MAYOR OF the SUNSET STRIP directed and written by George Hickenlooper, produced by Chris Carter, Greg Little and Tommy Perna, with Rodney Bingenheimer, David Bowie, Cher, Liam Gallagher, Gwen Stefani, Brian Wilson and others. 94 minutes. Caldera Productions. Screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, September 5, 6 pm, at the Uptown 2; September 7, 10:30 am, at the Cumberland 2. Rating: NNNNN
Featuring a non-stop parade of a- list music celebs - Brian Wilson, Cher, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Chris Martin, Courtney Love and many others - Mayor Of The Sunset Strip doesn't suffer from a lack of star power. In fact, probably the least-known famous person in George Hickenlooper's intriguing documentary probe into the surreal life of influential Los Angeles rock jock Rodney Bingenheimer is Bingenheimer himself.
Equal parts Andy Warhol, John Peel and Peter Pan, Bingenheimer helped create the concept of "alternative music" by consistently breaking new acts on his long-running show at L.A.'s tastemaking radio station KROQ faster than major labels could sign them.
Hickenlooper uses a combination of rock star testimonials, vintage film clips and stills to show that Bingenheimer has been a key player in the rock 'n' roll fame game since the late 60s.
While the stars take turns thanking Bingenheimer for their notoriety, the film shows how little the soft-spoken radio host has profited from his 25 years of star-making.
He lives alone in a cramped bungalow. Despite all his famous acquaintances, we're left with the unsettling feeling that Bingenheimer hasn't got any true friends and is the only one who doesn't know it.
This wasn't the sort of troubling exposé that Bingenheimer envisioned when co-producer Chris Carter, whose former band Dramarama benefited greatly from Bingenheimer's patronage, floated the idea his way.
"I thought the film was going to focus more on the bands I discovered and the music I play on my show," insists Bingenheimer from his Los Angeles home. "The director made the film the way he wanted to do it. I wasn't allowed to see any of the footage while the film was being made until after it was completed, and I didn't have final approval on what was done."
Hickenlooper shot over 180 hours of raw footage that had to be sifted through and then edited into the breezy 94-minute version that's being shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Some of the most entertaining moments are the neatly spliced Zelig-like sequences that have Bingenheimer popping up at unlikely points in music history. There's Bingenheimer next to John Lennon onstage in Toronto, hanging with the Beach Boys, miming onstage with Blondie or acting as Davy Jones's twin brother in an episode of the Monkees TV series.
There would've been more interview footage if Bingenheimer had had his way.
"There was lot of stuff left out, and I'm bummed out about that. Many of the interviews with the newer bands like the Vines and Donnas didn't make it.
"And it would've been good to have more of people like Brian Wilson telling stories. There's a good one about me being at the studio during the Smile sessions. Hopefully, that stuff will be on the DVD."
At times, Hickenlooper's digging into Bingenheimer's relationship with his parents gets uncomfortable, particularly when we're made aware that the film is being shot while the DJ is grieving the loss of his mother.
Too bad Hickenlooper didn't delve deeper into how Bingenheimer's role at KROQ is being marginalized. That would have been a way of confronting the larger issue of corporate control of the airwaves and the Clear Channel-ization of the music industry.
Bingenheimer is the last of a dying breed of DJs who still program their own shows based on personal taste. Will Mayor Of The Sunset Strip change his life?
"I dunno. Maybe more people will send me their CDs to play. You know, I'm the only person at KROQ who still plays CDs. Everything else is computerized.
"I don't even own a computer."