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  • Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon | Review

    By | June 12, 2014


    Director: Mike Myers

    Super: (adjective) of the highest degree, power, etc.

    Mensch: (noun) a decent, upright, mature and responsible person.

    The latest work from Mike Myers, he of Wayne’s World and Austin Powers fame and The Love Guru and Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat infamy, is a documentary about legendary Hollywood talent agent Shep Gordon. I say legendary, but to be honest, I knew nothing of Mr. Gordon before watching Myers’ overly adulatory documentary, although I had somehow seen the truly legendary picture of him on board a plane with his client, Alice Cooper, wearing his “NO HEAD NO BACKSTAGE PASS” t-shirt. Come to think of it, I’d probably seen the picture in early publicity about this film, which would be appropriate considering that Gordon’s greatest talents probably lie in publicity and the associated accumulation of wealth and prestige. Not to say that I’m discounting Myers’ uber-mensch take on the life and times of Shep Gordon but color me skeptical.There’s a truly great, nuanced, complicated human story buried deep down beneath the reverent gloss of Supermensch but Myers does not scratch too far below the surface.

    The film is filled with talking heads sincerely raving about Gordon’s talent, compassion, work ethic, generosity and endless libido and no doubt there’s something to it as he’s clearly one of the best connected and well respected power brokers in the entertainment industry. And if that kind of thing, a puff piece with a heart of gold about a rich, powerful skirt-chasing talent agent with a heart of gold, directed by an enamored successful actor and narrated by a diverse cast of rich, successful actors, musicians and celebrity chefs, floats your boat, you’ll be off on a 80+ minute pleasure cruise. 

    As for me, I found the film wildly entertaining but fatally flawed in several ways. The first third of the film focuses on Gordon’s history managing shock-rock act, Alice Cooper, seemingly taking it for granted that the audience will know the importance of Cooper’s place in rock music history. Maybe I’m the odd man out here, but while I know of Alice Cooper, I don’t even know whether that’s the name of the band or the name of its famous front-man, or both, much less how and why Cooper’s role in rock music history is worth of remembrance. Myers’ film did reveal to me that the evidently infamous instance of Cooper (actually the audience) cannibalizing a live chicken on-stage was orchestrated by Gordon, the two of whom made a lot of money from and still get a good laugh at the chicken’s expense. In other words, you won’t see any poultry singing Gordon’s praises in this film. Instead, leave that to people like Michael Douglas, who greatly respects (and clearly relates to) Gordon’s relentless pussy-chasing or Willie Nelson, who considers Gordon a fellow canary in the coalmine when it comes to high levels of cannabis consumption. But I digress.

    After all, the man is a supermensch, something you might not get from reading this review up to this point. Have I failed to mention that Gordon is tight with the Dalai Lama? There you go. He also managed the career of Anne Murray! So there’s that. And we evidently have him to think for singlehandedly jump-starting the whole celebrity chef thing! Sure,the whole industry reeks of commercialization, celebrity hero-worship and uber-Capitalism, but it’s made clear that Gordon’s main motivation was the terrible working conditions of the top chefs he so admired, folks like Emeril Lagasse, who now is a pop culture icon and has his own extremely successful line of spices and other products. BAM! When Emeril stays out at Gordon’s giant Maui mansion, maybe cooking for one of his famous celebrity gatherings, they probably reminisce about the bad old days when he was a relatively unknown chef, slaving away in some restaurant’s kitchen. Speaking of Gordon’s Maui mansion, director Myers once stayed there for a whole month during a down period in his life, showing that even the rich and successful sometimes need a rich and successful shoulder to cry on. And when Tom Arnold got involved in cocaine-fueled fisticuffs in a famous LA nightspot, from which he was subsequently banned, it was Gordon who came to the rescue, working his magic so that Arnold could once again blow and go as he pleased. Clearly the workd of a Supermensch! 

    But while I didn’t find Myers’ reverence for Gordon exactly infectious, I did find myself wildly entertained by the film and it’s lead character. No doubt he’s a man of endless ability, charm and drive, a masterful raconteur, even if his story is partly truth and partly fiction. After a short, failed career attempt as a youth counselor at a California prison (the guards had him participate in a prisoner baseball game in which he wound up serving as the ball), he drove to L.A. on a whim, found a hotel and soon interjected himself in what he thought was a possible rape scenario, only to be punched in the nose by the screaming woman who was actually engaging in some highly electric and consensual lovemaking. That woman was Janis Joplin and soon Gordon was running around with her, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Or maybe he was selling them drugs, it’s hard to say for sure. Hendrix, after confirming that Gordon was indeed Jewish, supposedly suggested he become a manager and even introduced Gordon to Alice Cooper and later went on to help design Gordon’s first business card. Years later, Gordon was neighbors with Cary Grant. Gordon’s kitten disappeared and he later discovered that it was living with Grant, who had fallen in love with it, the two of whom agreed to joint custody. Such colorful and captivating stories are abundant in Supermensch, and are alone worth the price of admission.

    Myers displays some real talent, especially in regards to visuals, but shows that he is lacking in complex narrative abilities. By the time he hits the film’s final third, he’s clearly decided it’s time to make sure that the audience knows that Gordon is more than just a wealthy, successful, well-connected master storyteller and marketer, but is also a GOOD MAN, dammit. How better to do that than to let us know that we should feel truly sorry for this man, despite all his accomplishments and connections, who late in life has realized that he is lonely, that his fame and wealth and endless sexual exploits are of no permanent value, and that his loneliness can only be assuaged by the birth of a child? Sadly, the woman who he decides should be the mother of his child gives up on the quest when fertility proves to be an elusive endeavor, evidently cursing him to someday die tragically alone and despairing, despite his having generously adopted the four kids of an ex-lover’s daughter after her death, several of whom appear on screen to talk about what a great guy Gordon is.

    And if all of that isn’t enough to fill you with menschy feelings, there’s the tragic story of another of Gordon’s clients, Teddy Pendergrass, whose career was derailed by the car wreck that left him paralyzed from the waist down. It was Gordon who delivered the paralysis news to Pendergrass in the hospital and was key in getting him back on stage years later, even personally rolling Pendergrass out on the stage in his wheelchair despite his protestations of stage fright. Admirable, no? Of course it’s also Gordon who suggests that Pendergrass’s car crash was simply karma for his having earlier unjustifiably canceled a concert that a lot of decent, hard-working people had paid their good money for. Supermensch, indeed!

    Rating: 6/10

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