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Film review: Mayor of the Sunset Strip

Published: Thursday, June 3 2004 12:36 p.m. MDT

Cher and Rodney Bingenheimer in "Mayor of the Sunset Strip."

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Given that it features such musical luminaries as David Bowie, Blondie, X and many others, you can't help but wish there was a little more music in "Mayor of the Sunset Strip."

Of course, that would have turned this documentary profile of legendary Los Angeles radio host Rodney Bingenheimer into something completely different — something more in keeping with the majority of music-based documentary features, which revolve around in-concert performance footage.

Rather than making something as simple as that, filmmaker George Hickenlooper uses Bingenheimer here as a launching pad of sorts to examine the meaning of fame and success, as well as whether such things can really bring happiness.

Refreshingly, the film is not quite as pretentious as that may sound. Fans of rock music will likely be enthralled by the movie's look at various musical movements.

The film's title refers to Bingenheimer, whose "Rodney on the ROQ" program on the Southern California modern-rock station KROQ-FM has become something of an institution. However, his brushes with fame began much earlier, as a stand-in for Davy Jones on the "Monkees" television series (Bingenheimer actually tried out for Jones' part).

Eventually, this hanger-on of sorts used his connections to record producer Kim Fowley and with up-and-coming musicians like Bowie to get ahead, first by opening his own nightclub and then by getting his own radio program.

Yet, as the film sadly notes, Bingenheimer is becoming something of a dinosaur in the radio industry, despite his considerable influence on the music scene over the years. There's an almost palpable sense of sadness hanging over the film as Hickenlooper posits Bingenheimer as something of a tragic character.

Admittedly, it does seem a bit exploitative to examine his relationship with a longtime female friend as well as protg Chris Carter, whose "betrayal" of Bingenheimer is one of the film's most heartbreaking moments. But throughout the film, the sad-faced Bingenheimer comes off as very likable.

"Mayor of the Sunset Strip" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity and crude sexual slang terms, drug content (mostly references to recreational drug use), and close-ups on some nude and somewhat sexually explicit photos. Running time: 94 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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