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FILM REVIEW: I’m An Electric Lampshade

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: John Clayton Doyle

Life used to begin at 40, now it begins at 60 – at least for accountant Doug who embraces his retirement by transforming into a pop musician and travelling to a performing arts school in the Philippines to hone his craft alongside a class of drag queens. John Clayton Doyle’s often surreal documentary I’m An Electric Lampshade is the Avant Garde rise to fame of an ordinary man immersing himself in a different culture and finding artistic inspiration in the people he meets.

Doug McCorkle is retiring from his job to pursue his dream of becoming a performer and during his big corporate leaving party a colleague recommends a school in the Philippines run by Sin Andre teaching vocal performance, dramatics and ‘professional realness’ to his clients. Parted from his beloved wife Gina, Doug is inspired, and his music evolves in unexpected directions.

Clayton Doyle’s film in some ways is an art installation with a plot, as a series of set pieces chart the journey to celebrity for one fairly ordinary man who embraces the visual aesthetics of performance. In one of the film’s longest music-video-like sequences, Doug passes through and dances with groups of people in wigs and face paint, is dazzled by the rainbow nightlights of the city, and explores how make-up and costume create identity, anonymity and community.

Clayton Doyle creates a fluidity between the real Doug and the dreamlike performance sequences. Later in the film, as highlights from Doug’s eccentric Mexican concert are staged, the director plays visual tribute to classic music documentaries including Madonna: Truth or Dare and perhaps even Spinal Tap with their mixture of casually captured backstage footage merged with buzzy performance and dance sections that cut between Doug’s vocals and the disco crowd lost in the music.

I’m an Electric Lampshade does claim to be a real-life journey in a ‘documentary-narrative hybrid’ but purposefully leaves the viewer wondering where the line between reality and fiction has really been drawn. Is Doug a real person, a cleverly disguised fiction or is this a fictional recreation of his real path to performance – Clayton Doyle uses this unusual tone and style quite purposefully to leave you wondering.

The documentary overlay gives Doug’s story a narrative arc that takes him from quiet, unassuming office worker to celebrated electronica musician but the incorporation of dream and fantasy segments involving his wife, gardens, crawling creatures, the heightened style of acting and the cult look of the costumes and concerts take the film into fictional territory. And that ambiguity can be an overwhelming, sometimes an even frustrating experience across 95 sometimes very random minutes.

McCorkle is an engrossing lead however, and whether he’s being taught to walk using his hips by drag queens in a Manila warehouse to develop his movement and flexibility for dancing, appearing in a local advertisement for honey yoghurt that looks so spoofed it could be real, or developing his deep vocals, the audience invests in Doug’s eccentric transition.

Showing at Barnes, Romford and Ignite festivals in the coming weeks, I’m An Electric Lampshade is a rock biography with a difference and Clayton Doyle has created a piece that is equal parts art show and movie. Borrowing from all kinds of visual media including advertisements, music videos and documentary by way of video art, the story of McCorkle certainly suggest that anything really is possible when you finally get to retire.

Release Date: 18 June 2021

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An eccentric transition

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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