Soldier, piano prodigy, prog-folk singer, glam-rock singer to rival Bowie, the first openly-gay rocker to sign with a major label, avant-cabaret singer, hooker, one of the first North Americans to die from AIDS–Bruce Wayne Campbell, aka Jobriath Salisbury, aka Jobriath, aka Cole Berlin, lead a fascinating life, yet garnered little more than laughter for many years, if he was remembered at all. Some reissues financed by Morrissey helped turn his reputation around, and today the “true fairy,” as he once termed himself, is getting his due as an overlooked talent and groundbreaker. Morrissey isn’t seen in Jobriath A.D., a documentary about the man and the myth playing at Seattle’s Grand Illusion through February 6th, but Henry Rollins narrates, and the film features testimony from Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, transsexual rocker Jayne County, Ann Magnuson, Gloria Jones, and others. Director Kieran Turner took some questions over email.
Seattle Star: Please describe your background. Where did you grow up and what were your childhood impressions of the places you grew up?
Kieran Turner: I was born and raised in Hollywood, FL and moved to NYC when I was 16. That should tell you all you need to know about my impressions growing up in FL.
Seattle Star: How did you get inspired to make films?
Kieran Turner: I was a child actor (not famous) and decided to continue with it into adulthood. I went to NYU and was at Playwrights Horizons, which had you do everything, act, direct, stage manage, write, etc. I discovered two things: I was a terrible actor and I much preferred directing, so I switched to the film department.
Seattle Star: What were the first movies and filmmakers you loved, and how did they influence you?
Kieran Turner: I grew up loving horror movies and drive-in movies because that’s what we went to a lot, but really, I would see anything. i was a movie junkie. I got into independent and art house films fairly young, around 13 years old, and then tried to see as much of those as possible. So I guess that kind of informs the rather dark but story-heavy way I work. I didn’t really have any favorite filmmakers until I got older — Howard Hawks, John Cassavetes, Alan Parker, Alan Rudolph and Cameron Crowe are all filmmakers I admire.
Seattle Star: When and where did you first hear about Jobriath?
Kieran Turner: Couldn’t pinpoint it. I’m a big music, 70s and LGBT history junkie, so he’s popped up in the periphery of all, usually as a bad punchline. I’d heard about him for at least the past 20 years.
Seattle Star: When and where did you first hear Jobriath’s music?
Kieran Turner: In late 2007 when I bought the compilation of his two albums Morrissey put out on his own label.
Seattle Star: What were your impressions of Jobriath’s music and how did those impressions change over the years?
Kieran Turner: I can’t really say they’ve changed. I haven’t been a lifelong Jobriath fan. When I first heard the music, I was actually expecting it to be atrocious based on what I had read for so many years. I was very surprised to find how amazingly talented he was, both as a singer/musician and songwriter. His music is what made me want to find out more about him, why he failed, and that ultimately led me to deciding to make the documentary.
I really do love the music. It’s not for everyone and I totally get anyone who doesn’t get Jobriath, but I was really blown away by him.
Seattle Star: How did the money to make the film come together?
Kieran Turner: With the exception of some help with post-production funds from a close associate, I paid for it. That’s why it took four years to make.
Seattle Star: How long did the film take to shoot?
Kieran Turner: I researched the film for fourteen months before we began shooting. We shot on and off for two and a half years and edited for about three months.
Seattle Star: Stephin Merritt [of the Magnetic Fields] is a notoriously difficult interview subject. How did you get him to open up?
Kieran Turner: He was great with us. I had no idea that was an issue for him. And he didn’t really talk about himself, so perhaps that was the difference.
Seattle Star: Of all your interview subjects, which were the easiest and the hardest to handle, and why?
Kieran Turner: Pretty much everyone was a pleasure to interview. Those who said yes did so because they loved and/or respected Jobriath and were a part of his life in some way. They understood he had been forgotten and that it was important to tell his story. Getting certain things out of certain people proved difficult one time or another, but for the most part, these people really were a delight and I admire them and thank them for giving their time to the project.
Seattle Star: Jobriath was a prog-rock singer, a glam-rock singer, and a cabaret/lounge singer. Did he have any conceptual constants throughout these phases? What are your conclusions on his personality?
Kieran Turner: I don’t think Jobriath had an overall concept for his work. I’m not sure there are many pop musicians who do (though I’m no expert and I’m sure someone could likely point to a few examples), at least not in the way a writer or an artist might. And I’m not sure that this was informed by the way he changed personas so often and so radically. Meaning, I don’t think he changed these personas to explore different kinds of music, I think the personas came first and the music was created around them (among other things).
One of the things I’ve read in the recent spate of reviews for the film (and I really need to stop doing that) is how one walks away from the film not knowing who Jobriath was. Well, yes. First, the man has been dead for 30+ years, so all I have to go on is what other people can tell me. But moreover, I think I made the case pretty clearly that Jobriath was an enigma to even his closest friends. He was always running from who he was, always trying to find who he was. I’m not sure even he knew fully who he was before he died. He was 36. Not many people as talented and complicated as Jobriath know who they are at that young an age. I think anyone who watches this film can see the time and care that went into the research. If something was left out, there was a good reason.
Seattle Star: Was there anything left out of the movie that you would have preferred to have in; if so, what and why?
Yes, there were things that were left out, but I can’t say I would have preferred to have them in. There are a few other things that happened in Jobriath’s life or career that were left on the cutting room floor, but they were cut because they didn’t really move the story forward or reveal more about him. If I’d have kept them in, all it would have resulted in was a longer film. One example: Jobriath was up for the role Chris Sarandon played in Dog Day Afternoon. Well, he didn’t get it. There was no screen test footage, just a blurb or two in a magazine and a couple people’s dim memories. An interesting footnote, for sure, but now knowing it, does it tell you more about the man or his music?
Seattle Star: What has public reaction to the film been like?
Kieran Turner: Really wonderful. Better than I had expected. I am very pleased that most people, most reviewers like the film and feel that Jobriath is someone to be remembered. Not that anyone has to make him be worthy of being remembered. He earned that by his accomplishments. I’m just happy people are discovering him, however late. I take no pride of accomplishment in the work on this film in terms of what I did, because all I did was tell Jobriath’s story. He lived it. He should be getting all the accolades. I’m just grateful I was the one who got to tell it.
Seattle Star: What are your plans for the future?
Kieran Turner: Right now, I am in post-production on Season Two of an online series I created called Wallflowers, which is a weekly comedy about a Manhattan support group for people who can’t get dates. The show was recently picked up by a brand new web channel called Stage 17, which launches at the end of this month. And our new season begins mid-March.
And Jobriath A.D. is continuing its theatrical roll-out. We’ll be in NYC and LA in March and then a few other cities, and then our distributor, Factory 25, will be readying a collector’s edition DVD that will come out over the summer. I am really excited about that, as we’re gonna have a lot of extras available.