Mayor of the Sunset Strip

written and directed by George Hickenlooper

starring Rodney Bingenheimer and about a million rock stars


review by Stephen Notley

Rodney Bingenheimer isn't famous, except to famous people. Famous people, they love him, they flock to him, Bowie, Jagger, Brian Wilson, McCartney, Cher, Gilligan, Hendrix, everybody who's *anybody* knows Rodney. This whole movie is about how all these people *we've* heard of think *he's* just the cat's pajamas.

It's a little odd, considering the kind of guy he is, short, unattractive, with a spadelike nose and a timid, hesitant voice. He smiles but he doesn't seem particularly charismatic or funny or talented. He answers questions with simple declarations. He rarely says anything very interesting, even as he's poking around his room pointing out mementoes like Elvis Presley's driver's license or a photo of him with Jodi Foster.

It's bizarre; it's like we're watching a movie about a shleppy guy who found a genie or a magic shoe and his wish was "I wanna be friends with all the famous people!" and poof! it was so. Nothing about him changed to make him into the kind of energetic, creative, talented, successful person he wanted to be around, but somehow he became the guy who knew all of them and so that became his thing, what he had to offer.

He had an odd start, Rodney, abandoned by his autograph-hounding mother in Hollywood when he was eight. Quiet kid, read a lot of TV Guide and music magazines. And then he got his big break -- he got to be Davy Jones's stand-in. Oh yeah, *the* Davy Jones, from the Monkees. That was big, and from there his sexual stock skyrocketed as he hooked into the groupie/hipster scene taking shape in L.A. at the time.

And as it turned out he did have a talent, the talent of taste, and a genuine abiding love of music. He eventually became a DJ at L.A.'s KROQ and was the first in L.A to play people like David Bowie, The Ramones, Nirvana and the Sex Pistols. So a lot of people owe big chunks of their careers to him, and everyone loves him. Alice Cooper, Courtney Love, Brooke Shields, Ray Manzarek, they line up around the block for their chance to talk about how famous he is, how much action he got back in the day, who he knew, hipster, hipster, hipster until you kinda can't take it anymore.

At the same time, the movie draws the sharp and painful distinction between being beloved and being loved. Everybody loves him, everybody has good things to say about him, everybody wants to be his friend, yet he's alone. Rock starlets hug him and kiss him on the cheek, but he's got no girlfriend. He loves his friend Camille and they're "great friends" but, yknow, she's kinda seeing someone, uncomfortable shrug. And he misses his Mom a lot, eventually taking a solitary trip to England to dump her ashes in the sea.

There's a strange moment late in the film, though, when Rodney ducks behind a stage door to have an argument with a friend, pushing the camera out of the way and slamming the door shut. The camera peeks in again a few moments later and there's Rodney, his back to us, tearing a strip off this guy, "You're totally being me! You're always copying me!", stomping off and giving a quick finger and "Fuck you" to the camera. What the hell? Who's *this* guy? He's nothing at all like the quiet, nervously smiling dude we've seen him be for the rest of the movie; it's a strange glimpse into a facet of his personality of which we otherwise had no hint.

This movie is hipsterism in all its faces, the back-clapping bonhomie, the name-dropping, the status games, the slick and pointless power of fame. Rodney seems like a nice enough guy, certainly all these famous folks adore the poo out of him, but I never found myself thinking man, I wish he could be *my* friend! In fact, at 98 minutes I'd had plenty of Rodney, and since there wasn't much chance he was gonna introduce me to Jennifer Love Hewitt after the show I kinda wondered whether the time I'd spent with him had been worth it.

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