A rock icon gets a fine (not to mention finely named) tribute in “Super Duper Alice Cooper.” This cinematic bio of shock rock’s founding father ultimately traces a somewhat standard rise/fall/redemption arc, with the major drama provided by the subject’s already well-known battles with drink and drugs. But it’s his and other participants’ lighthearted amiability that sets the tone for a flashback told entirely through archival visuals (and a latter-day oral history). This enjoyable ride, currently playing short runs and one-off dates in several countries including the U.S., U.K and Canada, should — like Cooper himself — appeal to aging-boomer original fans and also those who came to him via later performers he greatly influenced. Home format sales should be brisk in many territories.
First introduced to the flattering roar of the crowd when spoofing the Beatles for a school talent show, Phoenix pastor’s son Vincent Furnier and his mates, including bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith, decided to learn their instruments seriously and become an actual rock band. The Spiders became enough of a regional smash — while its members were still high schoolers — to brave a move to Los Angeles in 1967. There, however, they found themselves among umpteen such outfits hoping for the same big break. Rechristened Alice Cooper (Furnier’s name in a prior incarnation as a stake-burnt witch, according to a Ouija board), they were fortunate to cross path with the GTOs, a female “groupie group” that encouraged them to distinguish themselves by indulging in wild stage theatrics and androgynous garb.
This duly got them some attention, but a first Frank Zappa-produced album in 1969 was disastrously received. Hitting the road to heal their wounds, the band found they fit much better into the Detroit scene then dominated by hard rockers MC5 and Iggy Pop. Their confidence boosted, they made a splash opening for John Lennon at a high-profile Toronto festival; suddenly they were red-hot, scoring hits with single “I’m 18” and the 1971 LP “Love It To Death.” Even bigger was 1972’s “School’s Out,” while the act’s now-extravagant Grand Guignol concerts generated enormous publicity (and controversy).
The endless touring/recording grind was beginning to wear, however, creating internal strife. Alice Cooper went from being a group name to that of Furnier’s maestro-of-excess alter ego when the band fell apart, with his subsequent solo career by far the most prominent offshoot: It got off to a roaring start with 1975’s “Welcome to My Nightmare,” a hugely successful concept album, stage show and TV special.
“I had a moral compass — there were things I wouldn’t do,” Cooper/Furnier says early on here. “Maybe I created ‘Alice’ to do those things.” He was doing way too many of them by now, living his rock “Mr. Hyde” persona (the pic weaves in numerous clips from the 1920 silent version of that tale, with John Barrymore) onstage and off in terms of nonstop partying. He ended up being treated for acute alcoholism in a sanitarium (inspiring “From the Inside,” a concept disc co-written with Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin), then did the talkshow circuit as a sobered-up new man. Unfortunately, he soon got into trouble again — nearly destroying himself, and his marriage to dancer Sheryl — doing cocaine. Pic ends with his triumphant 1986 comeback concert, broadcast live on MTV to a new generation of fans to whom he was a clear role model for the then-burgeoning heavy-metal genre.
With no end of colorful archival materials to draw upon, “Super Duper Alice Cooper” is great fun to watch, the act’s pioneering theatricality retaining all its entertainment value in concert and promo clips. (By contrast, however, there is surprisingly little discussion of the music itself.) Beyond the headliner, always a droll interviewee, there’s vivid spoken input from family members, band mates, celebrity admirers and others.
This collaboration between Canuck helmers Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden (who’ve directed several metal-themed docus) with Reginald Harkema (of eccentric feature narratives Monkey Warfare and Manson, My Name Is Evil) is affectionate, lively and imaginative. Particularly notable in presentation is frequent animation of still images through motion graphics. All other design/tech contributions are tops, and the variable quality of some vintage film/video clips only heightens the nostalgic appeal.