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Mayor of the Sunset Strip | Review

F*** Me I’m famous

Backstage pass to world famous DJ Rodney on the Roq makes for less-than compelling material.

The man with the cool name who made British music hip in America back in the 60’s and the voice of alternative radio who continues to put bands on the map gets his own red-carpet treatment in director George Hickenlooper’s documentary about the kid who made his way past the velvet rope and into the V.I.P section and stayed there. In his smallish stature and Andy Warhol hairdo, he might not look the part, but Rodney Bingenheimer is a legend in his own right especially when the microphone and questions are pointed towards a collection of close celebrity rock star friends.

Compressed into a classic documentary format of blown-up pictures, newspaper clippings, some childhood super-8 reels and mounds of interviews from people who want to recapture a piece of the glitter from their psychedelic Hollywood pasts, The Mayor of Sunset Strip is a folkloric tale that minces the present day Denny’s kind of man with a collage of scrap-book photo-ops from the King Elvis Presley to everyone’s favorite 15-minutes of fame personality Kato Kaelin. The film delivers a humorous Zelig style showing the odd-looking former Monkee stand-in among the décor of rock and roll history and yet when the camera is focused on the present-day Rodney the nostalgic feeling is hampered by the saddened state of a man who was so popular that when he had a groupie entourage himself.

Unfortunately, as a documentary subject matter, Bingenheimer is not much of a figure to begin with. Like a turtle ducking its head back in every time it senses a tense breeze, he manages to give us full access to his entourage of friends, family and pop-star friends and a great tour of his museum of memorabilia but he shies away from the attention of the camera and dodges an insightful questions that pertain to his own thoughts. During some of the Q and A’s with the film’s central figure it seems as if the interviewer is picking on the interviewee. Hickenlooper tries to make-up for the lack of Rodney, covering one to many angles. The doc investigates Rodney’s past as a lonely child who was the sort of kid who got picked on for being different, Rodney’s issues with his deceased mother, Rodney’s present day relationships and Rodney’s core of true friendships where the subject matters have only nice things to say about the low-key man. There is even one sequence that sees Rodney have a spat with hi long time friend and producer of the film Chris Carter, of course it is dissolved into an abyss of information that gets no double checking. What we miss out on is how he did more than just rub shoulders with the stars, but how Rodney was responsible for launching the musical careers of hundreds of artists due to his love for music and his talent to discover a good drum beat, guitar riff or a funky new sound.

Its hard to be engrossed in the a vacant figure who doesn’t have much to say either he is numbed by years of hard partying or high decibel levels, Hickenlooper manages to stick a fork into him but The Mayor of Sunset Strip fails to capture the magic of the man and instead takes a stab at a guy who has lost much of his stardust and legend. When asked if this is feature is a happy story or sad story, Rodney responds “I hope people like it”. Instead, even if he has all the back stage passes a music fan came dream of, we feel sad for the guy, perhaps not because he only has a 3 hour slot on the radio but because somewhere down the line you wish he could have found a financial advisor. My advice would be for Rodney to check out how much Elvis’ driving license can fetch on eBay.

Rating 1 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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