Friday, April 18, 2014

Tribeca ’14: Super Duper Alice Cooper

It was a band that became an individual persona. Subsequently, that persona nearly overwhelmed the person who adopted it. Vincent Furnier was a preacher’s son, but as Alice Cooper, he toured with Vincent Price, appeared on The Muppet Show, and had his own Marvel comic book. Yet, Cooper’s rock & roll lifestyle nearly killed the flesh and blood Furnier. Furnier/Cooper and those who knew him take stock of his long, strange trip in Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen, & Sam Dunn’s Super Duper Alice Cooper (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Dubbed a “Doc Opera,” Super Duper eschews staid talking head shots, in favor of disembodied voice-overs, archival footage, idiosyncratic animation, and of course a steady stream of music. The film immediately introduces its Jekyll and Hyde theme with mood setting clips from vintage horror films. However, Furnier/Cooper’s own words will drive the point home. Furnier had come to Los Angeles with his high school garage band to find their fame and fortune. They were not overnight successes. However, a late night Ouija board session inspired the band to rename themselves Alice Cooper in honor of Furnier’s past incarnation as a Salem witch. This being the 1960s, the unconventional name stuck.

Eventually, Frank Zappa signed Alice Cooper as sort of a male glam-rock band, but that was not their destiny. Managed by Shep Gordon (who is also the subject of another Tribeca doc), Alice Cooper slowly but steadily built a rabid following as a live band, incorporating elements of horror movies into their stage shows. Increasingly, Furnier became identified as Cooper, maintaining the identity when the band broke up. All the usual crazy rock star stuff applied to the macabre rocker—raised to the power of ten.

Yes, there is a feast of Behind the Music-style chaos in Super Duper, but it does not glamorize any of it. Instead, it suggests there is nothing wrong with being the child of minister. In fact, it is rather a good thing to have a forgiving family support system to fall back on. Clearly, Furnier and the filmmakers suggest it is more rewarding to be a father and a husband than a rock star, but playing sold-out stadium tours sure helps pay the bills. The question of how you keep your inner monster contained in its box is a compelling one that Super Duper duly explores in great depth.

Nevertheless, the Doc Opera is still a lot of fun. If ever a public figure left a trail of intriguing visuals it would be Cooper. His music might not be to all tastes, but how many other music docs incorporate footage of horror icons like Price and Dwight Frye? At some point, you just have to tip your hat to his incredible longevity, especially considering the extreme demands of being Cooper.

Fans will get plenty of attitude and head-banging in Super Duper, but responsibility and family values ultimately trump addiction and hedonism. Ironically, many of the viewers least likely to see it would probably appreciate Super Duper the most, including those who self-identify as Evangelicals. Fast-paced and entertaining, but also surprisingly mature and thoughtful, Super Duper Alice Cooper is highly recommended for both Furnier/Cooper’s loyal groupies and his fellow Born Again golfers when it screens again tomorrow (4/19) and Saturday (4/20) during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.