by Heath Holland
I won’t bury the lede: Super Duper Alice Cooper is the best rock and roll documentary to come along in ages. It does things I’ve never seen any other rock-doc attempt and isn’t afraid to step outside of the traditional music biography box. The film comes from Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden, the team (director and producer, respectively) behind Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Iron Maiden: Flight 666, and VH1’s 11-part Metal Evolution series, and from Reginald Harkema, who might most be recognized as the director of the Sean William Scott hockey movie Goon.
I mentioned that the documentary does things that I’ve never seen before. One of these things is never once showing a single talking head. There are tons of new interviews recorded exclusively for this film, yet not a single frame of any of these interviews is visually shown. Rather, the filmmakers have chosen to roll those interviews under archival footage and photographs (many of which are given incredible depth using what appears to be 3D technology; we literally travel INTO the old photographs), something that gives the film a sense of immediacy. The handy and informative booklet that came with the Blu-ray disc explains that this was done to prevent the film from having the “back in my day” effect that many documentaries about older stars seem to share. Far from being confusing, this decision to keep the interviews to audio-only has the effect of making the viewer a fly on the wall. You always know who is speaking and it makes the film MOVE without ever once showing anyone as they appear now.
The filmmakers take us from Detroit to Phoenix, to Los Angeles and then back again. Along the way we watch as Cooper goes from playing in a Beatles cover band called The Earwigs during high school to opening for John Lennon at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival just a few years later, meeting Salvador Dali and KFC founder Colonel Sanders, and eventually becoming a media darling on The Johnny Carson show.
I’ve seen a lot of Alice Cooper footage and even read his out-of-print 1976 autobiography, Me, Alice, yet I’ve still never seen (well, heard) Cooper be so unguarded and frank about the more personal struggles in his life, particularly his faith (he’s the son of a preacher who believes God saved his life on two occasions) and his demons. That handy booklet (it’s such a great bonus!) explains that the filmmakers pushed the interviews into territory that hadn’t really been covered before, especially pertaining to Alice’s late ‘70s and early ‘80’s cocaine addiction, which apparently Elton John’s frequent songwriting partner Bernie Taupin still feels responsible for (Taupin is the one who introduced Cooper to the white lady).
As appreciative as I am for what’s here, I’m more appreciative of what’s NOT here. There aren’t really any celebrities in the film who have no immediate connection to Cooper’s career during those early years (I’m looking at you, Johnny Depp) or speaking of his impact on pop culture. There are no friends of friends, no jilted club owners, and no concert promoters. Virtually everyone who appears has some immediate connection to Alice Cooper and the music scene of the ‘60s or ‘70s. These are the people who had boots on the ground. These are the musicians who were there in the eye of the storm when it was all happening.
The themes of the film are the same themes of the classic horror movies that the documentary so deftly incorporates into the narrative. This is largely the story of a good man coming to terms with the darkness within him and the struggle to keep that darkness (which leads him to unparalleled heights and achievements) from consuming him. We follow Cooper through his alcohol and cocaine addiction, rehabilitations, and his lost creative years where nothing seemed to be working anymore. If the film takes a few expected turns and relies on clichés for narrative impact, the viewer can still take comfort in the fact that this is a story that needs few embellishments. This is the tale of a man who truly courted death for many years. The drama doesn’t need to be forced for impact; it’s already there.
And true to rock and roll providence, in 1986 the persona of Alice Cooper turned eighteen.