth's face moves in and out of the shadows, he reminisces about his drunken dad, whom he fantasized killing; his brother, to whom he'd scream, "Don't beat me up, I'm pregnant"; his sister, who killed herself, leading him on a sincere quest for the best embalming in town. With breathless equanimity, he makes a nun's hat out of a McDonald's bag, reads the shades off a color selector in William Burroughs's voice, and tells us about his drag queen friend who "never has spoken to me since I burned her house down. I didn't mean to"- all while driving, driving, driving us mad with his racy wit.
As with all raconteurs, some of Strouth's stories are more compelling than others, but there are always little anecdotal gems to hang on to. As he weaves through stories of hustling and heroin and hard luck with peppy abandon, the result transcends its details to paint a larger, more universal picture of survival against the odds. Strouth died in Columbus on Gay Pride Day this year. American Fabulous is a fabulous American testament to his refusal to take his own advice to a friend: "You've got to learn to shut up."



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