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Perhaps featuring one of the more random choices of subject to follow, "I Think We're Alone Now" follows two die hard fans / stalkers of 80's pop star Tiffany, who memorably promoted the single, whose title the documentary shares by touring malls, rather than more traditional venues and something which was also memorably parodied in "How I Met Your Mother" with Robin Sparkles "Lets All Go To The Mall".
The first of the two subjects we meet is Jeff Deane Turner, who is also the more appealing of the two and whom in the 80's had a 3 year year restraining order placed against him by Tiffany, after he tried to present her with a katana and five white chrysanthemums, something he explains as being a very high honour in Japanese society. Needless to say was not the same way it was interpreted at the time by her security, as especially highlighted in one of the many newspaper cutting that Jeff keeps along with essentially anything else associated with his idol. A lot of his more random behaviour can be attributed to the fact he has been diagnosed with Asperger's and while well read and able to talk at length on his favourite subjects, lacks any form of social cues and hence never realises that perhaps not everyone is as interested in his random facts about Tiffany that he is able to reel off on whim as he is. Ultimately he is shown as being a friendly if frequently misunderstood guy, whose other interests extend to conspiracy theories and Radionics a random pseudo-science which he believes him to telepathically communicate with Tiffany's soul.
The other subjects here is Kelly McCormick, who lacks the likability of Jeff and in many ways his polar opposite, as she is a depressed introvert, which also makes her a harder person to initially connect to, even more so when she speaks in such droning tones. Born intersex McCormick is still in the process of transitioning toward becoming female, taking a dresser top full of various medications to further the process. However despite this she is frequently referred to as being a "He" or "Him" by those close to her such as her gay room mate, even though McCormick frequently refers to herself as "her".
While Turner's interest seems to be more grounded in a friendship he believes that he has with Tiffany, McCormick's interest it would seem is more of a romantic one, as when she is not running or talking about her training regime, she is lusting over her, covering the walls of her apartment with photos of her idol, while frequently conducting interview segments from her couch with a framed photo resting on her shoulder, while ultimately believing her only chance at happiness lies with being with her idol and often acting like a scorned lover whenever denied a chance to see her, as especially highlighted by her failed attempts to get into one of Tiffany's club gigs which leads her instead to a nearby off licence so she can drink her frustration away.
Despite the fact that Tiffany only had two number one singles, before sinking pretty much into obscurity, doesn't seem to matter to either of the two subjects, who would both seemingly be under the impression that her career was bigger than it was, with both McCormick and Turner in their own way believing that they share some kind of special connection to her, which the other fans don't have. Ultimately while sold on the premise of following two of her stalkers, something which essentially only refers to Turner, the documentary more interestingly provides us a fascinating insight into "Erotomania" were the affected person believes that a person is in love with them and reciprocating the feelings they have for that person, which would especially be the case for Turner, who frequently gives many of his encounters with Tiffany an alternative spin, while proudly showing of his collection of books on the subject.
Director Sean Donnelly doesn't go for anything too flashy here, especially when title cards represent nothing more than names written on cardboard seemingly held in front of the camera. Shot on handheld camera, here he chooses to let his subjects do the talking, especially with no voice over or narrative cards to help tell the story of what fuels their obsession. Equally interesting is the noticeable lack of music or stock Tiffany footage, no doubt the result of licensing costs. Still she does still turn up here in several scenes though never interviewed by Donnelly, as the times we see here is during a couple of awkward encounters with both McCormick and Turner, with her encounter with Turner at an erotica convention being one of her clearly at ease, even more so when he acts as if they are lifelong friends.
While perhaps ill advised to encourage his subjects to further their obsessions, Donnelly also finds himself in what could have very much proved to have been a perfect storm, when McCormick and Turner meet up in Las Vegas to share a hotel room while attending a Tiffany concert and forming a kind of stalker version of "The Odd Couple". Ultimately though it is a situation which doesn't occur and instead leads to more of a disagreement than the kind of situation you would expect from two stalkers room sharing.
At only an hour run time, doesn't overstretch the material, while ending on a positive note for both McCormick and Turner who seem to have grown from the experience as we leave them both heading off in new directions and ultimately more positive directions with their lives. This is a strange, yet surprisingly also a moving documentary to say the least so why not take an hour out of your routine to watch something different.
Obsessive fanhood is something we have all, on one level or another, either seen or experienced in our lives. Not necessarily on the levels of stalking, but as soon as someone starts talking as if they are going to marry a celebrity one day, or starts imagining what someone famous might be like in real life, or Google image searches their favourite movie star to see what they do and don't look good in, they are showing a tendency to desire the attention of the respected that exists in most human beings. The thing is, in most cases, we don't think about it as obsessive behaviour or wonder about the sanity of the person in question because it has become quite an ordinary thing in our society to worship the famous - however, there are limits to this. Of course, stalkers are dangerous people. Many of their obsessions have gone to the point where they feel they have some kind of personal involvement that doesn't exist with a public or private figure, and the most dangerous ones can be those who have no capacity to realise that they are doing something wrong. I Think We're Alone Now explores these issues through two individuals, who have never met and are both completely obsessed with late-1980s pop sensation Tiffany, who appears in the film several times.
Jeff Turner is a 50-year-old Californian with Asperger's syndrome who has been a Tiffany fan since she first shot to fame in 1988. As Jeff claims, he and Tiffany have developed quite the friendship over the years, ever since she "made a point" of kissing him, and only him, on the cheek in front of 500 fans at one of her concerts. Travelling the country to attend as many of her events as possible, Jeff regular ensures he gets some time to talk to his "best friend", even inviting her to take his hotel room number if she would like it. Kelly McCormick has known Tiffany for years, by her account, ever since they attended school together. Kelly insists that everything she has achieved in her life is because of Tiffany's influence and she knows it is their destiny to be together. Born hermaphrodite, Kelly has struggled her whole life with gender confusion and has made steps to becoming, physically, the gay woman she believes herself to be. As we follow Jeff and Kelly in their build-up to meeting and attending a Tiffany concert together, we will learn how easy it is to get lost in obsession, how heartbreakingly desperate some of the people in this world are and ultimately just how fickle human emotions can be. We'll also question the fine line between 'obsessed fan' and 'stalker'.
Depending on your approach to it, this is a film that people will find to be one of three things: cringingly funny, desperately sad or quietly troubling. Some, like me, will find it to be all three in equal parts. It's a very clever little concept for a documentary. When many people think of a documentary, they think of facts and figures, history and analysis. There are many different kinds, though, and my favourites tend to be the ones that lean heavily toward character analysis, as I Think We're Alone Now does boldly and brilliantly. What Sean Donnelly has chosen to do most cleverly is strip the film of any effects, even to the point of holding pieces of paper up to camera to identify interviewees, soaking the audience into the people and the people alone. So engrossing, so fascinating are our two main characters here that no frills are required in order to tell their individual and eventually intertwined, always amazing stories. As we learn more and more about these intriguing, albeit morally and socially questionable people, it becomes more and more difficult to decide whether they are confused, damaged and worthy of sympathy or dangerous, sinister and to be avoided at all costs. They both have friends who admire them, but there is no doubt that these people are not feeling able to fully express their concerns about the person they are being asked to describe.
There are moments in this film, which avid and keen-eyed film lovers will spot, when it is clear that there is a certain amount of exploitation and manipulation taking place here. It is obvious from the editing (take particular notice of when certain sections of interview are being cut away from, or into) that these filmmakers want to, or feel obligated to, present these people in a certain light. Particular in the case of Jeff, about whom I am still undecided. He comes across as genuinely menacing at times, but when you take his Asperger's syndrome into account, it's difficult to accept that he is aware of the social incorrectness of his behaviours. This is no more prevalent than when he is rifling through old newspaper articles that describe him as a dangerous stalker, only stopping to laugh at the fact that they use Tiffany's full name. His collection of books on the subjects of stalking and psychosexual obsession point toward him being rational and wanting to understand his disorder, but this is counterbalanced by his insistence that he is able to communicate spiritually with Tiffany through the use of a homemade machine. He is clearly a very confused and troubled man, but whether or not he is dangerous is a point of constant ambiguity throughout, something that only serves to make him even more engaging as a character.
In some ways, Donnelly has done an incredible thing here. Any documentary is ultimately a story, and any documentarian will manipulate that story to be told the way that they want it to be. He is guilty of over-manipulation to a certain extent, but such is the feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity that the audience is left with after this experience, it can only be said that he has in many ways made a brilliant film. Balanced, entertaining, engrossing and upsetting in equal measure, it's impossible not to be sucked into the lives of these two unusual people. Four years since the release of this film, it would be interesting to see where Jeff and Kelly are now. They're clearly extremely vulnerable people, past traumas and chronic loneliness having made them what they are at the point of allowing their story to be told. It would be very easy to judge them quite harshly if it wasn't for the very fair-minded approach taken in I Think We're Alone Now, and I have no shame in saying that I came out of it thinking one thing and one thing alone. Wherever they are, whatever they're doing, I really hope they're okay.
NOTE: If you would like to watch this film, it is available for free online at http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/i_think_were_alone_now - it's completely legal, with advertising revenue being sent to the filmmakers in exchange for attracting traffic to the site. If you would prefer, I Think We're Alone Now is also available on DVD from many retailers and is available through various other streaming services.