Documentary Review: ‘I’m An Electric Lampshade’

Review by Hunter Miele

What would you do if you could be totally, unapologetically “you?” If you could, how would you fulfill every one of your dreams and desires to their wildest potential? In theory, we could all live this way, if not for the limitations imposed by modern society- and oftentimes, our own minds. “I’m An Electric Lampshade,” an awe-inducing documentary/narrative written and directed by John Clayton Doyle, is the inspiring story of a man who abandons the typical retirement tradition in order to attain an outlandish dream.

Doug McCorkle is your typical corporate accountant. A conservative, by-the-books kind of guy. His dress is modest and he has a quiet, unassuming demeanor when interacting with his coworkers and family. In an interview, Doug discusses his career (not particularly satisfying or exciting) and how he finds fulfillment through his enthusiasm for music. He spends much of his free time watching videos of live concerts and fantasizing about being up on stage, surrounded by adoring, screaming fans. When Doug speaks at his retirement party, he announces to his friends and colleagues that now that he no longer is confined by his career, he’s going to chase his dream of becoming a superstar. A projector plays a music and dance video that he created and everyone in the room is shocked and excited. The scene is emotional as his friends say good-bye, and the passion that they feel on Doug’s behalf is touching and genuine.

After Doug’s retirement party, the film switches settings to an unknown Asian country. A man at the party had told Doug about a performing arts school called “Sin Andre’s” in the country, and Doug makes his way there, navigating some sketchy areas until he eventually winds up in a private-access warehouse. There, Doug meets an array of drag queens who all study the art of music and dance, and they take him under their wings. Doug- still looking very much like a corporate accountant- is strikingly out of place among the stylish queens, and we watch as he slowly progresses from mild-mannered math wiz to fierce, eccentric artist. Doug’s marriage becomes unstable while he’s spending so much time away from home, and he often feels like throwing in the towel, as he continues to get better and better as a performer. The film finishes with an epic live performance, where we- along with Doug- get to reap the rewards of his passionate determination.

“I’m An Electric Lampshade” tells a story that’s been told time and time again: “No matter who you are or where you come from, it is possible to achieve your wildest dreams.” Yet, the film tells the story in a striking way, always keeping the viewer on their toes, while rife with beautiful art and imagery. The outstanding choreography throughout the film is complemented by the exceptional cinematography. The film is paced in such a way that we feel as if we’re experiencing Doug’s transformation first-hand. In a particularly emotional scene, Doug sings Lily Allen’s “The Fear” while onstage and bound by ropes. The performance reflects the metaphorical shackles that the anxiety caused by potential failure can bring to so many of us. It prevents us from taking control over our lives and living freely and honestly, and there likely isn’t a soul on Earth who can’t relate to that. The film also touches on financial and socio-economic “shackles” that keep us from having the life we truly want. Doug put his marriage and finances on the line in pursuit of his dream, and it’s clear that the risk was well worth it. “I’m An Electric Lampshade ” is a film that every artist should see when they’re feeling like it might all be for nothing. It will assuredly remind them that it could easily be for everything.

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