J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tribeca ’14: Supermensch

You have to have a real Zen-like attitude to successfully manage Alice Cooper. The drugs did not hurt either, at least in the early years. Starting with Alice Cooper (the band), Gordon expanded his roster to include clients like Anne Murray. You could call that a career. It certainly provides plenty of anecdotal grist for Friend-of-Shep Mike Myers’ affectionate portrait Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (trailer here), which had a special Tribeca Talks screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

In true 1960s fashion, Gordon started managing Alice Cooper as a cover for his causal but considerable drug-dealing income. When law enforcement started getting nosy, he decided to make management a full time gig. The early years were tough, but Cooper (the man) gives Gordon credit for eventually making good on all the motel bills they skipped out on.

Eventually, Gordon’s long-term strategy—make parents hate Alice Cooper—paid off handsomely. Gordon would subsequently manage Murray, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, and Groucho Marx (the latter more as a fan’s act of devotion than as a money-making concern). Perhaps the most eye-opening sequence explains Gordon’s role kicking off the celebrity chef phenomenon, making Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck rich and famous in the process. Of course, Cooper plays a central role in Myers’ profile, which makes sense both from a biographical standpoint and as an endless source of good material.

As it happens, Supermensch is one of three interconnecting docs that played at this year’s Tribeca. Obviously, Gordon appears in Super Duper Alice Cooper and vice versa, but Cooper also briefly appears An Honest Liar, explaining the Amazing Randi’s role devising the guillotine routine for his stage show. All three are entertaining, but Super Duper’s rock & roll attitude combined with its Jekyll & Hyde psychoanalysis is ultimately more compelling than the breezy show biz vibe of Supermensch. By the way, if Gordon and Cooper had a connection to Bob Weir it did not come up in The Other One.

Regardless, the first-time director clearly had no trouble getting his fellow FOS’s to talk. Just about all of it is pretty funny stuff. Occasionally, Gordon gets serious, but Myers never lets that last, keeping things snappy throughout. For the post-screening discussion, Michael Douglas (another FOS) interviewed Gordon, eliciting more reminiscences. Frankly, a good number were repeats from the film, but you could say they were observing rock & roll’s “greatest hits” tradition. A pleasant source of bubbly, low calorie laughs and nostalgia, Supermensch is recommended for Boomer rock fans and aspiring talent managers. A crowd-pleaser at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon also screens tonight (4/30) and Friday (5/2) during the San Francisco International Film Festival.

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