Nightlife

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

by Brian Callaghan
Contributor
Monday Jun 19, 2006
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Actress-Director Asia Argento’s film, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, is a crazy and disturbing low budget indie with an even stranger back-story.

Based on a since-discredited memoir by author / Warholian celebrity, J. T. Leroy, the film tells the story of Jeremiah, a young boy being raised in a loving foster home. One day he is reclaimed by his manic, irresponsible, bleach-blonde mother, Sarah - think Courtney Love crossed with Mommie Dearest - and their horrible new life together begins.

The boy is forced to live with his out-of-control mother, played by Italian actress Argento, as she sleeps around, whores herself at truck stops, does drugs, dumpster dives for food, and leaves her son alone as she goes off on a honeymoon to Atlantic City.

Argento plays Sarah with wild abandon. Equally impressive are the three young actors who play Jeremiah at various stages in his life. They’re convincing and immediately earn the viewer’s empathy. The youngest actor, Jimmy Bennett, is the most mesmerizing, as he’s beaten, raped and traumatized as his mother obliterates the happy childhood he once enjoyed.

This by-the-seat-of-our-pants film enjoys a number of memorable cameos, including Peter Fonda as Sarah’s hyper-strict minister father, Marilyn Manson as a bizarre child molester, a scantily clad Kip Pardue as a cowboy one-night stand, and Jeffrey Renner as the man Sarah abandons on their honeymoon who takes out his anger by raping her son.

Heart is based on a memoir by author J.T. Leroy. Leroy, you might remember was the cause celebre and socialite who was quickly embraced by such celebrities as Winona Ryder, Rosario Dawson, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry and others - only to be revealed by the New York Times earlier this year as a fraud. Not only wasn’t he a he, but the elements of his "memoir" were total fiction as well.

Nonetheless, as British photographer Mick Rock says, "Andy Warhol would have loved him" for pulling such an audacious media stunt which lasted nearly ten years.

While the unveiling of Leroy as a sham certainly taints the project, the power of the film remains. Although the film doesn’t actually portray Leroy’s childhood, it presents an indelible look at the horrors children can suffer at the hands of their parents and the few protections given to them by society.

While the film itself is well worth viewing, the extras are fairly commonplace. The best is the insightful and gossipy commentary on the making of the film by Argento and producer Chris Hanley, as well as a booklet of photos by Mick Rock about Leroy and his successful decade-long hoax.

In another short featurette, JT Under Cover, Leroy and Argento are shown attending the 2004 Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals. There’s also footage of Leroy doing a reading at Foyles bookstore in London where he looks like a cross between Goldie Hawn and Kid Rock, outfitted with large black Jackie O sunglasses and Michael Jackson’s creepy, practiced shyness.

There’s also footage from earlier this year of the New York premiere of the film, by which time it had been revealed Leroy was a fraud.

Kudos to Argento for making such a powerful film, made all the more realistic for relying on a small budget and avoiding the Hollywood studio system.

-- Commentary by director/star Asia Argento & producer Chris Hanley
-- Footage from the 2006 New York premiere of the movie
-- A short feature, "JT Under Cover", showing J.T. Leroy and Argento and the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals
-- US movie trailer

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