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Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

You may not have heard of this Hollywood legend, but you definitely know a few of his famous friends.
By Tom Clift
December 29, 2014
By Tom Clift
December 29, 2014

In Yiddish, the word 'Mensch' means a person of integrity and honour. Not exactly traits you'd associate with those in the entertainment industry, let alone the drug-addled hedonist who introduced the world to Alice Cooper. Yet despite his often outlandish lifestyle, talent manager Shep Gordon is by all accounts considered one of the nicest people working in the biz. Directed by Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers), Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon takes audiences through the agent's astounding career, from getting high with Jimi Hendrix to cooking breakfast for the Dalai Lama and amassing an astounding rolodex of friends along the way.

Gordon got his start in the mid '60s, selling pot to the likes of Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. Around that same time, he also forged what was to become one of his closest relationships with up-and-coming shock rocker Alice Cooper. Gordon's managerial strategy was simple: whatever parents hated, teenagers tended to love, and so he went about orchestrating scandal wherever he possibly could. Hoax calls to police. Paying-off paparazzo. Chickens torn to pieces live on stage.

Listening to the documentary tell it, you could be forgiven for thinking Gordon was singlehandedly responsible for corrupting an entire generation of youths. Whether or not that's true, it's bizarre trying to reconcile his unashamedly sleazy tactics with the fact that no one seems to have a bad word to say about him. Myers, in his lively directorial debut, enlists the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Tom Arnold and Michael Douglas to testify to Gordon's generosity. In later years, the agent's million dollar Hawaii home became a safe haven for beleaguered celebrities; Myers himself spent two months living there while grieving the death of his father.

Given that, it's hardly surprising that the movie paints Gordon in a benevolent light. Myers never even attempts objectivity about his friend, whose life, surely, has been far too eventful to be entirely free of skeletons. Nor does the film spend much time examining Gordon's self-reflexive claims that fame has no inherent worth, instead preferring to indulge in yet another A-list anecdote.

Then again, when that anecdote is about how Gordon used to shared a cat with Cary Grant, or how Alice Cooper used to have nightly sleepovers with Groucho Marx, it becomes frightfully easy to forgive the film for its bias. Some of Gordon's stories are nothing short of flabbergasting — and ultimately, his kindness speaks for itself. His later years are filled with some incredible acts of altruism including essentially adopting the grandkids of an ex-girlfriend after their mother passed away. All things considered, the word Mensch doesn't seem so inappropriate after all.

This film is being presented as part of ACMI's Summer of Sound Program alongside Super Duper Alice Cooper, Jimi: All Is By My Side, and Beautiful Noise. Head to the ACMI website for more information.

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