At this point in his career, the most shocking thing about Alice Cooper is something that anyone with even the slightest pop-culture pulse already knows: He’s an avid golfer. Thankfully, the documentary “Super Duper Alice Cooper” is able to fill in the impressive backstory that makes his transformation into a fairway fanatic all the more interesting.
Directed by music-doc vets Sam Dunn, Reginald Harkema and Scot McFadyen, “Super” is a formulaic but fascinating look into one of rock music’s most engaging and theatrical performers. Essentially an hour-and-40-minute “Behind the Music” episode (that description is not meant to be taken as an insult either), this film provides incredible insight into the career arc of Cooper — the band and, later on, the legally adopted name of the frontman born Vincent Damon Furnier.
While tracking the molasses-paced rise of the band — from clueless high school musicians mock-imitating The Beatles at a local talent show to Frank Zappa mentored hippies in Los Angeles to label-less nomads willing to set up a home base in the first city that gave them a standing ovation (ultimately Detroit) — “Super” does an excellent job of finding and utilizing just about every photo and video of the band from its earliest days.
Spliced between 1950s stock footage and B-roll that purposely draws attention to the dichotomy between the Eisenhower-era values that spawned Cooper and his bandmates and the approaching clouds of change that were set to consume them in the following decade, the documentary shuns the typical “talking head” interview approach and instead settles for voiceover throughout. Although this isn’t necessarily the most original narrative approach, it works quite well.
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“Super” does resort to a few sloppy clichés including chirping crickets to indicate a muted audience, caption bubbles to convey a picture’s thoughts and inserting silent film clips throughout, just in case the audience wasn’t privy to the obvious metaphors being drawn and needed something a little less subtle. While a bit amateur and cheesy, it doesn’t deter from the film and even adds to its appeal, much like the band itself, which was sold on their pageantry and not necessarily their music.
Speaking of the music, I am by no means a massive Cooper fan, but I was pleased with the songs that I did recognize, among them “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and some of the other more popular tunes. But the emphasis here is on the spectacle: the onstage guillotine, the killing of the chicken, the live snake wrapped around Cooper’s neck and mutilation of countless toy dolls, all strictly for the purpose of getting a rise out of the squares, man!
My favorite part of “Super Duper Alice Cooper” was seeing the bloated excess of the music industry when it had a limitless amount of power and influence. The types of elaborate promotions, announcements and press conferences that Cooper took part in will most likely never been seen again, which is a damn shame because they were an incredible amount of fun to watch. The production value was like something out of a Roger Corman movie and though I’m sure that they cost an obscene amount of money to film, they come off as cheap, chintzy and bizarre, but ultimately fantastic.
“Super” details the highs and lows that were typical, if not contractually obligated, of a band during this era: booze, in-fighting, jealousy, ego and cocaine, followed by recovery, reflection and reconciliation. I’m just happy that they were able to catch it all on film.