30 May 2011

Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003)

Rodney Bingenheimer has launched some of the biggest and most influential acts in North America and yet I'd never heard of him until I saw this documentary. Bingenheimer got his start as a publicist for Sonny and Cher in the mid-60s. He used his position to build up a reputation as a super-groupie -- celebrities' go-to-guy in L.A. -- eventually evolving into a star-maker and an authority on the next big thing in music.

Through a nightclub called the English Disco (which he abandoned once disco hit mainstream) and later through his long-running radio show on KROQ, Bingenheimer introduced David Bowie, Blondie, Bow Wow Wow, Nirvana, Oasis and countless others to his followers. His show still runs on KROQ and though it airs in the wee hours between Sunday and Monday (midnight to 3 am) podcasting could allow him to reach out to potential new listeners.

Written and directed by George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl, Hearts of Darkness), Mayor of the Sunset Strip is a biographical documentary of Bingenheimer that illustrates how much influence one music fan could have on the industry in the 70s and 80s and even into the 90s and beyond. The footage was gathered over a span of 6 years and includes interviews with many of the people whose careers Bingenheimer launched plus notable "Rodneyites" from Mackenzie Phillips to Courtenay Love to Kato Kaelin. The film is equal parts a biography of Bingenheimer and of the world of glam rock, punk and alternative rock -- it's perhaps fitting that someone who spent his life on the edge of society immersed himself in the edges of popular music.

What amazes me is that while Bingenheimer has been surrounded by celebrities most of his life, he is neither rich nor famous. He eats at Denny's, drives a classic GTO, and seems to be living his life in his own shadow. There is a palpable sadness to the film as the music scene has become very much a music industry where radio play is increasingly irrelevant. Though he can count many of the biggest names in music among his friends and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one senses that he is on some level utterly alone.


Currently, Mayor of the Sunset Strip is available on YouTube in 7 parts.

05 May 2011

Starter for 10 (2006)

Starter for 10 is a British romantic comedy based on David Nicholls' novel of the same name. It stars James McAvoy as Brian Jackson who has been obsessed with quiz shows his whole life. When he leaves his working class neighbourhood to attend University, he leaps at the chance to join the University Challenge team.

On his first night in town, his new roommates drag him to a "Tarts & Vicars" theme party where he meets Rebecca (Rebecca Hall). Their paths cross again on his way to Challenge try-outs but he almost completely forgets her when Alice (Alice Eve), the clever blonde, catches his eye. From here, the film takes a well-beaten romantic path of falling for the wrong girl even though the right girl is clearly under his nose. However, even in this standard arena, the writing is good enough to rise above the average romcom. While Brian is pursuing Alice he is also in pursuit of general knowledge. His main obstacle to that goal is the petty competitiveness of Patrick Watts (Benedict Cumberbatch), the University Challenge team lead. The audience presumes from the outset that the climax will have to occur at the quiz show and the screenplay does not disappoint on that level.

Nichols' Starter for 10 feels very much like a Nick Hornby story -- both authors seem to write about young male adults awkwardly navigating through life. It also features a great soundtrack full of early to mid-80s British chart toppers: The Cure, early Wham!, Buzzcocks, New Order and more -- though I could have done without The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" on yet another soundtrack. The 80s retro-ness is not over the top, however, the movie could take place in almost any era.

Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, the film is well paced with just enough awkwardness to keep it from being saccharine and the cast strong enough to give well-rounded performances to even the smallest roles.