Music fans rejoice! Two of Canada's greatest documentarians have returned to Hot Docs in 2014 to examine one of the most enduring stories in rock 'n roll: Alice Cooper, in "Super Duper Alice Cooper." Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen are a pair of super-duper filmmakers that have so far given us "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey," "Global Metal," "Iron Maiden: Flight 666," and "Rush: Behind the Lighted Stage."
This production super duo have a real knack at getting you to care about bands you may have never wanted to know anything about. Alice Cooper has legions of fans around the world, and they will love this film, but for many, he's just the guy in the scary make-up. If that describes you, prepare for a highly enjoyable Alice Cooper education.
The real heavy lifting in "Super Duper Alice Cooper" is carried by the story itself. It's unreal. Born in Detroit, raised in Phoenix and coming of age in Los Angeles, young Vincent Furnier dreamed of being a rock star alongside his high school buddies. The timeline of Alice Cooper is not unlike the narrative of Spinal Tap, as the group struggles to fit in with the aesthetic of the early '60s mop tops, late '60s psychedelia, and mid '70s rock 'n roll.
Fun facts in the film:
Frank Zappa helped to start the group's career by signing them to his label.
They were once known as The Spiders.
Dadaism and Dali were major influences.
They band got their original look by buying old Icecapades costumes.
Alice was born to a lineage of pastors(!).
The telling of Alice Cooper's rise to stardom is executed with perfect pace and timing, but you would be hard-pressed to say you haven't heard this story before. Band gets together young, struggles, gets a big break, hits it big, excess ensues, creative differences, band breaks up, lead singer goes out on his own, lead singer almost kills himself on hard drugs ... then some sort of redemption.
But don't let that stop you. All the colour of "Super Duper Alice Cooper" comes from the details. The characters, celebrities, stunts, groupies and gossip surrounding the band are like going through a bag of candy. Excerpts from performances in Toronto, Detroit and The Hollywood Bowl are laced with all the horror and madness you might imagine, and the sight of Alice chopping up a baby doll still holds up as disconcerting rock 'n roll vaudeville.
Director Sam Dunn has acted as a sort of guide in several of his projects, but as the films become more focused on individual acts, he has stepped into the shadows to let the rock 'n rollers tell their own story. One major difference between the Rush film and this one is in the editing. Unlike the typical 'interview clip to historical clip' model used in "Behind the Light Stage," only vintage film clips and still photos ever grace the screen in "Super Duper Alice Cooper." The filmmakers also make good use of classic "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" film clips as a metaphor for the band's transformation. Fresh interviews from Alice himself, the band, his wife, manager and even rock alum like Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten can all be heard, but never seen. This actually works better than you may think.
At the heart of these documentaries is music. Rush is a notoriously hard band to like for semi-interested music fans, but after the Dunn and McFadyen treatment, audiences clearly came away with newfound respect for the group and its musical prowess. But if you are a so-so fan of Alice Cooper music, don't expect that to change. The band was more about onstage decapitations, dead chickens, Boa constrictors and face make-up than they were great songwriters. If anything, the film's soundtrack proves that "Welcome to My Nightmare" and "School's Out" were diamonds in the rough.
If you like art, history, pop culture, rock 'n roll ... heck, music in general, it would be impossible to not like this documentary. Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen have done it again, and Alice should be thrilled that they took him on.
Scotiabank Theatre 1, Mon., Apr. 28, 9:00 p.m.
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Tues., Apr. 29, 9:50 p.m.
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Sat., May 3, 11:00 a.m.