In 1987 Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" was an international smash hit. By performing the song in a billion shopping malls this red-headed Californian teenager captured the hearts, minds, and dinks of the world for a few weeks. I was briefly obsessed with Tiffany when she exploded; then I got over it. Some people never did.
Filmmaker Sean Donnelly randomly met Jeff Turner in the street. Jeff has Asperger's and a thing for conspiracy theories and started hanging out with Sean with the idea of making a documentary. The fourth time they met, Sean discovered that Jeff was a Tiffany fan, and had gotten in trouble for stalking her over the years. Jeff also showed Sean his radionics machine, which enables him to spiritually communicate with Tiffany.
Through a moderator on a Tiffany fan site, Sean then met Kelly McCormick, a very intense and emotional intersex (hermaphrodite is the old-fashioned term) person who was also obsessed with Tiffany, and over the next few years his film evolved. Jeff believes he and Tiffany have a committed best-friend relationship, while Kelly, who became obsessed after a prophetic vision of the singer in a coma, thinks she and Tiffany are destined to be together. In I Think We're Alone Now, their parallel lives (think Hitler and Mussolini, but kitschier) come together when they meet at a Tiffany show in Vegas. It's both very funny and very sad, as you’d probably expect.
I Think We're Alone Now is out on DVD on Monday. I spoke to director Sean Donnelly.
Vice: It's amazing that someone like Tiffany still has a hold over people. She was a sensation, here at least, for no more than a few months. I guess these two just latched on to her back in the 80s and never let go.Sean: Yeah, the fact that they're stalking someone like Tiffany, who most people don't even remember who she is, is more unusual than stalking Britney Spears.
Yeah, Britney belongs to a lot of people. Maybe Tiffany's a more attainable fantasy.
While Tiffany's faded out of the limelight they still hold on to her as big as she was.
It is amazing though that she can still play these gigs and do these convention appearances.
I guess if you're as huge as she was, even for a moment, you can make an impression on people. But I was surprised too; there's this fan club, this True To Tiffany group on Yahoo, and there are a couple of thousand people in that group who post stuff all the time. It's very active.
Were you into Tiffany in 1987?
No, when Jeff first started talking about her I didn't even know who she was. He'd say "My friend Tiffany, she's a singer", and it meant nothing to me till I looked her up and remembered. But everything I know about Tiffany is through Jeff. He says things like, "Tiffany showcased her comedic talents on the 1989 Bob Hope Special." So I have all these kind of facts in my mind now.
I heard you filmed her but didn't use the footage.
It wasn't necessary, I kind of like that she's this person that Kelly and Jeff look up to so much. When you talk to her and she's just talking about normal stuff, it kind of takes away the mystery of it all.
She said in Entertainment Weekly that she wasn't happy with the film.
I don't know why she would say that, but I think maybe she thought it was making fun of the fans. She hasn't seen it, but her agent told me we did a really good job. He thought it was better for her not to see it.
You don't really go into it in the film, bit it's a sort of sideways look at the dangers of celebrity culture and how we hold these people up.
Yeah, a little bit. It's fascinating how much these two very different people have in common. They both don't have a job, they both hang out at home a lot, they're both much more cut off from society than most people are and are alone. Because of their disabilities and social awkwardness they've both got to this place, and they're older now and have limited interactions with other people. They both watch a ton of TV, read a lot of magazines, so both of them are living vicariously. Everybody likes entertainment, but when you have very little else going on in your life, that sort of becomes your life.
It's weird how much information is published--Jeff and Kelly both know everything about Tiffany: What her favorite countries are, what her favorite foods are, who her favorite bands are, and they probably don't know that much about the other people in their life. Because of what's published in these magazines you can feel like you know somebody a lot better than you do. Jeff has an incredible memory, so he knows everything Tiffany's ever said publicly. He’ll say, "Japan is Tiffany's favorite country to tour, and that's why I got her a samurai sword."
Tiffany seems almost at peace with him, she's certainly obliging enough for a minute or two at a time.
Yeah, I think when she was younger the people around her were really freaked out, but as she's got older and seen him around for a few years she's realized he's basically just a big kid who wants to have photos with her. There's no major threat.
There are some really awkward moments in your film during Jeff and Kelly's encounter, they clash quite a bit.
It's interesting because they're both sort of like children, they're not very sensitive about other people's feelings. They're very selfish and want to win everything and they don't necessarily know that's not a way to behave. Jeff said some things to her that were obviously very rude, like "You gotta work on your gut," but I think that's part of his Asperger's.
What's Kelly's mental condition exactly?
She says it's post-traumatic stress disorder. She talks about the bike accident she had and how she was in a coma for a while, and I know after that she wasn't just the same. We didn't want to listen to their sides of the story and then go to an expert for their opinion. It almost doesn't matter what's true and what's not true, because it's more interesting to hear what Jeff and Kelly have to say about themselves. The stories they tell are true for them. You hear the stories in the media about Tiffany's restraining order against Jeff, and nobody ever really interviews him and asks to know what he was thinking--they just say he's crazy.
Did it take a long time for you to earn their trust, for them to be comfortable and candid with you?
Jeff's a very friendly guy. It's not that hard to get to know him. But yeah, that is one of the hardest parts of any documentary, having people trust you and knowing that you're not going to make them look as terrible as possible. And people have accused us of that, which is unfair.
People accused you of making them look bad?
Of exploiting them, taking advantage of them. And that's one of the reasons why it was such a hard film to edit, because they both do a lot of stuff that makes them look bad without realizing it, and a lot of that stuff we left out of the film. We tried to show them in as sympathetic light as we could. People think that when they say something that seems funny and we show it then we're exploiting them, but I think people are too sensitive. Jeff makes jokes all the time.
If people are offended by the movie, they would be offended by Jeff and Kelly in real life. If people think we're making fun of them, they would be laughing in real life. All we can really do is present who they are. Some people think it's a sad film, some people think it's hilarious. I didn't intend to make it one or another.