Talking Movies

July 18, 2014

SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

Mike Myers makes an unexpected directorial debut with an affectionate documentary about the life of Alice Cooper’s manager Shep Gordon.


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Shep Gordon moved coasts in the late 1960s to idealistically reform young offenders as a parole officer in California. That didn’t go so well. So instead he became one of them; selling drugs to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and managing Alice Cooper as a front for his sizeable cash-flow. And then he started to care… And, as Michael Douglas would say, he’s never stopped caring since. Gordon cleverly connived Cooper to chart success, did the same for soul singer Teddy Pendergrass, and then as a challenge took on management of wholesome Canadian folk singer Anne Murray to prove he didn’t need sex or violence to make his acts successful. And that’s just the 1970s, in the 1980s and 1990s Gordon branched out in all-new directions; and somehow ended up cooking yak tea for the Dalai Lama in Maui. Yeah!

Myers, as you might expect, intersperses footage of talking heads with dramatic re-enactments played out to maximise the comedy of certain situations. But really when the talking heads include the dry wit of Michael Douglas, the explosive profanity of Tom Arnold, and the riotous anecdotes of Gordon himself, re-enactments are only an icing on the comedic cake. This is a very entertaining documentary because what Gordon got up to is so outrageous, and clever. Cooper’s music wasn’t up to much, but his stage presence was – so Gordon built an audience thru theatre before bothering with trying to make a hit record. And he built the audience thru skilful manipulations of situations (a live chicken, a stalled van, outré LP packaging) to give Cooper a youth audience by making him a bogey of authority figures – even as he exploited those authorities.

What’s most interesting about SuperMensch as a documentary is its unexpected layer of sadness. Sam Waterston’s mensch in Crimes and Misdemeanours is subjected to Job-like misfortune, and Gordon seems to follow that ironic pattern. His black girlfriend of the 1970s leaves him; taking her daughter that he’d treated as his own; and later Gordon looks after the daughter’s children following tragedy as their surrogate Jewish grandfather; while remaining tragically single. He creates the concept of celebrity chef out of friendship with the inventor of nouveau cuisine, because he believes the revered chef is not earning an amount of money commensurate to his talent. He is all things to all clients. But when Gordon has life-threatening surgery with low chances of survival the only person by his bedside when he wakes up is his PA, who is tearful about his isolation.

SuperMensch at times could use a bit more detail on how precisely Gordon moved from field to field within talent management, but overall it’s both an unexpectedly thoughtful and deliriously entertaining debut from Myers.

3.5/5

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