'Voyeur': How famed writer Gay Talese got duped by a snoop

Friday, 01 December 2017, 09:28:33 AM. A uneven but often compelling Netflix documentary chronicles the journalist's interest in a hotel owner who said he spied on his guests for decades.

Early on in “Voyeur,” the famous and controversial journalist Gay Talese takes us into the “bunker” — a converted wine cellar in his New York townhome — where he has many of his most famous articles and books.

As the camera scans the bulletin boards and the volumes of Talese’s work, and Talese shows us his extensive files, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the career and work habits of the now 85-year-old legend.

For anyone who remembers reading Talese’s famous magazine profiles of Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio, or his seminal book about the Bonanno crime family, “Honor Thy Father,” it’s a bit of voyeuristic kick to see the dapper icon pulling back the curtain on his writing life.

But “Voyeur,” the uneven but often strangely compelling documentary from Myles Kane and Josh Koury, isn’t about any such “light” voyeurism. This is a chronicle of two men — writer and subject — obsessed with the theme of spying on unsuspecting, innocent people who have no idea their private lives are on display.

Many years ago, Gerald Foos, the owner of a suburban Colorado motel, contacted Talese with a potential story. Turns out Foos had been spying on his guests for decades, and now he wanted to tell his story. (Foos chose Talese after reading Talese’s book “Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” in which Talese studied the world of the sexually adventurous in the pre-AIDS era of the late 1970s and early 1980s — and acknowledged he wasn’t just an observer, but a participant.)

Talese eventually wrote an article for the New Yorker about Foos and then expanded the story into a book titled “The Voyeur’s Motel.” But as Foos explains — or at least tries to explain — why he did what he did, and Talese becomes his partner in publicizing the story, doubts surface about the veracity of many of Foos’ claims. Foos says he once witnessed a murder — but it turns out that murder almost certainly did not take place.

Despite Foos’ attempts to seem like a regular guy, he enters the story a creep and he exits a creep and a liar. As for Talese: Getting mixed up with Foos and being far too eager to swallow all of the man’s stories only served to add another black mark to a wildly checkered career.

A free, onetime theatrical screening of “Voyeur” is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Thursday at the Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln. The film’s directors are expected to attend for a discussion afterward. A preshow dinner at 6 p.m. is free for Chicago Media Project members and costs $35 for others. To register for the screening, the dinner or both, go to www.chicagomediaproject.org.

★★★

Netflix presents a documentary directed by Myles Kane and Josh Koury. Running time: 95 minutes. Premieres Friday on Netflix.

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