29 December 2005 | convergentmedia
A valuable and necessary documentary on the cult of fame
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.