I’ve heard the “Rodney on the ROQ” radio show live maybe two or three times ever, but if you’re even a little bit interested in LA punk days of yore – or hey, in LA glitter days of yore – you know who RODNEY BIGENHEIMER is. It always seemed to go without saying that Rodney was best – the best – at getting his picture taken with famous people, with his ability to drum up support for mediocre sugar pop or punk-lite bands a close second. Honestly, outside of the over-the-top belittling he took from the Angry Samoans in their song “Get Off The Air” (featuring the first-rate lyric “Glitter bands, and Bowie’s cock/Are his idea of new wave rock”) and that incredible I’ll-never-grow-up haircut of his, I’ve barely given him a second thought. He’s never done a thing to get me worked up pro or con. After watching this documentary on him, though, I feel like buying him a beer and personally apologizing to him for the hatchet job the filmmakers did on him.
This recent documentary, which held out the (delivered) promise of including a ton of great 1960s-70s photos and footage from underground & overground popular culture, has an agenda of laying waste to Bigenheimer by juxtaposing his supposedly fabulous life among the tinseltown glitterati with his own, somewhat painful family history. It’s obvious very early on that Rodney doesn’t really know how to conduct himself in this documentary, so he just sort of trails along as the filmmakers plop him into one uncomfortable situation after another. This includes getting the girl he’s crazy about to admit she has another boyfriend in front of Rodney; forcing his clueless Dad and stepmom to search for the one or two childhood photos of Rodney they’ve retained, trailing him around his squalid apartment as they subtly mock his lack of money, and so on. Rodney, who possesses very little of the smarts that might have gotten him out of this mess, just lets the camera roll and tries to nice-guy the filmmakers into liking him, as I imagine he’s nice-guyed many a star over the years. They don’t – they loathe him, just as they loathe anyone who might have a few demons they’re unwilling to confront. They also employ the most tired trick in the book – contrasting the LA of parties and sex and booze with the LA where people actually have to polish the sidewalk stars on Hollywood Boulevard or who might be too wasted or broke to sleep in a house or motel for the night. Can you believe it? Beneath the glitter and the tinsel there’s a whole ‘nother Los Angeles!!
It’s a documentary that might have been all right at a big-city film festival, where you know most of the films will be duds & you’re willing to forgive the young filmmakers their trespasses – you just want to be out & seeing something that’ll never hit the Cineplex. But beyond that, no way. It’s amateur hour as the film’s story halts and starts and halts again, with long stretches of incoherence that cries for an editor or some adult supervision. What does it have to do with rock and roll, you ask? Well, beyond the nominal subject matter, “The Mayor of the Sunset Strip” does have interviews with some self-aggrandizing people you love to hate like Courtney Love (who of course bring the subject matter back to herself almost every question) and Ray Manzarek. There’s also great footage from Rodney’s 1970s glam club “Rodney’s English Disco”, including a preening David Johanssen and a nubile MacKenzie Phillips, as well as weird interviews with members of groupie club The GTOs. Oh yeah, and KIM FOWLEY is all over this thing – there were times when I thought the film was going to veer off and become a documentary on him, something I’d definitely like to see if someone can brave it. There’s no doubt the ribald, quick-witted and quite possibly insane Fowley would have held his own against these mean-spirited charlatans far better than Rodney Bigenheimer did.