Thoth

  • 2001
  • 43 MIN
  • NR

Directed by Oscar-winner Sarah Kernochan (MARJOE), this portrait of a dynamic New York City-based street performer is intriguing but somewhat unsatisfying. To call Thoth a musician sells him short: Smeared with shimmer-gel and dressed in a gold leather loincloth and sandals, the lean 46-year-old shakes his dreadlocks and rattles the beads around his ankles...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Directed by Oscar-winner Sarah Kernochan (MARJOE), this portrait of a dynamic New York City-based street performer is intriguing but somewhat unsatisfying. To call Thoth a musician sells him short: Smeared with shimmer-gel and dressed in a gold leather loincloth and sandals, the lean 46-year-old shakes his dreadlocks and rattles the beads around his ankles as he simultaneously plays the violin, sings and dances. His material is operatic, and he performs multiple roles, his voice ranging from a clear falsetto to a ragged growl; Thoth calls his presentations "pray-formances," and brings to them an intensity that begs to be called religious. Onlookers' reactions range from "he sounds like a girl" to comparisons with Celtic musicians and Middle Eastern dervishes. Sensual, exotic and graceful when he's in character, Thoth is less assured — though no less interesting — when he's not performing. Born Stephen Kaufman in Jamaica, Queens (where he now lives with his mother), Thoth was one of three children. His father was a Jewish doctor active in the civil rights movement, and his mother, who was born in Barbados, was a classically trained tympanist. The Kaufman family never accepted their son's marriage to a black woman, and Thoth and his sisters faced bitter prejudice. Thoth's parents eventually divorced, and his mother, who'd found a job with the San Francisco Symphony, moved her children to the West Coast. Thoth, already shy, became increasingly miserable and withdrawn. Feeling imprisoned by confusion and unhappiness over his mixed racial heritage, ambiguous sexual identity and physical appearance, Thoth sought refuge in a fantasy world of his own creation. He imagined a magical land called The Festad, populated by the Mir — creatures of all shapes and colors — for whom he created a language. Finally, in college, Thoth recovered from a suicide attempt by channeling his imagination into self-expressive performance. His life's work is an opera called "The Herma," written in the Mir language; it tells the story of a hermaphrodite named Nular-in, and his/her journey of enlightenment. It's not hard to infer a connection between Kernochan's interest in Marjoe Gortner and S.K. Thoth, both of whom emerged from unusual childhoods as charismatic performers charged with religious fervor, though Marjoe's was a sham and Thoth's appears to be the real thing, however odd. Ironically, were Thoth growing up today, he could have found support in online chat groups and escaped into role-playing games like EverQuest; he might never have developed the rich and eccentric inner life that has fueled his art.

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