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2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Mayor of the Sunset Strip
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by Erik Childress

"Never Make Friends With The Rock Stars"
4 stars

“The only true currency that matters in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone when you’re uncool.” So said Cameron Crowe by way of Lester Bangs in his ode to rock ‘n’ roll journalism, Almost Famous. The story of Rodney Bingenheimer shares a similar sentiment within the world of the music industry. Here’s a rock DJ, complimented with being the first to play some of the hottest stars on the rock scene, is known by name and has lived a life that several people would envy. People, of course, who have devoted their life to chasing celebrities and collecting memorabilia.

The way it all begins in the present, Rodney’s world appears to have it all. He’s had a long-running radio show in California, gets a great ovation as he appears on stage to introduce another hot band and is welcomed backstage by the likes of David Bowie, Cher and No Doubt. But filmmaker George Hickenlooper will slowly introduce doubt into our perception of what Bingenheimer has actually accomplished. Has it been a life well spent?

Rodney’s apartment is the music equivalent of a Trekkie. Not a centimeter of paint can be seen on the walls covered with pictures, autographs and even Elvis’ driving permit. The cameras trying to maneuver through the mess catch even Rodney knocking stuff over just trying to get to the next room. His mother was an interview hound and her influence clearly has been passed down. She even abandoned him at the front of Connie Stevens’ home since she was the one her son had the greatest crush on.

Babes soon wouldn’t be a problem for Rodney though after ingratiating himself into the celebrity scene. A gig as Davy Jones’ stunt double on The Monkees certainly didn’t hurt his babe stock. Rodney truly is the Zelig of groupies, appearing in all sorts of photographs and old video clips with musicians over the years. His moptop Warhol-ian appearance just screams “geek” to the world, but we all know that looking good means almost nothing in this industry. Especially when you have access to the stars. Hey, if you can’t shag Jagger, you might as well shag the guy who stands next to him. Robert Plant attests that Rodney got more women then he did.

We get to hear an amazing collection of personal tales, both with affection and more than a few mocking jabs at the guy. Rodney’s motives may be deeply personal for rubbing elbows. The guy in school who used to get beat up regularly is now nearly as popular in this cultural subsection as the acts he covers. There’s also a genuine appreciation of the music and a willingness to help struggling groups obtain the notoriety that he feels they deserve. Rodney is very much like Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane, the “band-aid” who was there for the music but certainly didn’t mind a backstage shag now and then. Crowe’s inspiration for Penny Lane, Pamela Des Barres, is on hand to offer insight about Rodney that usually ends with a laugh with hubby Michael. Ring! Ring! Hello kettle, you’re black!

The further we go down this road with Rodney though, the more we discover that his life, like the allure of celebrity, is mostly an illusion. Interviews with the celebrities aren’t exactly one-on-one when its revealed that Rodney is sitting next to them. His radio show is hardly drive-time. Quite telling is how one of the only pictures his family has of Rodney without a celebrity is with the Easter Bunny. Mayor of the Sunset Strip is a great journey through the decline of an industry and how someone like Rodney who loves it so much and has used his entire life to support it is nearly forgotten about. Hickenlooper overplays some of his points and seems so torn by what to think of this man that he even asks his subject if he wants (or thinks) the film should have a happy or sad ending. Rodney was the Harry Knowles of his day, except far more respectable. You can judge for yourself as you wonder if you would rather trade your life for his. Especially now.

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originally posted: 04/07/04 03:18:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/19/08 glenn b i did not know who this man was but i enjoyed the movie 4 stars
3/16/06 tatum The film's worship of this loser is lost on me 2 stars
10/28/05 Ronald Vaughan I'm in Mayor of the Sunset Strip. 4 stars
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  26-Mar-2004 (R)



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