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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Music and Fame
by Betty Jo Tucker

Strange, but before seeing Mayor of the Sunset Strip, I had no idea who Rodney Bingenheimer was. And yet, this shy and unassuming  man, one of the country's most influential DJs, helped define the sounds that have dominated over three decades of music by giving dozens of artists -- including the Sex Pistols, the Go-Gos, Blondie, Van Halen, Nirvana, Oasis, and No Doubt -- their first exposure on the airwaves. In George Hickenlooper's comprehensive documentary, Rodney's passion for music and his involvement in the "cult of celebrity" emerge as twin themes.

While coaxing Rodney into the spotlight, Hickenlooper (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse) also manages to give viewers a spirited overview of pop music trends from the 60s through the first three years of the new millennium. At the same time, this acclaimed director examines our society's obsession with fame and celebrity. Blending interviews and archival footage, he creates a special trip down memory lane for music fans.          

Rodney arrived in Hollywood as a teenager and was subsequently hired to be a stand-in for Davy Jones on TV's The Monkees. Later, two people he admired, Sonny and Cher, took an interest in him and served almost as his surrogate parents. Rodney began writing for various music magazines and landed at Capitol Records where he helped launch Linda Ronstadt's career. When he moved to Mercury Records, his job involved shepherding David Bowie, Rod Stewart and other artists to press events.

It was Sal Mineo who first called Rodney "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," a title honoring his knowledge of music and his close relationships with the stars of the day. An avid celebrity worshipper, Rodney became friend and confidante to scores of famous individuals from various walks of life. In the early 1970s, his English Disco nightclub (suggested by David Bowie) served as the world's rock and roll salon. 

Hickenlooper admits Rodney's celebrity obsession helped persuade him to make this movie. "When I first met Rodney," says the filmmaker, "I thought his contribution to the music world was interesting, but wouldn't necessarily make a compelling documentary."

However, after visiting Rodney's apartment -- which is filled from floor to ceiling with photographs of Rodney with pop stars, movie stars and politicians, Hickenlooper changed his mind. "It wasn't just seeing the photographs, but seeing Rodney sort of light up as he shared these photographs with me," Hickenlooper explains.

Some of the same stars appearing in those photos give testimonials to Rodney in Mayor of the Sunset Strip. Interviewees include David Bowie, Nancy Sinatra, Joan Jett, Brooke Shields, Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani, MacKenzie Phillips, Brian Wilson, Mick Jagger, Coldplay, Cher and many others.

Rodney Bingenheimer still works his DJ magic each week on L.A.'s KROQ. Cool.  

(Released by First Look Pictures and rated "R" for sexual content, nudity, language an some drug references.)

Read Betty Jo's interview with filmmaker George Hickenlooper.

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