Judge David Gutierrez has seen the heart of Rock and Roll. It is still beating.
"Rodney can anoint you. Rodney's powerful"—Kim Fowley
Love is a funny thing. It's rare to find someone who loves something so fully that he's willing to share that thing with the planet. Mayor of the Sunset Strip tells the story of guy who loves rock n' roll and who wants you to love it too.
Facts of the Case
Mayor of the Sunset Strip documents the life of Los Angeles DJ Rodney Bingenheimer—a man with the uncanny ability to launch musical careers. Rubbing elbows with the stars of Hollywood and musical royalty, Rodney becomes the instrument through which fame and celebrity is given a closer examination.
Top five ways how Rodney Bingenheimer's life is different than mine:
1. David Bowie does not talk to me or ask how I'm doing.
Rodney Bingenheimer is a quiet man living in a town full of self-lauders, sycophants, wannabes and entitled to's who has managed to become a member of rock n' roll royalty. Who doesn't want to be a rock star? Rodney doesn't appear to, but he certainly has helped those who do.
Throughout his life, Rodney had affection for celebrities and music. Here is a man who Alice Cooper and David Bowie talk about as a friend, was taken in by Sonny and Cher and once doubled for Davey Jones on The Monkees. He worked for record companies, owned a club, introduced David Bowie in a dress and owns Charles Manson's drivers license. Thanks in no small part to Rodney, the planet knows Coldplay, Hole, The Ramones, The Clash, X, Van Halen and Nirvana. Most importantly, Rodney allows us to see how we react to fame and celebrity. Constantly surrounded by a variety of celebrity personalities, Rodney stands in the middle of it all, a calm, soft spoken man who somehow keeps his head. Through an impressive series of interviews with people like Lance Loud, Kim Fowley, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Gwen Stefani, Chris Carter, Deborah Harry and a host of others, Mayor of the Sunset Strip deconstructs Rodney, his world, and the notions of fame.
The film not only tells the story of Rodney's life, but also spotlights the Los Angeles rock scene and how it has changed from Rodney's arrival to the present. Rodney is the ultimate witness to it all. While he's heavily involved behind the scenes, Rodney somehow serves an axis around which the music world revolves. Mayor of the Sunset Strip is an important rock n' roll movie that's as much about the music as it is about Rodney.
It's easy to see how people can be drawn to Rodney. He's instantly likeable, unassuming, and never comes across like he wants anything from anybody. He's someone anyone would like to have around—and it seems everyone does. Still, there's sadness in him, which leaves you wondering how he's doing when the documentary ends.
One of the strongest aspects of the documentary is that it doesn't sugarcoat the hard moments in Rodney's life: It shows a complete depiction of how Rodney's life works and how it doesn't. No matter how many years have lapsed since high school, listening to a woman tell a man she "likes him as a friend" will never, ever become a comfortable thing to hear. There is also the unsettling distance depicted between Rodney and his biological family, and the bittersweet footage of Rodney pouring his mother's ashes.
The DVD contains a decent slate of special features. Director George Hickenlooper (Hearts of Darkness) is joined midway through his commentary by editor Julie Janata. Both have interesting things to say about how they cut and made the film, though Hickenlooper tends to repeat himself. Rodney and producer Chris Carter share their own commentary track, contributing their unique experiences during the film. Also included are extended interview segments. Watch the Elvis Costello/Brian Wilson interview: While Rodney is barely a topic of conversation, the dialogue between the two runs the gamut from songwriting to how Wilson comes across on television. Really, it's something to behold and this reviewer's favorite part of the DVD. Extra footage is available in the form of 'Backstage With Rodney" and "A Rock n' Roll Legend—The Story Behind Rodney Bingenheimer" featurettes. The DVD also features samples from the soundtrack, previews and a Showtime Promo.
The picture quality varied throughout the film. Depending on the source material, the picture was either sharp or grainy. The darker tones had a tendency to bleed on the older footage. Luckily, the documentary sounds fantastic. Everyone and everything was clear and audible with very few exceptions. Older recordings had minor hiss or sounded muddled, but overall the sound was exceptional.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Those seeking a documentary with an ending best look elsewhere. Given that the subject of Mayor of the Sunset Strip is still alive, many aspects of his life remain unresolved or in question. Thankfully, the Rodney/Chris commentary addressees some of the dangling threads in Rodney's life.
From the surface, anyone could gather that the Mayor of the Sunset Strip is about fame, rock n' roll and Rodney's life. To me, it's also about how a guy whose life could easily have gone badly manages to corral a family out of some of the most interesting people on earth.
Music fans, do yourselves a favor and pick up this film. It belongs right along side your copy of The Last Waltz and your bootleg copy of Let it Be.
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