Doug McCorkle was the nice but instantly forgettable kid in school. Years later, he’s worked his way up the corporate ladder as a big-firm accountant. He lives with his wife, Gina, who he clearly loves, in a sprawling property in New York State, the size of a UK stately home. But inside he still feels like he’s a nobody.
After his 60th birthday, with retirement looming, Doug decides to make his leaving speech one his colleagues will never forget. So, Doug’s transformation begins, from a staid, unassuming accountant to an avant-garde, electro-pop star.
He meets with a couple of music producers to explain his dream. It sounds ridiculous, but they go with it. He takes singing lessons; swaps his suit for a T-shirt and shades; has his ear pierced, and gets a spray tan still wearing his white, baggy Y-fronts. It’s both heart-warming and hilarious. Most of his corporate team of 18 years think so too. Except one, who suggests if Doug is serious about following his dream of being a performer, he needs to go to a school to learn the ropes properly. And that’s what he does – in the Philippines.
Doug worked with experimental artist, John Clayton Doyle, on the music video, which grew into this 95-minute film, which Doyle has directed. The title comes from the first original song Doug wrote and performed for his retirement.
It’s billed as a documentary-narrative hybrid feature, which allows for elements of fictional-style storytelling weaved-in, with some highly stylised, imagined scenes and dream sequences. This works on the level of the film as a piece of experimental art, blurring documentary, music video and concert film; but in doing so it loses some of the emotional impact of a more authentically shot documentary. At times I was left wondering is this real or fantasy? It is a mix of both, but the confusion can lead viewers to lean more to the fantasy side, taking away from the genuine eccentricity and incredulity of what Doug has done.
That said, McCorkle is an engaging protagonist and the film raises some thought-provoking issues in an entertaining way. While Doug is indulging his later-life fantasy of performing stylised shows to stadium crowds, his adventure highlights the stark inequalities between the Global North and South. The drag queens he trains with at night, work in textile sweat shops by day. It is a fleeting scene on screen, but it is one that hits hard.
Doug meets various characters along the way, but it is all working towards the crescendo of a final concert scene, filmed in Mexico City. Before taking to the stage in front of a screaming crowd he says: ‘Age doesn’t have to be the limitation we think it is.’ It’s a joyous call to throw off any labels holding us back and a true example that it’s never too late to follow your dream.
I’m an Electric Lampshade had its UK premiere at Barnes Film Festival on 18 June 2021. It is also being screened at The Romford Film Festival on 24 June and Ignite Film Festival from 29 June – 3 July.