“If I do my job perfectly I will probably kill you”
Seeing Billy Wilder’s The Apartment seemed like a task, like something on a college film studies syllabus . . . Persona again! What could a film this old tell me about my life? But The Apartment wasn’t like the rest; there were no artistic motifs that revolved around silence and a staircase sequence, just a man with a shitty job who couldn’t get the girl. C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemon) is living a self-pitting existence and is reminded by his neighbor to always be a mensch:
You can try your whole life attempting to find one of these rarity mensch’s, but in the end it’s you who has to become one.
Shep Gordon is one of these rarities, a fully realized human being—a mensch—who right out of college became a Probation Officer because he wanted to help kids. The kids beat him up when he was supervising a baseball game in juvenile hall and Shep transitioned from JD’s to rock stars pretty seamlessly. At the Landmark Hotel, where Shep wallowed after losing his job, he became aquatinted with Jimmy Hendrix who suggested he become a manager because he was, ya know, Jewish and Alice Cooper (a faded garage band at that point) needed some guidance.
Shep didn’t have much besides drugs so that’s what he offered. A concert was performed nude in an attempt to get Alice publicity, but poor Alice couldn’t get arrested even after Shep called the police. They lived with Alice’s parents to save money and play the Detroit scene. America didn’t seem that interested and after years of legal battles with Warner Brothers over Alice’s album “School’s Out,” international concert venues would be the only monetary hope. A huge billboard in Piccadilly Circus, a baby on the new album cover in the now legendary eye makeup, Shep would supply THE chicken, and rock n roll found its dark prince.
“The only person who could have brought the chicken was Shep. Nobody would say O.K. I got my keys, I got my ticket, I got my chicken.”
Once the money started rolling in Shep did a crazy thing, he paid back the hotels he had and Alice once dashed out of. The artists were more than just clients, they were family (to this day Alice and Shep do not have a contract). As Mike Myers recently told Marc Marin on his podcast, Myers stayed with Shep after his father’s death, he requested to stay for two weeks, but ended up staying for two months. During his stay the showbiz stories mounted and the friendship developed—Myer’s wanted to make a movie about Shep’s life but Shep had no use for the limelight.
“There’s nothing about fame that I have ever seen that’s helping. The ones who rose to the top got hurt the worst.”
Several years later, after undergoing surgery due to a heart attack Shep agreed, plus it was getting harder to get invites to celebrity golf tournaments. Although Supermensch is Myer’s directorial debut, through the years he has had solid creative control of his projects (I am still waiting for ‘The Legend of Deter’ to explain what the hell happened there? http://splitsider.com/2013/10/dieter-the-mike-myers-franchise-that-never-was/), and has a good handle on the material and stock footage.
With that said I was hoping for The Kid Stay’s in the Picture approach where stills of Hollywood’s past told a shrilling story of pain, regret and excess. Nanette Burstein gave us an inventive artistic approach to film producer Robert Evans life, while Myers succumbs to the dreaded re-enactment early in the film to relay incidences in Shep’s life.
Don’t worry the re-enactments stayed away from an Unsolved Mystery vibe, but still, why? Shep is an amazing storyteller, you don’t need this. While more inventive cutting and use of stock footage would have been nice, this was Myer’s love letter to his friend, and who the fuck am I to tell someone how to write a love letter to their beloved? The heart of this film and Shep himself make up for a lack of technical skill.
As stories typically go with Mensch status people, Shep was the teller of truths in a house of lies, and Los Angeles never sat right with him. “I felt the stress of L.A., the culture of what you are not who you are.” When friends lost family members or were down and out Shep carried them through, but had a harder time carrying himself through.
You may not get the girl, the house in Maui or the job that puts you at a level of supposed relevance, but be a Mensch and start your journey by watching Supermensch.
Supermensch is now streaming on Vudu, iTunes and Amazon.
Mike Myers interview with Marc Maron, Mike’s a mensch too!