Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

Shep Gordon is the guy in the top left in the Hawaiian shirt

Shep Gordon is the guy in the top left in the Hawaiian shirt

Supermensch is a 2013 documentary about Shep Gordon. In case  you haven't heard of Shep - and you probably haven't - his main claim to fame is probably the fact he managed Alice Cooper at the height of his stardom, but that happened completely by accident. In the sixties Shep was a small time pot dealer who happened to occasionally do business with Jimi Hendrix, and one day Hendrix off handedly suggested to Shep that he should think about managing a skinny weirdo who had just arrived in L.A. with his band in tow. Shep decided to do it mostly so he could have an explanation for where he got his income for his taxes, and within a decade Cooper was selling out stadiums worldwide, due in large part to Shep's canny marketing ideas.

However, while Shep is most closely associated with Cooper, his influence in the music business goes much deeper than that, because he steered the careers of other multi-platnum artists like Teddy Pendergrass, too. (Also, apparently he managed Pink Floyd for nine days.) But music is only the tip of the iceberg: in the 80s he ran a movie production company that made at least one Oscar winning movie, he became a high profile activist for Tibetan causes after he met the Dalai Lama, and he also claims to have invented the modern celebrity chef.

Shep is the sort of outsize personality who seems to know everyone. He's the sort of of guy who can throw a party where A-listers like Clint Eastwood mingle with Some-sort-of-listers like Tom Arnold (pictured above). Supermensch is packed with testimonials from personalities as diverse as Emeril, Michael Douglas and Steven Tyler, and if you know that it was directed by Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers) those interviews seem even weirder. There's some basic level where the idea of Austin Powers asking the guy from Aerosmith to tell anecdotes about a mostly anonymous schlub named Shep just seems crazy - it's a total inversion of typical celebrity protocol. But then again, it's fitting, because it doesn't sound like Shep's life has ever been that logical. 

Apparently Shep Gordon shared a cat for awhile with his neighbor Cary Grant?

Apparently Shep Gordon shared a cat for awhile with his neighbor Cary Grant?

Unfortunately, while that sort of crazy life is perfect fodder for a documentary, it presents major structural challenges to the documentarian who is trying to tell the story, and I don't think Myers was really up to the task. If you're going to make a movie about someone who has led such a diverse life then you have to have a game plan going in. Is the story going to be told only from one (probably biased) perspective, or is it going to be told through multiple interviews edited together to make one consistent timeline, or is it going to be a dialogue between opposing sides? Is the purpose to entertain or to inform? Is this person notable because they're fun or because they're important or both?

Mike Myers is an enthusiastic director, and he made a charming movie, but it's kind of a shambles because he didn't make the decisions that a good director has to make. There are long stretches of the movie where Shep is the only narrator, so the random celebrity interviews sometimes feel intrusive. Even worse, the interviews are often poorly chosen - I think the point of them was to put Shep's achievements into context, but many of the talking heads are on different pages, where some of them are telling funny stories and others are being earnest.

Which brings me to another problem: the tone is all over the place, since much of the movie's run time is devoted to raunchy rock star stories, but then it wants to end on a sad note because Shep Gordon was so busy playing the field that he never found true love. But then again it doesn't really want to end on a down note because Shep is still very rich and still spends every day living in a palatial beach front house in Hawaii and that helps him find some level of peace. And also, while he might not have found true love, he did get to date Sharon Stone at the height of her sex appeal despite being a generic looking middle aged bald dude, so you can't feel too bad for him. (This guys life really was kind of crazy.)

Still, it's hard to get too mad at Supermensch. It can be a bit frustrating, and you can easily see how amateur decisions lessened the movie's impact, but Shep Gordon has such a wealth of good stories that the movie never drags. Sure, some stretches are insufferably starfucker-y, but then again you do have to admit that Shep does know some really fuckable stars. Supermensch might not be great cinema, but it would be a lovely discovery if you happened to stumble upon it while you were flipping through cable. Which actually means that it might be the perfect way to honor Shep, who after all only stumbled into his own lovely life by accident.

Winner: Me

Supermensch on IMDB