Film Review: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep GordonMike Myers' relentlessly flattering profile of Hollywood manager and mensch Shep Gordon feels like it's not always telling the whole story.
In the tradition of below-the-line documentaries like Get Bruce and His Way, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon points the spotlight away from the glamorous actors and actresses who typically occupy the center of the camera frame towards the industry professionals standing just out of our sightline. These are the folks who handle the "business" end of show business, and without their efforts, the A-listers strutting the red carpets would likely be striking poses in their bedrooms and living rooms. So it stands to reason that the clients they benefit would regard them with admiration bordering on reverence, which in turn also explains why these feature-length profiles of individuals like writer Bruce Vilanch, producer Jerry Weintraub or, in the case of Supermensch, talent manager Shep Gordon are so consistently upbeat and celebratory—more akin to the kind of homemade career retrospective videos shown at retirement parties than rigorous pieces of nonfiction filmmaking. Their function is to pat the subjects on the back for a job well done, not plumb their psychology in any substantive way.
And when you're talking about a prolific and absurdly profitable industry veteran like Shep Gordon, there's no question that he's done his job well in the five decades since he crash-landed in Hollywood during the heady days of the late '60s. After getting his start overseeing the career of a then-fringe rocker named Alice Cooper (whose rise to fame eats up so much of Supermensch's first 30 minutes that—in an awkward but necessary editing choice—it's forced to loop back later to trace Gordon's origins, lest it become confused with a “Behind the Music” special), Gordon's rolodex expanded to include such clients as actors Raquel Welch and Groucho Marx, singers Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross and chefs Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter. (Though the film's director, Mike Myers—yes, that Mike Myers—wasn't on his books, he does count himself as a longtime Friend of Shep and even once spent two months crashing at Gordon's luxurious Maui retreat.)
That diverse clientele reflects both the manager's canny approach to the business, which mixed his personal interests with his sharp professional instincts; for example, he branched out from music into movies both because of his admiration for legends like Groucho—who was in his twilight years when Gordon took him on—and because it offered a way to exploit his existing connections (like, say, strong-arming Myers into playing a new Alice Cooper track in Wayne's World) while making new ones. Similarly, as a budding foodie later in life, he saw and seized upon the opportunity to bring chefs like Emeril out of the kitchen and into the public eye. And it wasn't just his ability to build relationships that made him a success; Gordon also studiously looked after those in his circle as well as so many outside it, hosting all-night ragers in his early years (and more refined dinner parties later), providing emotional and financial aid in times of trial and just generally being present and available. It's that latter trait in particular that, according to the film anyway, elevates him to the status of a "mensch"—the Yiddish term for an honorable man.
Gordon has been around too long and been instrumental in too many success stories not to have some great tales to tell, and his memories about Cooper's early years are appropriately kooky and fun, while his experiences cultivating the careers of Emeril and French master chef Roger Verge offers some interesting insights into the way that the food industry has evolved in the past two decades. Emotional heft, meanwhile, is provided by his partnership with hit-making soul crooner Pendergrass, who left the public eye after a car accident left him paralyzed. (The film credits Gordon with maneuvering him back onstage, scoring a prime spot at 1985's Live Aid concert.) In general, Myers' cast of talking heads—which also includes Cooper, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone and Anne Murray—do their job of selling the audience on Gordon's personal integrity, as well as the prominent role he's played in show-biz history.
At the same time, though, they also paint Gordon as something of a relic, specifically in the way he approached his love life. An unapologetic ladies' man, Gordon's romantic history is packed with one-night stands, brief marriages, briefer affairs and various off-again, on-again couplings and he discusses them all with a sly grin that's complemented—and not in a good way—by the wink-wink-nudge-nudge "boys will be boys" attitude voiced by Douglas and other (mostly male) interviewees. It's notable too that almost none of his exes (including Sharon Stone and chef Renée Loux) are included amongst the talking heads, and while their absence might very well have been their choice as opposed to Myers', it does lead one to wonder if Gordon was as mensch-y at home as he was in the office.
No doubt recognizing that his subject's Don Draper-like approach to the opposite sex makes him seems as calcified and retrograde as the ’60s-bound “Mad Men” lead, Myers overcompensates by spending the last chunk of the film keening over the one thing that Gordon's life lacks: a child to call his own, as if fatherhood would have been the magic cure for his commitment issues. (It's worth noting that Gordon supported and later adopted the four children of one ex-lover's daughter, some of whom are dutifully trotted out on camera here to testify about his parental suitability.) A less eager-to-please documentary might have backed off from these cloying, unconvincing attempts to explain away the least admirable aspects of its subject's personality, instead acknowledging that—"supermensch"-inflated status aside—Shep Gordon is, like all of us, only human.
Click here for cast & crew information.