Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

"As love letters to a friend go, this is one of the funniest and most likeable I’ve seen in a while."

Mike Myer’s directorial debut tell the story of legendary music and film producer, and general impresario to the LA stars, Shep Gordon. Myers had particular reason to pen this breezy, funny and sympathetic ode to his friend: Gordon was the key figure in ensuring Alice Cooper (and his songs) could feature in Myers’ hit 1992 musical comedy Wayne’s World. Had things been different and Gordon not been who he was, the halls of movie history might not be echoing to the sounds of "We’re not worthy, We’re not worthy…” today. Myers had to badger Gordon for years to agree to appear in this film, which seems surprising given how garrulous he is on screen and that his job involved seeking the spotlight. But as the film shows, this is the tale of an ethical hedonist who was more comfortable being on the edge of the frame.

Starting out as a music manager seemingly by accident - he literally seems to have bumped into Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in LA in the 60s by walking into the wrong hotel - Gordon used his charm, drive, and belief in keeping karma onside to help get him through the early hardscrabble years of managing young and hungry bands with his Alive company, which he founded in 1969. In time, he would become well known and well rewarded for advancing the careers of Pink Floyd, Luther Vandross and Teddy Pendergrass, but as the doc makes clear, being manager to one Alice Cooper in the 1960s and 70s was no mean feat. Those were lean years, with a lot of dodged hotel bills, angry crowds, and ‘stimulants’ to ease the tension.

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Yet, even then, Gordon was displaying an uncanny knack for dealing what people found entertaining, and how his artists could grab the limelight no matter how unknown/unhip/reluctant they might be. With Alice Cooper an unknown in Britain when his first tour was booked, and a Wembley Stadium venue selling mere handfuls of tickets, who else but Gordon would think up a promotional campaign that involved a truck carrying a poster of Cooper naked (save for a strategically placed boa constrictor) ‘breaking down’ in Piccadilly Circus?

Britain’s parents were up in arms, exactly as Gordon planned it. If the parents and Mary Whitehouse hated it, Gordon figured, the kids would love it. And if you have ever wondered who put that chicken on stage in front of Cooper during the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969, you now have the answer: (not that Gordon intended it to get killed). Cooper went on to huge global success, of course, and Gordon never seemed to lose the Midas touch. He even had success as a film producer, with Ridley Scott’s The Duellists winning Best Debut Film award at Cannes in 1977 under his company’s wing.

It is interesting to learn how, despite spending his prime years in the snake pit of celerity hyper culture, Gordon seemingly has never lost his ability to make everyone he meets feel like family. Alongside from Cooper, talking head after talking head line up to testify to this guy being a real ‘mensch’ - which translates as ‘a person of integrity and honour’. This seems to have gone beyond merely offering up his Maui home for parties and the odd friend who might need to flee Hollywood. Archive footage and interviews testify as to how Gordon was willing to take on the establishment in defence of his clients, his karmic sense offended by injustices.

He helped Teddy Pendergrass fight through an exploitative bookings system that basically robbed him and other black artists blind. When some of the most highly regarded chefs in the US came to Gordon in later decades pleading that for all their work they were unable to monetise their talent beyond goodwill from the celebrities eating their food, Gordon kickstarted the concept of the TV chef and their assorted brand products.

Gordon is an undeniably charismatic figure, with a set of stories that probably make him the best party guest of all time (who else could recount a time Steve Jobs turned up at his deserted island retreat in response to a call to the island manger for help with a broken MacBook, Jobs being the only other inhabitant at the time?) As such, it is easy to think that Myers as a director has had most of the heavy lifting done already by simply sitting back and letting Gordon talk. But he shapes this film well: keeping it fast-paced, digging up a colourful assortment of interviewees, and allowing Gordon plenty of opportunity to both wisecrack and discuss a few regrets; his lack of a stable family at his age clearly weighs on him.

Myers also punctures any moments where things get too sentimental or grim with some funny touches of his own: he has actors re-enact some of Gordon’s more outrageous recollections, which come off like a Saturday Night Live sketch. At other times, he has on-screen text point out some occasions where the onscreen Gordon is misremembering due to being astonishingly high during whatever occasion he is trying to recall (including one party where he is convinced still that Picasso was present - he was dead at the time). Myers doesn’t challenge Gordon at all so although the now-retired manager is circumspect about the toll the LA lifestyle can take on a person, he isn't really asked to offer any opinion on the celebrity ’15 minutes’ culture we are witness to today, and what role he may have played in that. But as love letters to a friend go, this is one of the funniest and most likeable I’ve seen in a while.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2014
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Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon packshot
Documentary about the Hollywood manager.
Amazon link

Director: Beth Aala, Mike Myers

Starring: Tom Arnold, Alice Cooper, Michael Douglas, Shep Gordon, Emeril Lagasse, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, Derek Shook, Sylvester Stallone

Year: 2013

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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