Movies We Like
Super Duper Alice Cooper
Finally a quintessential documentary on Alice Cooper, rock’s original shock master, titled appropriately enough, Super Duper Alice Cooper. Unlike the usual quickie music doc (Behind The Music, etc.), this is a film edited with style and a totally engaging visual flare similar to the wonderful Robert Evans doc The Kid Stays in the Picture, with those three-dimensional cut outs and old-timey film footage mixed in to help tell the story. And Cooper himself, an engaging story teller, narrates. Of course I’m the target audience; I had a couple of his records as a kid, I went to an Alice Cooper concert in Detroit when I was in middle school and I have nostalgic pangs that get me a little giddy when I see those '70s clips. But I’m also thrilled to report that I watched this with a woman who was born long after Cooper’s heyday who had little previous knowledge about him or interest, and she thoroughly enjoyed the movie, too. Again, stylishly and narratively it can satisfy the old-school fan and intrigue a newbie.
As told by the film, Cooper’s story is the usual "sickly kid dreams of more and beats the odds" ode. Born Vincent Furnier in Detroit, Cooper’s pastor father and mother moved him out West to Phoenix to help his extreme asthma. He grew up a churchgoing all-American type, but like many kids in the '60s inspired by The Beatles, their music (and spoofing the Fab Four at a school talent show) led to him and his buds forming a band. Even as a bunch of suburban squares they found some success in their hometown under the name The Spiders; later encouraged by a message from a ouija board they changed the name of the band to Alice Cooper (slowly Vincent would actually take on the name himself and later legally change it when he dumped his bandmates) and set out for hippie filled Los Angeles. In California they fell under the tutelage of super weirdo Frank Zappa and became the brother act to his all-girl band The GTO’s. Besides giving pointers on partying, the fashionable ladies also helped them update their look (with thrift store women’s Ice Capades costumes). Though they signed with manager Shep Gordon (a pot dealer, for whom managing music was just a side gig) they didn’t find the success they craved and were even jeered at for their growing onstage theatrics. The band took off for middle America, playing small gigs until they finally settled in Detroit, a working class city that liked to rock and appreciated a hard-hitting band with a strong work ethic. Playing alongside bands like The MC5 and The Stooges, it has been said that this garage rock scene was the beginning of Punk Music (and Johnny Lydon AKA Rotten, adds his voice to the narration later, giving credence to this by admitting what a big influence Cooper was on his band, The Sex Pistols). The Alice Cooper act grew more and more outrageous and when they got to open for John Lennon at a music festival in Toronto, an incident that led to a chicken being murdered made them famous. They eventually broke big with hits “I’m Eighteen and then “School’s Out”, but Cooper fell deeper into a dark hole of alcoholism and celebrity trappings. Finally he dumped his high school pals and went solo, where his shows became a sorta vaudeville horror act, complete with a boa constrictor, a guillotine and dancers. (He married a young pretty one.)
Cooper was everywhere from The Muppet Show to Johnny Carson. He was as addicted to fame as much as he was to whiskey and beer. Life as a constantly drunk rocker came to a boiling point when he finally checked himself into a sanitarium. (Was this before rehab existed?) After he got out, he says he never touched booze again, but he did develop a nasty coke addiction while working with (Elton John’s songwriting partner) Bernie Taupin on his autobiographical sanitarium album From The Inside. This all led to a gradual meltdown and problems with the wife until an eventual full clean up and then an '80s comeback. Now the Coop lives a comfy life as a part-time rocker and golfer and father (though they don’t mention his public move to the right of the political spectrum).
It’s a lot of story to cram into 98 minutes. They don’t even mention him saving the Hollywood sign, acting with Mae West in the movie Sextette, cover his “mellow” hits “I Never Cry” and “You and Me” or mention the band Kiss, whom he obviously influenced. Even a band as dull as The Eagles have that History of the Eagles movie floating around; it’s more than twice as long as Super Duper Alice Cooper. (I’m not a fan of the band, but it’s a pretty fascinating doc). Hell, the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage is at least ten minutes longer and they are completely uninteresting. That’s my one criticism of Super Duper Alice Cooper; it’s so wonderfully entertaining and so well made that I wish there was more (though the DVD has deleted scenes, including a quick explanation of the success of the Billion Dollar Babies album and Cooper's work with Vincent Price). Much of the film seems to be an apology from Cooper for his behavior, or at least a confessional of regret, and that also helps give the story a deepness that is sometimes missing from standard issue music bios. The plethora of photos used in a collage style, along with the before-he-was-a-star footage they’ve gotten their hands on make the viewer feel like some rare treasures are being unearthed (hardcore Cooperites might have seen it all before somewhere, but for the mid-level fan like myself, who has never seen this combination of home movie, concert and backstage all in one sitting, it was the perfect mix). Directors Sam Dunn, Reginald Harkema and Scot McFadyen have a background in mostly straightforward band promo videos and docs (including the aforementioned Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage). I’m not sure if their interests loom beyond headbanging, but they appear to have the chops to move on to other cultural or intellectual subjects. Meanwhile I can easily predict I will be watching Super Duper Alice Cooper many more times in my life. Actually, with all this talk, I’m ready to hit ‘play’ again.