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Fri June 6, 2014
Mike Myers Steps Behind The Camera With 'Supermensch'
Originally published on Fri June 6, 2014 5:55 pm
When you've played Austin Powers, Shrek, The Cat in the Hat and the title dweeb in Wayne's World, what do you do for an encore? If you're comedian Mike Myers, the next logical step, evidently, is to direct a documentary about your agent. And damned if it doesn't turn out to be a decent career move — as smart, and sometimes even as funny, as anything Myers has done recently.
Not that Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is likely to do the kind of business most Myers movies do (might do as well as The Love Guru, I suppose), but it's competent enough to suggest the filmmaker has more arrows in his quiver than "yeah, baby."
He starts the film with five minutes of celebrity testimonials telling you why you should care about this guy you've never heard of — Willie Nelson calling Gordon the "proverbial canary in the marijuana mine," chef Emeril Lagasse saying Gordon invented the concept of celebrity chef, a parade of film stars testifying to his libido (Michael Douglas remembers a T-shirt emblazoned with "No Head, No Backstage Pass").
And then, an obviously hero-worshipping Mike Myers lets the man himself take over — Gordon recounting how in 1968, he arrived in a Los Angeles motel, fresh out of college, with no money, no job, having just dropped some acid, utterly at peace with the world, and got slugged by a gal who later identified herself as Janis Joplin. She introduced him to Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, who suggested that, since he was Jewish, he should become a manager.
"Who should I manage?" wondered Gordon.
"Alice Cooper," came the reply.
At which point, Alice Cooper picks up the story, chortling about the 43 years they've worked together without ever signing a contract, and the schemes they've hatched to turn Cooper into a rock ghoul — the coat made of dead rats, the live chicken tossed into the audience, the clear plastic clothes that made it look like the star was performing naked. Also the hotel bills skipped out on (that Gordon went back and paid, once they were solvent).
Gordon didn't just hang out with rockers. He also became buds with the Dalai Lama, helped rescue Groucho Marx from poverty, shaped movie careers galore, and almost more intriguing than all of that, was never especially enamored of fame. Having seen it close-up — engineered it close-up, in fact — he found it so centrally unhealthy that he introduced a warning ritual into the signing of new artists, saying, "If I do my job right, I'll probably kill you." Fame, the great equalizer.
As a documentary director, Myers has the comic timing to make the celebrity anecdotes click along nicely. He isn't quite as sharp at narrative, so a bit of the oomph goes out of the film when the star wattage dims and he tries to shape the legend of this guy who spends so much time on everyone else, he's not really taking care of himself.
Any slack, though, is picked up by Shep Gordon, who seems every inch the "supermensch" of the title — splendid company, a sterling storyteller, and yeah, a real mensch.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
When you've played Austin Powers, Shrek, the cat in the Cat and Wayne from "Wayne's World," what do you do for an encore? Well, when you're comedian, Mike Myers, you direct a documentary about your agent. Critic, Bob Mondello, says the result, "Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon" is as startling and, sometimes even as funny, as anything Myers has done.
BOB MONDELLO: First, there's five minutes of celebrity testimonials telling you why you should care about Shep Gordon -Willy Nelson, calling him the proverbial canary in the marijuana mind - Chef Emeril Lagasse saying he invented the celebrity chef - parade of film stars testified to his libido. And then, obviously, hero worshiping Mike Myers lets the man himself, Shep Gordon, takeover. Telling, how in 1968, he arrived in the Los Angeles motel, fresh out of college, with no money, no job, having just dropped some acid, utterly at peace with the world.
(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM, "SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON")
SHEP GORDON: And I think I hear and girl being raped around a swimming pool. So I run downstairs, separate these two people, and the girl went crazy and punched me because they were making love. They weren't fighting. I came down in the morning. I could hear that same voice of the girl - 'cause I never saw her that night. She called me over and said, are you the guy I hit last night? I said year she was Janis Joplin. She introduced me to the guy she was sitting with, which was Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix said, are you Jewish? And I said, yeah. He said, you should be a manager. And I said, great. No problem. Who should I manage? Alice Cooper.
MONDELLO: Alice Cooper picks up the story.
ALICE COOPER: So we go over to the Landmark Inn. We open the door to his hotel room and you couldn't see from me to you for smoke. And I don't mean cigarettes.
MONDELLO: The arrangement they forged that day has lasted 43 years, without a contract, through all the schemes that turned Alice Cooper into a rock ghoul - The coat made of dead rats, a live chicken tossed into the audience and a plan Shep Gordon hatched one hot night in Florida.
GORDON: I came up with this ridiculous idea of buying see-through clothes made out of clear plastic, putting Alice on stage, naked basically, and calling the police and getting him arrested for indecent exposure, which we assume would get newspaper coverage.
MONDELLO: So Alice donned the see-through plastic. Gordon called the cops, pretending to be an irate parent, and things did not go as planned.
GORDON: I put the phone down. I hear a siren. And as the police come around, the see-through clothes had fogged up from the heat, and you couldn't see anything. The police came in and looked around, like what, are they crazy, and left. After the show, I said, you know, we just hit that classic moment where we can't get arrested.
MONDELLO: They did later, plenty of times. Gordon didn't just hang out with rockers. He also became buds with the Dalai Lama, helped rescue Groucho Marx from poverty, shaped movie careers galore, and, even almost more intriguing than all of that, was never especially enamored of fame, having seen it close up, engineered a close up, in fact. He found it so centrally unhealthy, that he introduced a warning virtual into the signing of new artists.
GORDON: I would sit them down, take my glasses off, look them in the eyes and say, you need to really listen to me, and listen seriously. This is not a joke. If I do my job perfectly, I will probably kill you.
MONDELLO: Fame, the great equalizer. As a documentary director, Mike Myers has the comic timing to make the celebrity anecdotes click along nicely. He isn't quite as sharp at narrative, so a bit of the oomph goes out of the film when the star wattage dims. And he tries to shape the legend of this guy who spends so much time on everyone else, he's not really taking care of himself. And his slack, though, is picked up by Shep Gordon, who seems every inch the supermensch of the title. Splendid company, a sterling storyteller, and yet, a real mensch. I'm Bob Mondello.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.