#1: Mayor of the Sunset Strip: I really didn’t know a lot about Rodney Bingenheimer before seeing this, even though he comes out of a world I know very well. I’ve had his Rodney on the ROQ compilation for years, which is mostly pretty useless from what I remember. (I’m looking at it right now: the Crowd, David Microwave, the Simpletones, the Vidiots, the Wigglers…who are these people?) Other than that, he’s always been first and foremost the guy who the Angry Samoans vilified in their great “Get Off the Air”: “Glitter rock and Bowie’s cock/Are his idea of new-wave rock!” (The Samoans’ Mike Saunders, an occasional contributor to Radio On, still ridicules Bingenheimer every chance he gets.) So I had Bingenheimer fixed to a specific moment in time, and was completely unaware of his rather amazing Rupert Pupkin/Zelig-like presence through three decades of pop history. I didn’t like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind nearly as much as everybody else, in part because I find Charlie Kaufman’s weirdness a little forced. I don’t think Kaufman could ever come up with a more bizarre concept than Bingenheimer’s entry-point into show business: he served as Davy Jones’s double in The Monkees, which is kind of like signing on to play the shadow of a shadow. (Later on in the film, Kato Kaelin turns up—it’s a movie filled with Zeligs.) The sequence where Bingenheimer starts popping up in the background of all these iconic ‘60s clips, singled out by a little superimposed arrow each time, was the funniest, most inexplicably sublime thing I saw all year. I loved the music throughout, and (the trickier part) loved how director George Hickenlooper made use of the songs he chose. The last 10 minutes was somewhat pat—Bingenheimer travels to England to spread his mother’s ashes—but his mom’s centrality to the kind of person he was had been established earlier, so I thought the sequence was justified. I wouldn’t say I came away from the film exactly liking Bingenheimer, but neither did I find him sad or creepy. I’m not sure what I think of him, which is not a bad place for a documentary to leave you.
[from 2004 top 10 movie picks]
I Shot Andy Warhol
The best moment in Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol is a quiet one: as the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic” plays, Valerie Solanas (Lili Taylor) and Andy Warhol (Jared Harris) stare warily at each other across a roomful of frugging and monkeying Factory-types. It’s Warhol’s party and Warhol’s world; he’s peering out as Solanas peers in, and neither one can make sense of the other. The gulf between them reminded me of Dustin Hoffman’s mismatched presence at Midnight Cowboy’s Factory-styled party, appropriate because Taylor sometimes seems to closely model her portrayal of Solanas on Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo. When she finally commits the movie’s title act, it’s not really convincing as presented; up to that point, she seems like someone who’s more disdainfully amused by men than actually enraged by them. Not carrying around a lot of female rage myself, this basic hollowness wasn’t a big problem for me. There’s a good feeling throughout for period atmosphere, lots of great music used intelligently (other highlights are “Walk On By,” “Grazing in the Grass,” Blue Cheer and the MC5, and a pretty version of “I’ll Keep It with Mine” by Bettie Serveert), and two performances I’ll remember longer than the more acclaimed work by Taylor and Stephen Dorff (as Candy Darling). Michael Imperioli, my favorite actor right now, is perfectly nasty as Ondine, and Harris’s Warhol is sublime. Looking over Solanas’s S.C.U.M. Manifesto, he gushes, “Oh, gee, did you type this yourself? You should come type for us.” You just know that it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been the Bible or the phone book, his reaction would have been identical.
[Real Groove, 1997]