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If it hadn't already been used, a perfect alternative title for a movie
about Los Angeles DJ, Rodney Bingenheimer might have been Almost Famous.
Listen to how Alice Copper describes Bingenheimer: `He was accepted by the Rolling Stones, he was accepted by The Beatles, he was accepted by The Beach Boys ' This slightly unflattering choice of words is significant. Not `was friends with,' not `hung out with,' not `partied with,' but `was accepted by.' One critic called the documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip the greatest rock & roll movie ever made. I'd have to watch Stop Making Sense and The Velvet Goldmine again before I could make that commitment, but in my opinion, Mayor isn't even about rock & roll. It's about fame, or the proximity to fame. It's about acceptance.
Rodney Bingenheimer's greatest achievement is that, for a generation, he introduced the most influential artists in modern rock to America radio. His second greatest accomplishment was his ability to be accepted. So many larger than life personalities try to force themselves into the spotlight. Meanwhile, quiet, shy, unassuming Rodney Bingenheimer has lived at the edge of the spotlight for his entire adult life.
Pamela Des Barres (who appears in the film) is arguably the world's greatest groupie. Bingenheimer is probably a close second, despite the handicap of being male (being a groupie, like being a fashion model or porn star, is one of the few pursuits in patriarchal society where being male is a handicap). But, while Des Barres is a pop icon, published author and happily married to former rocker Michael Des Barres, Bingenheimer is single, lives in a modest home with tattered furniture and has a once-a-week, 3 hour late-night radio show.
George Hickenlooper's Mayor of the Sunset Strip is a thought provoking look at Los Angeles and the thin but often uncrossable line between `the famous and the not so famous.' From its opening it seems to ask the question, why is one of the most influential men in American radio not a household name, when so many less deserving souls (cough-Carson Daly-cough) are. From the first frame of the film, I found myself sizing Bingenheimer up to come up with an answer. He's a short, skinny, funny looking guy. He's got what you'd call `a great face for radio.' However, he doesn't have a radio voice and after twenty years on the air he has not developed a radio persona. Perhaps this is why he will never reach the heights of Wolfman Jack, Kasey Casem or Rick Dees (yes, I just used `heights' and Rick Dees in the same sentence. No small feat). He lacks the authority of a Kurt Loader and perhaps was just born too early to take advantage of MTV, the network that can make less-than-handsome music aficionados like Matt Pinfield into TV personalities.
Over the span of the film, we see Rodney with the likes of Oasis, No Doubt, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Coldplay and Cher (who Rodney says was like a mother to him, although she looks remarkably younger than he does. Hmmm ). Many of these artists and many more credit Rodney with being the first to play their music on American radio. In photo montages we see old stills of Rodney with Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan, to name a few. We see film clips of Rodney with Jerry Lee Lewis, The Mamas and the Papas and John Lennon. The list is so impressive; if you saw it out of context you'd swear the pictures were fakes. The diminutive Bingenheimer often looks matted into the footage like Woody Allen in Zelig or Tom Hanks in Forest Gump.
Before the credits roll we will see Rodney betrayed by his best friend. We will see his unrequited love for a young girl who insists they are `just friends.' In one humorous and painful scene, we see his estranged family searching the house for pictures of Rodney in desperate attempt to look less estranged. Throughout the film two seemingly opposing questions dominate: With all these famous friends, why isn't Rodney more successful? And, why did all the famous people gravitate toward him to begin with?
In the end, perhaps the fact that Rodney Bingenheimer couldn't parlay his access to the rich and famous into wealth and fame is not the tragedy of Rodney Bingenheimer. Perhaps the fact that we find anyone who doesn't cash in on their proximity to fame tragic is the tragedy of America. Rodney Bingenheimer is our inner geek, the star-stuck autograph hound in all of us. Hickenlooper's film holds up a mirror to a celebrity obsessed culture, a culture fixated on something 99.9999% its members will never experience. Perhaps this is the tragedy of all our lives. After all, as bad as we may feel for Bingenheimer, the fact remains: WE are watching a movie about HIM, a movie in which he is hanging out with David Bowie, and we are not.
If "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" were not a documentary, no one would
ever believe the story it tells. The film chronicles the life of Rodney
Bingenheimer, the L.A. DJ who helped to launch the careers of many of
the most influential bands in rock music history. However, if you're
expecting Rodney to be a dashing, high-powered music exec with loads of
cash and garages full of fancy sport cars, think again. He is, in fact,
a painfully shy and unassuming man who seems totally out of place in
the celebrity swirl of which he became so integral a part beginning in
the 1960's. This is what makes his story and the film so fascinating,
for who could have imagined that this gnomish young lad from Mountain
View, California - essentially abandoned by both his mother and father
and rejected by his peers - would somehow manage to make himself the
center of attention for some of the greatest rock celebrities of the
1960's and '70's. Everybody who was anybody knew and adored Rodney,
and, after he landed a gig as DJ at L.A.'s KROQ in the 1970's, he gave
many struggling alternative artists their first real toehold on the
radio, playing their records at a time when no other disc jockeys would
touch them. The bands who practically owe their careers to Rodney
Bingenheimer include Blondie, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the
Runaways, the Go-Go's, No Doubt, Coldplay, and many many others.
As a documentary, the film, written and directed by George Hickenlooper, takes a fairly conventional approach, combining images from Rodney's life with interviews by celebrities, relatives and friends commenting on him both as a person and as a phenomenon. The film provides a virtual who's who of some of the biggest names in the music business stepping up to the camera to have their say, most of it highly complimentary to the subject. Indeed, almost to a person, the interviewees talk about what a sweet, lovable guy Rodney is and how hobnobbing with so many celebrities has not diminished his innate humility and decency as a person. There is one moment in the film when Rodney allows his anger to get the better of him, but, most of the time, he comes across as a goodhearted, almost passive person who is surprisingly inarticulate and - one senses - not all that comfortable being the subject of a documentary. The film achieves a poignancy and sadness in its latter scenes when we discover that, despite all this notoriety among the glitterati in Hollywood, Rodney lives a rather isolated existence, never having found that one true love with whom he could settle down and make a life. In fact, the movie makes us question whether fame - or even proximity to the famous - can ever really lead to a happy, successful life. It's a lament we've heard many times before and will hear many times again.
"Mayor of the Sunset Strip" provides us with a kaleidoscopic view of the L.A. music scene from the mid 1960's to the present. Rodney's life becomes the forum for reliving all those exciting moments in which this parade of beautiful and talented people came to define the culture and eras of which they were a part. The film has an almost "Zelig" quality to it, as Rodney is photographed standing next to virtually every important rock artist to come down the pike in the last four decades.
I must admit that, even after watching "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," I still don't claim to understand how Rodney achieved everything that he did, and maybe no film could ever really capture that magic alignment of elements that made it possible for a shy, insecure young boy from a broken family - yet a boy with dreams and an abiding love of rock 'n roll - to play such a crucial part in music history. I guess you had to actually be there to really understand it.
My own experience with Rodney Bingenheimer is an extremely modest one. I once stood behind him while waiting to board a flight from San Jose to Burbank. Few people in the crowd seemed to know who he was, but an attractive young girl, obviously interested in pursuing a career in music, approached him and politely engaged him in conversation. Rodney, despite the fact that he could have simply ignored her advances and begged for privacy, instead turned his full attention to what it was she was saying, smiled demurely at her compliments, and offered her an opportunity to perform for him when they got back to L.A. It's that Rodney Bingenheimer who comes through in the film.
As an Angeleno, I was a long-time listener to KROQ, but gave it up the
day grunge came to town. I used to listen to Rodney back when he was on
at a decent hour. He was so weird and you always felt like you were
terribly cool and on-the-edge for listening to him. It is too bad KROQ
abandoned Rodney's kind of music in favor of the crap they play today.
But on to the movie itself. I thought it was excellent in its own right, which had the classic tragedy theme. Looking at it that way, this movie could not have been better.
But from a music standpoint there was something lacking. Rodney is Rodney because of the music, his love of the music, his ear and knack for the music. There was plenty in this movie about the musicians but very little about the music they play. I would have liked a few comments along the lines of, "Oh, the first time I heard the opening riff of such-and-such a song," or "Man, when I saw so-and-so play for the first time at the Whiskey!" There is a curious lack of talk about the actual tunes in this movie. One DOES come away with the feeling that it was just celebrities that Rodney loved and not the art they created...and I know this is not the case.
But back to the "tragedy" that was this movie's real purpose. It was so excruciating to watch some of these scenes. A truly great movie in this respect. The encounters with the family, the dumping of his mom's ashes, the freak-out with Chris Carter, the horrible, horrible side-story of the 50-year-old wannabe rock star. This movie was positively Shakespearean! And knowing what a tragic landscape Los Angeles really is, I loved that this was conveyed so well in this film; the Denny's, the stripmalls, the ugly apartment buildings.
According to this film, the 'Mayor of the Sunset Strip' is Rodney Bingenheimer. Rodney who? Well, watch this fascinating documentary, directed by George Hickenlopper (HEARTS OF DARKNESS : A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE), and find out! Bingenheimer is seemingly the kind of selfless guy who appears to have initially been a kind of male groupie in the 60s and who subsequently unconditionally promoted U.S. and U.K. rock and pop acts through his L.A. based 'Rodney on the Roq' radio show and is acclaimed in almost reverential tones by those who owe their Stateside break to the airplay which apparently broke them through to the U.S. mainstream. As these artists include the likes of Brian Wilson, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Oasis and Coldplay (not sure I can forgive Rodney those last two), and given that the soundtrack includes these bands and many more individuals and groups (e.g. including a certain Mr. Bowie) which would have set virtually any other movie back several million greenbacks had they not offered their tracks for the minimum cost required to sort the legal paperwork, one can see how revered this apparently somewhat impoverished starmaker is (although his collection of pop memorabilia could set him up for several lifetimes should he choose to part with it). A Zelig-like figure whom the film's archival footage (filmed and photographic) shows to have been present at virtually all the epochal rock moments of the last 40 years, as well as one whose life has perhaps not turned out to be as successful as one might expect (the man still appears to dine at Denny's, for crying out loud!) and who seems to have been let down by those who might have reciprocated more kindly for the leg-up he appears to have given them, is well-served by this compassionate, occasionally hilarious (the Cherie Currie story about sinister svengali producer/performer Kim Fowley and his punchy riposte is a hoot) and ultimately rather sad and cautionary tale of the darker side of the American Dream. A man who, as my friend pointed out afterwards, appears to have inspired The Ramones' choice of tonsorial grooming and who still appears to be occasionally mistaken for The Monkees' Davy Jones (he originally auditioned for Jones' role and was sometimes deployed as his double which, if nothing else, seems to have added a few notches to his bedpost) and whose sad-faced countenance speaks more vividly of a lifetime of let-downs than any rancid verbal outpourings (he actually seems too polite to engage in on-screen badmouthing of even those who might deserve a well-aimed verbal broadside), this features an engaging mixture of talking head and rare archival footage and entertains as it delivers an impressionistic vulture's eye view of the West Coast zeitgeist, leaving one in no doubt that the film's title appropriately rests on this unlikely, slightly-built and spindly-legged character. An enlightening documentary, and highly recommended fare with no 'dead air'.
So who is this Rodney Bingenheimer? One can describe him as the "Mayor
of the Sunset Strip," but in my opinion, "King of the Groupies" is more
accurate. If you live in LA, you may be somewhat familiar with him due
to his radio show. If not, you're still going to love this film if
you're at all a fan of rock and roll music.
"Mayor of the Sunset Strip" is sort of a cross between "Zelig" and "This Is Spinal Tap," but unlike those pics, this is a not a mockumentary...Rodney Bingenheimer is a real guy. And there isn't a famous rock musician with whom he hasn't hung out, or been photographed. Lest you think this guy is just some kind of a Photoshop genius who never actually met Lennon, Bowie and the rest...well there are plenty of folks out there who will corroborate his life story. And these folks are featured in this documentary...everyone from Deborah Harry to The Doors' Ray Manzarek, plus the most famous groupie of all time, Pamela Des Barres (and I must admit that when I was 15 years old and read "I'm With the Band, I so wanted to be her).
Rodney began his career as a professional hanger-on when he got hired to play Davy Jones' double in "The Monkees"although aside from the height and hair, he really doesn't resemble Davy Jones at all. However, Rodney was somehow able to turn this 15 minutes of fame into four decades at the top (or outskirts, depending on how you look at it) of LA's social scene. Little 5'3",100 lb, not least-bit handsome Rodney propelled himself into a world where he knew every rock and roller, and they all knew him (I, for one, am convinced this is due to the fact that, next to Rodney, celebrities could feel good about themselves by appearing taller and more attractive). By the time he opened his famous "Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco" in the early 70s, Rodney was apparently, as we learn in the film, getting more girls than even Robert Plant. And when Michael Des Barres speaks of Rodney's success with women, he declares that the guy had a "posse of p*****." This fact is remembered fondly by the beyond middle-aged Rodney in the film I found that scene particularly hilarious.
By the time disco music actually became popular in the latter part of the 70s, Rodney wanted to close his "English Disco." He had long since moved on to punk rock, worshipping the likes of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. In the 80s, Rodney was able to establish himself as a DJ who brought the latest and greatest music to Southern California. Without a good radio voice, Rodney was able to turn his knowledge of the music into a paying job. Fast forward to the 90s, and we see Rodney, looking like a 60-year-old in a Paul Weller wig, still seemingly at the top of the rock and roll ladder, hanging out with the likes of Coldplay and Oasis, the latter he claimed to be playing on the radio when their music was still only available on tape (Well, I personally happen to have seen Oasis play very early on in a small club with only about 100 people in the audience, but I digress ) From the very beginning of the film, we see that life is getting tougher for Rodney. For one thing, it's hard to make a living when you don't have any particular skills, and your claim to fame is that you know (or used to know) a bunch of famous people. That's the tragedy of it.
All in all, it's the little things that make watching this documentary so entertaining...from the conversations in Bing & Zelda Bingenheimer's garishly decorated California home, to the scenes of Rodney driving around LA in his tres uncool automobile. Then there are the scenes of Rodney's friend Isadore Ivy singing his ode to Jennifer Love Hewitt, and his other friend, Kim Fowley(?) discussing the amazing sexual capacity of the male organ. Anyway, you can easily forget, while watching this movie, that Rodney Bingenheimer and the weirdos around him are not fictional characters. And that's what makes it all so chuckle-inducing.
In closing, it's films like "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" that are exactly the reason I enjoy watching documentaries so much.
A few months ago, while awaiting my late-night food at *that* deli in
Hollywood, I went up to a seated Rodney Bingenheimer and told him
straight up: "'Mayor of the Sunset Strip' is one of the most important
films I've ever seen." Emphasis on the word "important". I then
explained why, and he just smiled, closed his eyes and nodded.
Less an indulgence in the overplayed phenomenon of "celebrity", this film is much more of a (rare) viewing of notoriety's seedy, cultist aspects under modern capitalism. In an age when "fame" and "celebrity" are their own forms of hard currency (E.G. invite a known celebrity to YOUR party -- whatever the occasion -- and see how many people RSVP within a matter of hours...), this is a film worth studying. The Yale-educated director, who not ironically directed "Hearts of Darkness", shrewdly turns the subject of Rodney Bingenheimer's literal 'staying power' in Hollywood into an entertaining and thought-provoking look at FAME AS A DISEASE. When the film is viewed under this poignant and increasingly relevant context, then Rodney really isn't that different from anyone else in America (or hyper-consuming Western culture in general). Nope, no one ultimately cares that you ran into Paul McCartney once in your twenties, but you'll keep mentioning it anyway...because you *matter*!!!
I watched the film on DVD (the preferred format, considering the variety of interviews in the "extras" portion) again after a yearlong lapse from my first viewing, only to further absorb its potency on the above-mentioned. A telling and strangely comforting aspect shown is the palpable discomfort on the faces of certain demonstrably lifelong insecure hyper-celebrities (Cher, Brooke Shields, Liam from Oasis) over talking about Rodney, their mercurial lives and ultimately, how they view "fame". One senses that, even if after attaining that much "acceptance", that you're still not comfortable in your own skin, then it's best not to carry as much celebrity currency in your pockets in the first place when - God Forbid -- you'd have to ever pay some of it back to those who've helped you attain it along the way.
Not all of the film's included luminaries came across in such fashion, however -- Ray Manzerick, Gwen Stefani, Nancy Sinatra, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson and David Bowie more or less stayed clear of such forced sincerity (read: barely contained cringing) in this film. And yet, I'd be lying if I said that all of the awkward celebrity posturing wasn't the most entertaining aspect of the film yes, even more so then simply the presence of the celebs who appear.
Brooke Shield's interview in the DVD is akin to an actual cognitive behavioral therapy session, where she relates how she's (supposedly) overcome her past nagging needs for acceptance. This caveat is telling, considering her much publicized postpartum depression (E.G. newborns don't know how to adore "celebrity" on cue, hence potentially magnifying the neuroses of past rejections felt by such otherwise "me-first" celebrities during, say, all-night baby crying sessions).
Author and 'fame expert' Leo Braudy is featured briefly commenting on the nature of fame and the public's obsession with it, concluding that he doesn't know who Rodney Bingenheimer is. I would've rather included authors Richard Schickel or Tyler Cowen (the latter an economist), who would've provided better insights without the added flippancy. Ironically (or maybe not so, considering the difference between having BEEN in the fame trenches versus simply writing about them), Rodney's darker trenches mate and alter-ego Kim Fowley actually sums up fame better than does Braudy with a nutshell synopsis of what drives people to seek fame, or the famous. Fowley accurately diagnoses Rodney and everyone else in Hollywood -- in itself worth watching the movie for, especially because Fowley illustrates the wacky, surreal and even palpably evil accumulation of frothy on-the-edges-of-fame excess that isn't limited to just the non-Wilshire Blvd. (read: corporate) entertainment industry, but sums up fame's very heart and that industry's core.
The film also shrewdly (and deservedly) shines a subtly dismissive light onto "alternative radio" juggernaut, KROQ, which is now to 'cutting edge' and 'fidelity to founding visionaries' what Alice Cooper was to 'subtlety'. KROQ DJ Jed the Fish's summing up of KROQ's essential value of Rodney Bingenheimer as more or less irrelevant to modern musical trends is tactically contrasted by the director with a brief yet accurate portrayal of KROQ's core current audience -- sweaty, tattooed, violent, soul-less subhuman Huns who urinate openly at concerts and grunt to hackneyed noise passing as their distressingly elected life anthems.
The viewer stumbles upon something: Being that "fame" has created its own marketplace, it's obvious that Rodney has a unique talent that can be shopped around (to Indy 103.1 or satellite radio, for instance)...away from a midnight to 3:00 AM slot on KROQ. Yet, because of the uniquely demonic characteristics of cut-throat, increasingly commercial yet still elusive Hollywood, one then realizes possibly why the less opportunistic 'good souls' (to quote Starsailor) like Rodney don't have agents shopping their said talents around: Despite not retaining any known instrumental or singing talents, a "radio-friendly voice" (Jed the Fish? Swedish Eagle? Adam Corolla?!?) or Teutonic good looks, still, at least Rodney is not a hack.
I'd make this film required viewing in suburban high schools as well as in college courses involving media or cultural studies, sociology, psychology, the arts and/or the humanities. Best to cork that genie in our tortured youth before 'groupie-dom' tries to compensate for their disturbingly growing lack of self-esteem...
With that said, God Bless Rodney Bingenheimer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was one of those films that I regretted renting, for fear that I had put some money into the pocket of the director. The main complaint is that the film is exploitative of Rodney B. Ironically, it reveals much more about the callous indifference of Hollywood by the way it treats Rodney and his life. Scenes I found particularly offensive were the one's where the director strove great lengths to create awkward situations at Rodney's expense, in order to give the film some 'reality' (i.e. scene at Rodney's estranged family's home, tremendously awkward scene with Rodney and Camille, and the director prodding Rodney about his true feelings for Camille, while she looks on, obviously uncomfortable). I understand the need for a documentarian to show the darker side of human life, but I firmly believe that this can be done while being sensitive to the person involved. There is no sign that this director has compassion for his subject. If any, it is of a perverse sort, like how you feel sorry for someone that you can't help but think is a complete idiot and who you think is ultimately to blame for their own demise. I think that one can see this if they are able to perceive the more subtle aspects of the picture--i.e. what scenes are present, how are they constructed, how are the questions posed, etc. Ultimately, this picture is not deep. There really isn't any attempt to really understand the man, likely because the director himself doesn't want to know or thinks he already knows him. The person who made this film is far worse off than Rodney is at present. At least Rodney has sensitivity and compassion. Lucky for us, and without the help of the director, Rodney's simple wisdom shines through at various conjunctures, hinting that there is much more there than a naive boy who buys into the rockstar illusion. If only this film were made by someone else, then we would have had a better grasp of why celebrities and people like Camille were drawn to him, and why ultimately it is a blessing to be spit out by Hollywood...a chance to reclaim your dignity and find more lasting happiness.
Rodney Bingenheimer. I hadn't heard his name before this film, but the
friend I went to a
pre-screening had. I am not originally from Southern California, but my
friend is. I never
knew the influences people can have over a scene. I am so glad there are
Rodney out there. In this world of corporate takeovers and the almighty
dollar, I am
happy there are people who stick to their guns like Rodney. He is one of
last Djs in
America that doesn't have a corporation make his playlist and his life
like a history
of who's who in the rock world. He has been everywhere, with Elvis, with
with the Beatles eating up shrimp that should have been saved for the
Davy Jones' double on the Monkees. He was in "Rock and Roll High School!"
a lot of music in the punk and new wave eras, that might have not been
otherwise. He played the Sex Pistols when no radio station would touch
He took a
chance on a weirdo named Bowie. He still takes chances, like playing a
called Sin Sin 77, which I will have to check out now!
It is hard to believe at times that so many famous people would seek out Mr.Bingerheimer as a friend, but he comes off in the film and in real life (I was lucky enough to meet him and hear him speak after the film...peaks of being close to LA!) as a sincere person who is in it for the music. He likes people and is almost a reflective elflike Warholesque character. He is an introvert and that is what makes this documentary so intensely real, he makes no pretenses, what you see is what you get.
I didn't know at the time of seeing this pre-screening for free, that Rodney was going to show up along with the director, George Hickenlooper (great names!) but it was a rare treat. A local indie station hosted the evening, gave out CDs and tee shirts...what a great night. I had to run home and write everyone to go see this film and get a rare glimpse into the life of someone who lived in the Hollywood rock scene most of his life and has had such a wonderful influence on modern radio. Now if they would only play Rasputina on K-Roq, that would be something!
Can't wait to go up to LA to one of Bingenheimer's "English Disco" nights. I hope he actually gets Wednesday nights on K-roq because he should get more time then a night owl time on Sunday. But it sounds like his audience is young. Why the corporate machine doesn't grab on to the idea that many young people, such as myself, want to listen to new and different music and try to market radio more towards us, like, umm, giving Djs the right to play their own playlists?
I am so glad to know Rodney's story and see all the old footage of Hollywood and rock bands. It is truly an unique and valuable one! This is a must see and is Oscar worthy in my book!
I remember listening to Rodney Bingenheimer's radio show on KROQ when I
was in high school. I knew nothing of him at the time and only know
what I know now because of what I learned from this movie, but
regardless of how popular Rodney became with the rock stars and
celebrities and regardless of how well his show ever did, the guy just
does not have a voice for radio. I think that in his case it is vital
that you know him personally or that you know about his history in the
music business, because listening to him as a radio talk show host is
intolerably boring. It is not a surprise, to say the least, that his
radio show never strayed far from the midnight to 3am shift on Sundays,
although I would rather listen to him than Jed the Fish any day of the
week. Jed the Fish irritates the hell out of me.
Speaking of which, one of the more interesting things that I learned from this documentary was actually just proof of something that I had always suspected, that Jed the Fish has always been faking that ridiculous accent that he always talks with on the air. In his brief interviews in the movie he makes the mistake of talking in his regular voice, revealing how much of a fake he really is. On the other hand, he is, in fact, an entertainer, so I don't want to give the impression that he is some kind of fraud because he talks with a fake accent on the air. He's been on KROQ for some ridiculous number of years, so he must be doing something right. Not my thing, I guess. I think I may have just developed this contempt for KROQ for ruining great songs and popularizing bad songs in the ten years or so since I first moved to Irvine and started listening to them.
The thing that I really liked about this documentary is that it really gives good insight into the life of Rodney Bingenheimer, who seems like some geeky guy who made his way into rock stardom by a simple love of music and what must have been a very disarming and unusually charming demeanor. For some reason he reminds me of this 1978 Honda Civic that I had in high school, it was the crappiest car in the parking lot but everyone loved it. I remember lots all the hot Flygirls used to always want to drive it, it was like a toy. Interpret that as you will, I still haven't figured it out.
There are moments in the film when I almost felt bad for being so bored by Rodney's radio program, because despite having been experienced far more than every high school kid's dreams of the, ah, fleshy pearls of rock and roll decadence, Rodney has been through a lot of pain in his life. He had some truly heartbreaking experiences in his life growing up, which are kind of manifested in scenes like the one where he goes to visit his parents, with whom he had something of a falling out, and finds that they don't have any pictures of him in the front room. The saddest thing is that he brings the camera crew into a back room and points to a picture of himself, framed on hung on the wall but almost hidden in a corner where no one would ever see it. And he acted like it was perfectly normal.
Rodney's demeanor that thing that really leaves the film open to interpretation. Despite having just watched a documentary about the guy, I feel like I know less about him than I knew before, just because he is such a closed off kind of person. There are scenes when he genuinely loses his temper, and there are scenes where he is clearly uncomfortable and comes right out and says that he doesn't want to talk about certain things, but at the same time he discloses information about himself that almost anyone else would probably find embarrassing.
This is one of the rare instances in documentary film-making where you can learn so much about a person but come away from it amazed at how little you really know about him. It's like the old saying, the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. Rodney is a truly unique person with a truly unique personality, and while I can't claim to have been entertained by his radio show even for a minute, he is certainly a fascinating person to learn about. Especially since I went to high school listening to the kind of music that he introduced to the world and I now live in the area that is portrayed in the movie. All music fans should watch this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had never heard of Rodney Bingenheimer prior to catching the doc on
Showtime, so it was somewhat shocking to see how involved he was in the
musical lives of many bands that I like. He, as has been said
elsewhere, is like a musical Zelig; in one funny sequence, he is seen
in the videos of the Mamas & Papas, Blondie, The Ramones (I think) and
many more--one of the those nameless people in the background clapping
their hands, singing along, etc.
His acceptance by the famous as a male groupie is due to his nearly blank canvas of a personality--he seems to have no real emotional depth. His wallpaper-like persona is similar to Andy Warhol's except that Warhol's was very likely an act--there was a lot going on under that wig. That can't be said for Rodney. He has nothing much to say about anything other than "wow" or "really?" or "that's great." What he does have is good intentions and a lack of an exploitation gene so that celebrities feel safe around him.
Interestingly, he has a Doppelganger in producer/artist Kim Fowley with whom he appears to be very close. Fowley is everything Bingenheimer is not: crass, manipulative, exploitative, even violent. It is an interesting psychological study. A second shadow figure is presented in an aspiring recording artist/sad sack that Bingenheimer befriends: these two friends carry some of the things that Bingenheimer cannot allow for himself.
The film goes from a story of a guy gliding happily through life to a kind of sad story. When asked how he'd like the film to end, an obvious metaphor for his own life, Bingenheimer tellingly responds "I just want everyone to be happy, to enjoy the film." He cannot aspire to his own happiness, cannot make any real claims life. Ultimately, the famous who have made real lives for themselves, move on. Rodney, like Melvilles's Bartlby, cannot.
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