Argh once again I'm the victim of a marketing scheme which ruined my enjoyment of this otherwise good film. You've probably noticed the first words on the DVD box in bold letters are: "THE GREATEST ROCK'N'ROLL FILM OF ALL TIME!" On the back another hyperbolic film critic raves "THE GREATEST ROCK'N'ROLL FILM EVER MADE!" And then it goes on to list "featuring music and appearances by..." and name-drops every famous act since 1965, even daring to play the Beatles card.
DON'T. YOU. BELIEVE. IT.
While Mayor of the Sunset Strip is an interesting, nostalgic trip to California's music scene in the last quarter of the 20th century, it's a far cry from "the greatest rock'n'roll film ever" or even any sort of rock'n'roll film. It lacks the music to make it a true rock'n'roll film.
The focus is not on music but rather on the phenomenon of pop celebrity. Often the "music and appearances by..." are only 0.5 second clips of some celebrity shaking hands with Rodney. Some are just photographs.
The bulk of the celebrity interviews are: Kim Fowley for 10-15 mins total, Nancy Sinatra for maybe 5 mins, Joan Jett for maybe 1 min, Cher 1 mins, Bowie 45 sec, Gwen Stefani 30 sec (but parts repeated to make it longer), Ray Manzarek 15 sec, and a few others for 15 sec or less. Tori Amos appears through the door of her trailer looking confused for exactly 1.5 seconds, and the Beatles "appearances" are just photos and stock footage.
Marketing for this film is deceptive at best, dishonest at worst. If this sort of thing pisses you off as much as it does me, pumping your expectations to unrealistic heights then dropping you on your butt unfulfilled, then you may want to put down the ritzy DVD box, take a deep breath, remind yourself that it's just a mid-budget documentary, and enjoy it for what it's worth, not what it promises to be.
Now about the movie itself. It suffers from a bit of identity crisis, at times trying to prove that Rodney is an icon whom we should adore, at times portraying him as a loser who never got his due. He is shown as a short, gentle, harmless man, but then we are shown images of him licking topless women and stories of him having sex with every groupie who ever hitched a ride to California. We are shown images of a shabby-looking home with holes in the furniture, but then it's made clear that he was the successful owner of a downtown nightclub where patrons and girls by the dozen would kill to get into his VIP room. I'm not sure what the filmmaker was trying to do. But the result was that I didn't feel any sympathy for Rodney by the end of the film, because it's obvious that he had more wine, women & song in 1 day than most of us have in our miserable lives. Is the director's point that he didn't get enough??
Rodney himself has a cute boyish face which makes him instantly lovable, but his awkward, 1-word answers to the director's questions become slightly irritating by the end of the film. I certainly don't fault Rodney for playing his cards close to his chest; he strikes me as a very private man with serious reservations about having his life splayed out on a buffet table. I fault the filmmakers for not coaxing the good stuff out of him. And I'm not talking about dirt & drama, I'm talking about the simple passion for music that drove Rodney. Would it have killed the filmmakers to spend 5 minutes asking him what his favorite song or band or style was? No, instead it always seems to be "who's the most famous person you met?"
Well, lack of music notwithstanding, this is an interesting documentary about an underdog. It doesn't really tell a story, not like the excellent "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" (now THAT ONE can indeed be called the greatest rock'n'roll film ever). In Mayor of the Sunset Strip I feel as though the filmmakers failed to deliver. That plus the absurdly inflated expectations I had from the DVD box made this a ho-hum experience.
If you're truly interested in discovering "the greatest rock'n'roll film ever", please check out the aforementioned "Anvil" (even if you're not a metal fan, it's charmingly honest). Also check out the classic satires "This Is Spinal Tap", "Still Crazy", "The Ruttles: All You Need Is Cash", the brilliant documentary "Searching for Sugar Man", and if you can stand a little 80s cheeze there is tremendous poetry in "Eddie & the Cruisers". When I consider all these terrific rock'n'roll films through the decades, there is no doubt in my mind that Mayor just isn't in the same class. As long as you don't expect it to be, you'll have a good time.