Gay filmmaker Jono McLeod’s feature-length directorial debut “My Old School” (Magnolia Pictures) opens with the following ominous disclaimer: “The subject of this film doesn’t want to show his face, but you will hear his voice.”
McLeod’s “My Old School” is a documentary that utilizes animation and dramatization to depict this bizarre true story of deception and discovery.
In 1993, an unusual-looking teen named “Brandon Lee” (his face is described as being like a mask) showed up as a newly enrolled student at Bearsden Academy in a “posh” town at the edge of Glasgow. He carried a briefcase and wore the school tie and a blazer. As if that wasn’t enough to make him stand out, he was gaunt and pale, had tightly curled hair, and wore strange glasses. He had a weird pseudo-Canadian accent, was something of a loner, and wasn’t afraid to display his intellect in the classroom. The segments involving most of what occurred during Lee’s school years are presented as colorful animation.
In the live-action interview sections, more than 25 of his Bearsden classmates, as well as teachers and administrators tell their side of the story. And what a story it is! Lee, whose real name is Brian McKinnon, attended Bearsden in the 1970s, at the time he was, in fact, a teenager. In his post-plastic surgery Brandon Lee phase, he was able to pass for a much younger person, fooling fellow students and adults alike.
When he was unmasked, so to speak, every lie he told blew away like a bagpipe tune on the wind. He was in his early 30s, not his mid-teens. His mother wasn’t a dead opera singer. His father had died long before he said he did. The “grandmother” he lived with was actually his mother. Whether or not she was in on the gag remains in question.
Nevertheless, whoever he was, he managed to have a lasting impact. One student in particular, Steven, credits Brandon/Brian with giving him the courage to pursue his dream. For the most part, other
former students had kind words for him, with the exception of the girl with whom he had a lingering kiss onstage in a production of “South Pacific” in which he played the lead.
Queer actor Alan Cumming (in a dreadful toupee) represents the present-day Brandon/Brian, lip-synching what was said in recorded interviews because, as was stated earlier, the subject doesn’t want to be seen. It’s a thankless role, especially because of how unlikable McKinnon is in real life.
Perhaps the most compelling angle to the story is that Brandon/Brian was a classmate of director Jono McLeod’s. This aspect makes “My Old School” as much a tribute to the tribulations of those involved as it is an homage to someone who was able to pull off a hoax worthy of being memorialized in a documentary.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.