Alcohol addiction, Biography, Bob Ezrin, Dennis Dunaway, Documentary, Drug addiction, Glen Buxton, I'm Eighteen, Michael Bruce, Neal Smith, Reginald Harkema, Review, Rock music, Sam Dunn, School's Out, Scot McFadyen, The Earwigs, The Spiders
D: Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen, Sam Dunn / 98m
Alice Cooper, Shep Gordon, Dennis Dunaway, Bob Ezrin, Sheryl Cooper, Neal Smith, Bernie Taupin, Elton John, Dee Snider, Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Ella Furnier
Charting the life of Alice Cooper from his pre-teen days growing up in Detroit to his comeback gig on October 31st 1986 – after five years of dealing with drug and alcohol addictions – Super Duper Alice Cooper is a respectful, non-critical look back over the early successes and later disasters of a career spanning nearly fifty years (although the movie doesn’t venture beyond Alice’s comeback gig).
As a child, Cooper – then known by his real name of Vincent Furnier – suffered from asthma and often needed an inhaler. On his doctor’s advice, he and his family moved to Phoenix. (The change of scenery, though, didn’t prevent a bad case of appendicitis that nearly killed him.) In high school, Cooper met Dennis Dunaway; they had a shared interest in art, and soon became best friends. When their high school put on a talent show they decided to form a band called the Earwigs and play songs by the Beatles. They enlisted Glen Buxton to play guitar and they were a surprise success (even though Cooper and Dunaway didn’t really know what they were doing).
Landing a regular gig at a local “rock ‘n’ roll teenage dance club”, the band changed its name to the Spiders, and began expanding their repertoire to include songs by the Yardbirds and others (at one point they even opened for the Yardbirds). Moving to Los Angeles in 1967 in an attempt to make it big, the band fell in with the GTO’s, über-groupies who lived in the basement of a log cabin owned by Frank Zappa. Through the GTO’s, they created a new look for themselves and changed the band’s name to Alice Cooper. They enlisted Shep Gordon as their manager and Zappa produced what was to be their first album.
Unable to make much headway in L.A., the band landed a festival gig in Detroit that saw them finally find their audience. At another festival in Toronto a now infamous incident involving a chicken saw their stock rise that much higher. But without any hit records, they were unable to capitalise on their new-found fame, until Gordon met with, and persuaded, Bob Ezrin to work with them. Soon, they had a big hit with a song called I’m Eighteen, and the band was on its way to super-stardom. A string of hit albums and ever more outrageous stage shows followed, but with it came a dissatisfaction amongst the rest of the band that led to Cooper going solo in 1975.
At the same time, Cooper’s drinking was beginning to get out of hand. As he pursued his solo career, a spell in rehab led to a brief resurgence in his career – which wasn’t proving as successful as when Alice Cooper was a band – but he soon swapped alcohol for drugs. From the late Seventies through to the early Eighties, Cooper’s deteriorating health and appearance led to a series of albums that Cooper can’t even remember recording. Finally, he went back into rehab, and in 1986 made a successful return to the music scene with a new album, Constrictor, and a concert tour that reminded everyone of what a prodigious talent he was (and continues to be).
Flirting with hagiography at times, Super Duper Alice Cooper is a biography that has the full support of Alice Cooper and pretty much everyone he wants the viewer to hear from (except, of course, Michael Bruce). While Cooper is open about his drug and alcohol addictions, it shouldn’t come as a surprise as he’s gone on the record about them on several occasions – and in more ways than one: listen to From the Inside if you need to know more. What’s left is a collection of nostalgic reminiscences about the early days of Cooper’s career when he was still more Vincent Furnier than Alice Cooper.
The inevitable transformation from tee-total pastor’s son to booze-addled rock star is shown as an unavoidable side effect of rock and roll, and while we all might buy into that on some level, the movie’s real focus is on the good times had by all; even the infamous concert in Toronto when Alice threw a live chicken into the audience is treated like it was an awesome moment, though not one that was “healthy for the chicken”. The band’s on-stage antics, some of which look very bizarre and unrelated to the music being played, appear to have been thought up (or more likely improvised) more for effect than any real “let’s-put-on-a-show-and-wow-the-audience” approach. It does make the viewer wonder how on earth the band became such a success.
But while the very early days are treated with a detailed and cheerily nostalgic air, as the band becomes famous the movie moves away from anecdotes about the group and, as happened in real life back in the early Seventies, the focus becomes Cooper himself: his fame, his solo career, and his eventual bouts of alcohol and drug dependency. The break up of the band is glossed over for the most part, and while Dunaway gets to express his disappointment at the end of his friendship with Cooper, it’s a rare moment where criticism is allowed to be heard. Otherwise, unless it comes from Cooper himself – and even he isn’t that self-critical – there’s not a dissenting voice to be heard to provide some balance.
It’s a shame as Cooper’s career has always been varied, both professionally and personally, with as many ups as downs, but throughout there has been a commitment to the music that has kept him going. The movie touches on this on occasion, but seems determined to spend more time relaying as many showbiz anecdotes or celebrity encounters as it can possibly squeeze in.
The look of the movie is very stylised with an impressive amount of archival and contemporary footage mixed together with a great deal of pizzazz, along with attention-grabbing graphics, overlays and 3D effects. Images are tweaked and adjusted and manipulated in so many different ways it becomes distracting, and the decision to employ voice overs rather than talking heads is a mistake as it makes it difficult sometimes to work out who’s saying what. And then there’s the inclusion – the very repetitive and oversold inclusion – of scenes from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), which are there to highlight the fact that off-stage, Cooper is a million miles from the twisted, macabre dilettante he plays on-stage (after the umpteenth clip you’ll want to raise your fist and yell, “Enough already! I get it!”).
Rating: 5/10 – visually engaging, and with a predictably great soundtrack, Super Duper Alice Cooper peeks under the lid of Cooper’s career but only tells the viewer half of what it sees; there’s a lot more to Cooper’s career than is revealed here, and the lack of balance leaves it feeling more like a Cooper-sanctioned vanity project than the warts ‘n’ all documentary some viewers might be expecting.