George Hickenlooper’s weightless doc Mayor of the Sunset Strip canonizes radio personality Rodney Bingenheimer while trying to illuminate the allure of celebrity in the scenemaker’s friendships with numerous music figures from the last 40 years. Soon after the mousy Bingenheimer was cast as a double for Davy Jones of The Monkees, he made the rounds as a glorified groupie before launching a few careers as a DJ for the popular Los Angeles station KROQ-FM. Ostensibly about our fascination with fame, the film actually has very little to say about the subject that hasn’t been covered a million times on VH1’s “Behind the Music” and “The E! True Hollywood Story.” Hickenlooper repeatedly puts Bingenheimer’s “uncool” father and stepmother on the spot, often making them the butt of visual gags, but if you put the contempt implicit in the film’s montage aside, Hickenlooper suggests that stardom is an unclassifiable attraction. The abstract tone of the documentary seemingly supports this theory but Hickenlooper seems oblivious to it, at times betraying this enigma by forcibly baiting celebrities (specifically Courtney Love) in a deliberate attempt to reduce this allure to that familiar old song: parentless, impoverished and/or abused cripples seeking validation via fame and fortune. Bingenheimer schmoozes with celebrities because he was picked on as a kid and Love wanted to be famous because her father gave her acid when she was four. So what? Hickenlooper has a difficult time correlating Bingenheimer’s personal life with his star-fucking popularity. Bingenheimer is partly to blame: His refusal to open up parallels the unfathomable nature of celebrity, but it doesn’t necessarily explain how his personality attracted the likes of Cher, Brian Wilson, and Debbie Harry. Because Bingenheimer gives Hickenlooper so little to work with, the director has to resort to a roll call of celebrity cameos for filler material. Where’s Rodney, though? In the end, the unexpressive Bingenheimer is nowhere near as interesting as his friends and neighbors.
- George Hickenlooper
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