TIFF 2013 REVIEW: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about the behind-the-scenes culture of the music industry. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that my first time hearing about Shep Gordon was from the title of a new documentary, the directorial debut of Mike Myers (better known as Austin Powers and the voice of Shrek).
I was happy to find, though, that there’s a lot worth knowing about Gordon, a man who has had a prolific career as the manager of acts like Alice Cooper, Blondie, Anne Murray, Pink Floyd, and Terry Pendergrass. On the side, Gordon is credited with basically inventing the celebrity chef industry, and befriending some of the most powerful and famous people in the world.
Myers’ film Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon nimbly condenses Gordon’s decades-long career as a manager and music industry insider into 84 minutes, and more importantly, helps us understand who Gordon is – someone who has guided the lives of stars, and yet feels that his own life fell by the wayside. The film becomes a striking commentary on the effects of fame, and offers a sobering lesson for anyone considering a career in show business.
At first, Supermensch encourages us to believe in the mythology of Shep Gordon. In a chapter covering Gordon’s time at the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles, we see a version of Gordon who’s awash in the drug- and booze-fueled culture of the music scene in the late 60s and early 70s. For a time, he books new clients almost on a whim. But soon a lifelong partnership forms with Alice Cooper, who Gordon morphs into an icon of teenage rebellion through a hilarious series of failed concerts and media manipulation.
Gordon’s willingness to do anything for his clients proves to be one of the keys to his success. Cooper credits Gordon with throwing the infamous live chicken onto the stage at one of Cooper’s breakout concerts in Toronto – the chicken that ended up being torn to pieces by the crowd and contributed to Cooper’s reputation as a bloodthirsty shock rocker. Myers then shows off his comic timing by cutting to Gordon and Cooper today (with a lot more grey hair and wrinkles), as they wander around playing golf – a funny reminder that even rebels get old.
As the film continues, and as Gordon’s list of clients and his personal fortune grow larger, we might expect to become jealous of Gordon, or to see him transform into an anti-hero of sorts – the powerful music tycoon who can get you into or out of anything.
Thankfully, Myers is not afraid to show us the times when Gordon feels powerless. We’re told how Gordon constantly regrets not having children – he finds a disadvantaged family to sponsor on the East Coast, but Gordon’s desire to expand his own family still dogs him. Gordon’s struggle is put in a painful perspective when he falls ill, and his assistant relates how sad Gordon looked when he woke up after his surgery to find his employee at his bedside, instead of a family member.
The film itself is an eclectic mix of on-camera interviews, archival footage, animation and even a few re-enactments with lookalikes. In one scene, where Gordon talks about an early incident of the cops being called because Gordon couldn’t pay his hotel bill, Myers uses an action sequence of a police car chase from a classic film to illustrate the story. In another scene, actors wearing afro wigs recreate the time Gordon convinced Terry Pendergrass to hire him - by proving that Gordon could consume far more drugs and alcohol than Pendergrass without blacking out.
As a first-time director, Myers proves that he has the ability to tell stories both on camera and behind it. It’s also clear that he’s used his own star power to book some fairly high-profile interviews: Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Emeril Lagasse, Willie Nelson and many more appear at length in the film. Along with Gordon’s own thorough involvement in the film, the interviews lend the film some significant credibility (even if some decidedly salacious stories were cut due to legal reasons).
Given the expanse of Gordon’s career and the fact that many in the audience may have never heard of him (there’s no Wikipedia page for the guy!), Myers’ documentary finds the right mix of heart and devilish fun without overloading the viewer with information. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon gets three and a half stars out of four.
Note: Supermensch just had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend, so if you got a chance to see it, let me know what you thought in the comments section! And since it may not get theatrical release, let me know below what other films you’re excited for that are coming out of TIFF 2013!
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