“Gifted.” “The real deal.” “Angelic.” “Genius.”
Those are terms used by friends and musical colleagues to describe aspiring rock star Jobriath Salisbury when he was on the way up.
Then later came this: “borderline schizophrenic.” And this: “tormented.”
Until finally he was a name in an obituary.
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Filmmaker Kieran Turner’s documentary “Jobriath A.D.” charts the shooting-star career of his subject from the late ’60s, when Jobriath was a stunningly attractive member of the cast of the stage musical “Hair”; to his glam-rocker glory days of the ’70s, when his name was in the headlines of the pop-music press and his nude image was splashed across a billboard looming over Times Square; to Aug. 3, 1983, when he died of AIDS at 36, alone and forgotten in New York’s Chelsea Hotel.
In unexceptional fashion, Turner uses a parade of talking heads and multiple montages of grainy film clips and archival stills to paint a picture of the artist-as-chameleon.
Born Bruce Campbell to middle-class parents in Pennsylvania, he was a piano prodigy. He took the name Jobriath when he moved to L.A. and got cast in “Hair,” made a splash when he relocated to New York and developed an androgynous glittery stage persona — wild costumes, heavy makeup, etc. — that got him compared to David Bowie during Bowie’s glam-rock phase.
He was an out gay man and was very outspoken about it, declaring in an interview, “I’m a true fairy.” People weren’t used to that kind of thing in the ’70s, and when his first album tanked after a huge publicity buildup, the public and critics turned venomously against him.
His downward spiral to obscurity began, and he changed personas again. Styling himself Cole Berlin, he became a cabaret singer, dressing in a black tux with a red rose in the lapel and performing flawless versions of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin standards.
Most of those interviewed are adulatory in their descriptions of Jobriath’s musical talents. But threaded through the picture are segments featuring his former manager Jerry Brandt, who comes across as a Svengali who saw Jobriath as a kind of Elvis and himself as Jobriath’s Col. Tom Parker.
“I wanted to be famous,” Brandt says. Jobriath did, too. In their case, fame was very fleeting.
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org