I'd characterize myself as a casual Alice Cooper fan. I was too young to be part of the '70s frenzy which shot the band and its lead singer to stardom, and haven't been wowed by any of the records I've heard over the past 30 years. But I have a strong affection for The Alice Cooper Show, a 1977 live album that includes almost every song from the group that I feel I need to have (outside of "Clones," of course).
My appreciation of Alice Cooper hasn't increased after seeing the new Super Duper Alice Cooper documentary directed by Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn -- who increased my appreciation for Rush with their 2010 film Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage. But knowledge is power and -- even though I interviewed Vincent Furnier (who legally changed his name to Alice Cooper during an era when his ego and lifestyle drove away his longtime bandmates) several years ago -- I now know a lot more about him than I did last week. I consider that a good thing.
The filmmakers cleverly interject the film with black and white clips of 1920's classic (and public domain) horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which parallel the on- and off-stage lives of Furnier/Cooper and how they can tragically intersect.
There's Vince, the son and grandson of preachers with a moral compass who had never even had a beer until he was out of his teens and went to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of rock stardom. And there's Alice, the mascara-wearing, doll-butchering, snakehandling, fake guillotine victim of a frontman for one of the most explosive -- and probably the most controversial -- rock bands of the early and mid-1970s.
It's when Alice takes control of Vince -- plunging him into a life of booze and then cocaine addictions that almost cost him his family and his life -- that things get ugly.
Alice Cooper went from being in a talented but struggling rock band that was run out of L.A. because people didn't know what to make of its bizarre look and sound to becoming one of the biggest rock stars of a generation, putting on the most theatrical performances ever seen in the genre to that point, topping the album sales charts in multiple countries, scoring top 10 singles with "School's Out" and "You and Me," and appearing on a variety of television shows. But the frontman's lifestyle of excess was killing him.
He kicked his alcoholism after being institutionalized, but then got hooked on coke. He eventually battled his way through that, too, and successfully separated his two personas. The film ends (aside from brief text explanations of what the main characters in the film are doing now) with a triumphant return to the stage after a five-year absence at a sold-out Joe Louis Arena in Cooper's hometown of Detroit, Mich. on Hallowe'en 1986.
Whenever Furnier hasn't been on the golf course, Cooper has been writing, recording and performing steadily ever since. It's a triumphant story with a happy ending.
Although it bears the hallmarks of those VH1 Behind The Music shows where artists discuss their highs and lows, the 86-minute Super Duper Alice Cooper was obviously made by talented and caring filmmakers who put the time and effort needed to take the movie to a higher plain. Lots of research obviously went into the film and getting clearances for the wide array of film footage, photographs and songs used in it must have been a painstaking process.
It was worth it. The early musical years, especially, are an area of Alice Cooper's career that a lot of music fans (myself included) don't know much about. The film's insights into this era were the catalyst that hooked me like an eight ball and compelled me to see how things would play out -- even if I pretty much already knew what would happen.
Watch the Super Duper Alice Cooper trailer.
Super Duper Alice Cooper will be screened in Toronto as part of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival at 9 p.m. on April 28 at the Scotiabank Theatre. The star and its directors will be on hand to answer questions afterward and the event will be simulcast into 46 Cineplex theatres across Canada. Visit www.cineplex.com/events for the other venues.
The film will be shown again during the festival at 9:50 p.m. on April 29 and at 11 a.m. on May 3 at the Bloor Hot Docs Theatre.