Monday, November 14, 2005

Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

The author of this review considers rock music to be one of the most overrated cultural achievements of 20th Century. So many "important" names and pieces of rock music didn't withstand the test of time and the phrase "rock star" is often associated with the transience. The transience and the fact that the glitz and glamour of rock music is often nothing more than facade for emptiness is the subject of MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP, 2003 documentary film directed by George Hickenlooper.

The film, however, doesn't deal with rock musicians or rock music directly. Its protagonist is Rodney Bingenheimer, Los Angeles disc jockey on radio station KROQ. By regular standards, Bingenheimer appears to be one of the important people in rock music industry - many important rock artists, especially those from Britain, made the break into American pop and rock charts only after being endorsed by Bingenheimer through his show. The film, however, shows quiet, short, mild-mannered man who drives old car and lives in relatively small apartment, far from the luxury and glamour associated with rock deities. The film confronts this prosaic reality with golden age of 1960s rock'n'roll when young Rodney evolved from over-ambitious fame-seeker into everyone's best friend, earned prestigious title of "Mayor of Sunset Strip" and enjoyed the very lifestyle enjoyed by rock legends.

The movie is divided into two parts. The first part tells the story of Rodney's rise to his status and gives nostalgic depiction of early years of modern rock music when people with no obvious talents like Rodney could enjoy stars' lifestyle simply by being stars' friend. Many important musicians like David Bowie, Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Debbie Harry or Mick Jagger use opportunity to tell all the best things about Rodney. The second part, which deals with present, is much darker. Relationship between young Bingenheimer and his star friends in 1960s is reflected in the relationship between old Bingenheimer and aspiring yet obviously untalented homeless musician whose bills Bingenheimer pays only to keep him from streets. In the second part Bingenheimer's private life is also explored which leads to two heart-breaking scenes.

Those scenes and the early documentary footage in the film is impressive, but MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP fails to build them into coherent narrative. The film lacks the proper theme and Bingenheimer, regardless of how interesting his life might look, is hardly embodiment of certain issues or cultural trends Hickenlooper was supposed to explore. There are some bits of pieces about importance of fame in modern society - mostly in the form of brief interviews - but the film actually fails to tell how exactly Bingeheimer relates to hype machines of today or how he related to hype machines of the past. It appears that Hickenlooper, despite his intent to document the prosaic reality between rock history, is too much in awe of subject matter. The result is occasionally powerful film that often looks not that different from the which is every day aired on MTV or VH1. MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP could be recommended only to the big fans of Los Angeles rock music scene.

RATING: 5/10 (++)


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