Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Movie Review: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Directed by: Mike Myers.

There are a number of different kind of “typical” documentaries – there is the issue driven docs like An Inconvenient Truth, or political ones like the work of Michael Moore, there is the crime driven documentaries, that look at a single crime, and the inspiration documentary – about people overcoming adversity. Then there’s the documentary as biography – which mostly falls into two categories – those who want to tear down their subject, and the ones that want to glamorize them. Mike Myers’ debut film as a director, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, is definitely one of these. It recounts the life and career as Shep Gordon, one of those people who pull the strings behind the scenes in the entertainment business that most people have probably never heard of. He was a music manager – helping to kick start the career of Alice Cooper, and then branching out to everyone from Anne Murray to Teddy Pendergrass to Luther Vandross and many others. He helped break the racist “chitlin” circuit, which didn’t pay black artist for their work. He eventually branched out into movies – representing actors and others. He helped to create the idea of the “celebrity chef” helping Emeril Lagasse and others build their empires. During the 1970s, he took a lot of drugs, and slept with a lot of women. He continued with the women, but eventually slowed down on the drugs. He’s one of these guys who “knows” everyone – and everyone seems to love him. He’s loyal – he’ll do anything for his friends, and that’s pretty much everyone. Now that he’s getting older however, he wonders if perhaps he didn’t make some mistakes – namely that he never had a family of his own. He was so concerned with everyone else, he didn’t do enough for himself.

Myers clearly loves Gordon. The film is a glowing portrait of the man, who holds court for much of the documentary, telling his glory days stories with the skill of a natural storyteller. And they are great stories to be sure – mostly happy, but some sad. Myers has interviews with many of Gordon’s clients and friends – and none of them have a bad word to say about the man. They love him.

I suspect that someone who wasn’t quite as emotionally invested – or as close to Gordon – could probably make a better movie about the man. And it may well be somewhat darker. As is often the case in these glowing portraits, there’s always a line or two that sneaks into the movie that make me wonder what we’re not being told. Such is the case in this film, when one of the children of a former girlfriend’s daughter – who Gordon was once close with – and who, after she died at a young age, helped to take care of for decades says of Gordon after a health scare “I finally have a great relationship with this man…” – which struck me as odd, since she had known Gordon for decades by this point, and the movie paints their relationship as nothing but rosy. But what’s with that “finally” in there?

Still, I understand that what Myers is trying to do is showing the audience the Shep Gordon that he knows and loves – and means so much to so many people. It’s a glowing portrait from beginning to end, tinged with a little bit of sadness, as Gordon recounts some (but not all) of his failed relationships that didn’t end in the family that he wanted them to. It’s an entertaining little documentary – fun for the most of its running time. It’s not a deep film, but it’s not reaching for depth. It’s a fine little documentary – nothing more, nothing less.

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