A bizarre fusion of documentary and fictional storytelling, John Clayton Doyle’s directorial debut, I’m an Electric Lampshade, transcends most shortcomings thanks to its inventive construction and peculiar rhythms.
Doyle’s film begins somewhat plainly with Doug McCorkle, a well-off, white, happily married, 60-year-old corporate accountant who dreams of becoming a pop star à la Michael Jackson or David Byrne. Beneath Doug’s bland, mild-mannered demeanor lies a surprising creative spirit ready to burst into the spotlight. To help commemorate his retirement, Doug produces a short music video with scantily clad women and sexual, “alpha male” lyrics for his signature song, ‘I’m an Electric Lampshade’, to present at his going-away party. He receives enough encouragement from family and co-workers to further explore his musical career. Before too long, Doug is enrolled in a performing arts school in the Philippines, where most of the students are drag queens. As he continues to hone his skills and connects with a multitude of diverse artists, I’m an Electric Lampshade switches from a traditional documentary format to a wild tapestry of dance, music, and blunt symbolism that’s less focused on depicting reality than illuminating art’s liberating power. While lacking an especially compelling protagonist, then, I’m an Electric Lampshade is still memorable, at least when Doyle embraces the weirdness of it all.
Sure, it’s clear that Doug’s story is highly curated for entertainment purposes, and the way the plot progresses isn’t focused on clear, A-to-B logic. We’re largely left in the dark as to how exactly Doug’s career progresses into all-out celebrity—or whether or not it happened at all —but much of the fun of I’m an Electric Lampshade comes from its off-kilter atmosphere and eye-popping musical numbers. Doyle’s traditional documentary style evolves early on into something altogether different and infinitely more appealing. This approach won’t be to all viewers’ tastes, but if you let the trippy editing, strange costuming, and on-the-nose symbolism wash over you, it’s easy to become wrapped up in Doug’s journey. Suffice to say, when the film gets to an elaborate yogurt commercial and a sci-fi-inflected performance where Doug appears practically naked on stage, I’m an Electric Lampshade has become undeniably captivating, with plenty of “holy shit” moments.
That’s not to say the issue of privilege isn’t noticeable from start to finish, though. Indeed, the more you think about Doug as a subject, the less emotionally involved you become in his rise to stardom. Although the film addresses his privileges and the challenges in his personal life, it ultimately simplifies these topics too much to leave an impact. By the end, it’s hard not to feel irritated with how easily Doug slides into the role of a performer thanks as much to his socio-economic status as his raw talent. Thankfully, he’s still a kind, warm-hearted fellow eager to follow his dreams, but the drag queens Doug meets along the way likely have far more compelling stories to tell than he does.
Even so, I’m an Electric Lampshade isn’t trying to be a complex portrait of the creative process. Rather, Doyle’s film succeeds as a distillation of art’s power to heal and bring together people of all walks of life. We see how Doug and his peers bond through music, regardless of their differences—realizing a version of themselves unbeholden to societal expectations. While not really original enough to be groundbreaking, I’m an Electric Lampshade is still able to spark heart-warming feelings by the end credits, and few viewers are likely to really object to those.
Overall, I’m an Electric Lampshade is a strange, unique beast of a film. Doug’s journey might be a clichéd one, but Doyle’s filmmaking makes it a fitting watch for viewers craving the unconventional.
I’m an Electric Lampshade isn’t as deep or meaningful as it could have been, but thanks to Doyle’s vibrant style and Doug’s upbeat, though formulaic story, viewers could do far worse.
I’m an Electric Lampshade will have its UK premiere at the Barnes Film Festival on 18 June, before screening at The Romford Film Festival on 24 June and at the Ignite Film Festival between 29 June and 3 July.
Words by Alex McPherson
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