Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 94 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:
If some of us have “a face for radio,” famed Los Angeles deejay Rodney Bingenheimer has a voice for silent movies. It’s thin and reedy. Filmmaker George Hickenloper politely terms it “unprepossessing.”
When, as a sweaty teen, I first tuned into “Rodney on the ROQ” I wondered, “How come this guy gets a radio show? If he’s on, why not me?”
Well, I was never a stand-in for the Monkees’ Davy Jones. I was never called “friend” by the Doors, Blondie, Andy Warhol or any member of the Beatles (including Ringo). I never owned a discotheque frequented by David Bowie, Iggy Pop, T.Rex, Suzi Quatro and Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant never implied that I got more girls than he did. And I definitely wasn’t responsible for introducing the youth of Los Angeles — and by extension a good chunk of the known universe — to the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash and Nirvana.
On the other hand, just who the heck is this guy? If Zsa-Zsa Gabor was “famous for being well known” and Bingenheimer-pals Kato Kaelin and Corey Feldman are famous for no justifiable reason, Rodney is famous for helping the unknown to become known, and for helping the already well known to better enjoy their well-known-ness. Who is this guy, is he important and why do we care?
Encouraged by Bingenheimer friend and protégé, Chris Carter, formerly of the band Dramarama, writer-director George Hickenlooper (“Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse”) compares Rodney to Zelig, Forrest Gump and Chauncey Gardner — the result of a life “entirely shaped by popular culture.” “Is this any kind of a life?” “The Mayor of the Sunset Strip” asks. Moreover, is there anyone in our media-saturated world who isn’t already living it?
The film clearly shows the eternally mop-topped Rodney paying the price for his unending adolescence. Professionally, the once scruffy, now disgustingly corporate, KROQ has relegated Bingenheimer to the gulag of a Sunday midnight time-slot. Personally, the aging teen romantic gets the “let’s be friends” treatment from his younger one-true-love.
But “The Mayor of the Sunset Strip” also clearly shows the appeal of life with the in-crowd. We see his easy access to an endless supply of girls and celebrities, and we see that, fan though he was, Rodney once enjoyed a certain degree of power — as when he grants first dibs of a plate of gourmet shrimp to the Beatles, and then invites the less famous Doors to feast on the leavings.
“Mayor of the Sunset Strip” can’t — and probably shouldn’t — answer the question of whether Rodney’s is a life well lived. What it does do is show us the pain of his pre-fame youth and the alternately innocent and downright creepy rock ‘n’ roll milieu he went on to inhabit. We see fellow-groupie-in-arms Pamela Des Barres exhibiting Penny Lane-like charm describing Rodney*s salad days, but we also see part-time Svengali and self-confessed full-time letch Kim Fowley flaunt his role as Rodney’s evil twin. And then there’s the sad, or is it triumphant, tale of damaged pal Ronald Vaghaun, who ultimately manages to record an oddly haunting tribute to Jennifer Love Hewitt.
A darker, real-life sequel to Almost Famous, an energetically constructed tale of family dysfunction and neglect, romantic yearning thwarted, and professional reversals redeemed by the love of a good pop tune, “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” invites repeat viewings and overlong reviews like the one you’re now reading. If the film feels just a minute or two overlong itself, that’s no doubt that’s the result of the sheer mass of irresistible material that Hickenlooper, Chris Carter and company managed to gather.
With it’s touching story of a guileless man in one of the world’s most guile-full businesses, “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” is compulsory viewing for anyone with the slightest interest in rock history or the power of celebrity — in other words, everyone.
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Posted on March 28, 2004 in Reviews by Bob Westal
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