Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

Mike Myers, Beth Aala
Release Year:
Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper, Michael Douglas
Hollywood Film Awards 2014, Documentary of the Year Mike Myers.
Screening Date:
  • 7 Feb 2017
  • Categories:
    Documentary, Music

    A documentary about the life and career of the legendary Hollywood insider and talent manager, Shep Gordon. The directorial debut of Mike Myers.

    Film Notes

    Mike Myers hasn’t been seen much on screen in recent years, the last acting appearance of the star of Wayne’s World and Austin Powers coming courtesy of a supporting part in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds. Though he features among the talking heads seen in Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, the documentary doesn’t drastically change his cinematic absence – but it does provide him with a new role, marking his first foray as a director. Here, the movie’s tale belongs not to its comedian turned helmer but to the talent manager who gives the film its moniker – both by lending his own, and by inspiring the term of endearment that accompanies it. From obtaining illicit substances for musicians, to engineering their ascent to fame, Shep Gordon has overseen the careers of many a well-known name; however his impact, longevity and all-round nice-guy status have seen him become an icon in his own right. Myers describes him as the quintessential example of his profession, with a wealth of other celebrities – Michael Douglas, Steven Tyler, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Arnold and more – furnishing their agreement. Gordon’s own retellings further his fable as he sheds light upon his backstage manoeuvrings. As Alice Cooper’s manager for 43 years, much of his fate is tied to the shock rocker, who contributes heartily to the talking-heads array. Many of the happy yarns spun overlap with the documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper, though thankfully plenty of new tales splinter out from their accounts. Some involve Cooper, chickens and controversy; others speak of Gordon’s smarts and savvy in other professional circumstances. Hearing about sharing joint custody of a cat with Cary Grant, and learning how he made Anne Murray a star and turned Teddy Pendergrass into a sex symbol, rank among the documentary’s highlights. Later detours, chronicling his imprint within the film industry, and his pioneering in celebrity chef territory, are suitably informative. With such an influential figure as its subject, and with so many slices of his life to include, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is never better than when it lets its namesake do the talking, shot against a sunny skyline or stacked bookcase, and ever-at-ease speaking openly about his experiences. His anecdotes and reflections ripple with honesty that eclipses the contributions of others singing his praises, however prominent they may be. That’s not to say that the others who celebrate his merits don’t sound genuine, their fondness clearly stemming from friendship. What well-meaning hero worship can’t match is the inimitable sense of intimacy that emanates from the source himself, and remaining as jovial and thoughtful when discussing his personal affairs as when recounting his working achievements. Of course, Gordon, his high-powered pals, Myers and co-director and producer Beth Aala (Pool Party) don’t share everything, offering up a tribute over a true tell-all. Indeed, the film’s entire existence stems from and brims with affection, befitting the mensch label – meaning a person of integrity and honour – directed Gordon’s way from the outset. The overwhelming idolatry dictates the documentary’s stylistic choices, or lack thereof, confidence in the strength of the central character and his many stories justifying the simple montage of old footage, photographs and interviews to camera. And it works, mostly, ensuring that the lightweight and light-hearted film focuses on creating a legend from the wild tales and the warm man of the title with as an approving and uncritical eye as it wants from its audience – an approach befitting Gordon, and Myers as well.
    SARAH WARD, Australian Arts Hub, 7 JANUARY, 2015
    For Mike Myers, it is not the least bit humbling to go from making comedies for millions of viewers to performing for an audience of one, assuming that person is his 2-year-old son, Spike. One spring afternoon, Mr. Myers was in the living room of his downtown Manhattan penthouse, helping retrieve a toy truck that the towheaded Spike was repeatedly dropping on the floor, accompanying the task with his dead-on re-creation of engine noises. “A truck makes this sound,” Mr. Myers said, gurgling to Spike’s delight. “Rrrr, rrrr, rrrr, rrrrrrrrrrrrr!” While his wife, Kelly, then nine months pregnant with their second child, worked in the kitchen, Mr. Myers was beaming about Spike’s incipient ability to imitate a phone call on a toy phone. “He goes, ‘Goo-key-goo,’ ” Mr. Myers said, pressing buttons on an invisible keypad. “He makes a little breath, and then he goes, ‘Hi there.’ I’m, like, ‘Wow, dude, that’s some micro-observation.’ ” Using his own well-honed aptitude for scrutiny and mimicry, Mr. Myers became one of the most successful comedians of his era, first on “Saturday Night Live” and in the “Wayne’s World” movies, then as a saucy secret agent in the “Austin Powers” series and the voice of a misunderstood ogre in the “Shrek” animated features. For the five years that followed the awful performance of his 2008 film “The Love Guru,” it seemed as if Mr. Myers had gone into hiding, having abandoned those personas for the role of a man focused on family. Now, he is returning in similarly perplexing fashion with a new film, “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.” This movie, which the Weinstein Company’s Radius division will release on June 6, is Mr. Myers’s directorial debut, but it is not, strictly speaking, a comedy. It is a documentary about Mr. Gordon, a talent manager who has worked with Alice Cooper, Teddy Pendergrass and other artists, and who lived a hedonistic rock ’n’ roll lifestyle before taking a late turn to the spiritual and altruistic. If a passion project like “Supermensch” seems difficult to reconcile with Mr. Myers’s mainstream movies, the documentary is, in the eyes of its director, a perfect unfolding of artistic passions that more often point him in esoteric directions. For him, “Supermensch” is not only the story of a peculiar show-business veteran with an unexpected trajectory but also of an idiosyncratic filmmaker for whom widespread recognition was an aberration rather than a goal. “I don’t have a normal career,” Mr. Myers said. “I never have and never will, and I’ve been happy with that since the beginning. It’s a world of quirk.” Mr. Myers, who turns 51 next week, has semi-grown up to be a pleasant eccentric with a gently effusive and talkative manner. He still wears a boyish haircut and dresses in jeans and T-shirts; he is equally conversant in classic rock music and Cahiers du Cinéma; and he decorates his bookshelves with his own paintings of Colonel Sanders, the KFC founder and corporate face, done in the styles of Vermeer and Lucian Freud. (“I never understood why American chicken had to be militarized,” Mr. Myers explained.) He came of age in Toronto obsessed with popular culture (he not-so-jokingly calls Canada “a country without a mission statement”), going to art-house movies and writing high school papers that applied Joseph Campbell’s monomyth cycle to the James Bond thriller “The Spy Who Loved Me.” And at a pivotal juncture, Mr. Myers was accepted into a film program at York University in Toronto the same day he was hired by Second City, the influential comedy troupe. Looking back, Mr. Myers said, “I literally thought I was going to be Cassavetes or Truffaut.” You don’t have to know your shpilkes from a schwing to know the route that Mr. Myers took, landing at “Saturday Night Live” in 1989 and building a roster of vivid oddball characters, like the German Expressionist talk-show host Dieter or the bathing British boy Simon. “He was trying, in that earnest, Canadian way, to do really original work; that was his major occupation,” said Lorne Michaels, the longtime “SNL” executive producer and a fellow Torontonian who was the subject of a school project Mr. Myers created in the eighth grade. “Mike always strived for a level of freshness,” Mr. Michaels said, “and, for lack of a better word, coolness.” To his fellow performers, Mr. Myers was surprising for his dedication in an often unrigorous field. “It was amazing to look over and see a guy who would actually fight even harder than you for what he thought was right,” said Dana Carvey, his “SNL” and “Wayne’s World” co-star. These former colleagues are not surprised that Mr. Myers went on to create the “Austin Powers” movies (which sold $675 million in tickets worldwide) or star in the “Shrek” series (with global grosses of $2.95 billion). But Mr. Myers regards the international embrace of these characters almost as flukes. He created “Austin Powers,” in particular, as a tribute to the eclectic tastes of his Liverpool-born father, who died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 1991. “I thought you would have had to have grown up in my house to get the movie,” Mr. Myers said. “We were not really even spoofing James Bond. We were spoofing spoofs of James Bond.” Mr. Myers said he could have just as easily gone forward with another script he was writing, an action-adventure set during the Battle of Britain. “It was a ripping yarn, tales of derring-do,” he said. “I’m still obsessed with the idea. I’ve always got ideas that are circling the airport.” Nor, Mr. Myers said, was he especially unnerved by the failure of “The Love Guru,” his critically reviled comedy about a bumbling sage, which grossed barely $40 million worldwide. (Reviewing this film for The New York Times, A. O. Scott wrote that it was “downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.”) “It wasn’t well received, there’s just no two ways about it,” Mr. Myers said. “I really tried my hardest on it. There’s a million reasons why it didn’t work.” Still, a significant reordering of Mr. Myers’s life and career quickly followed. Having divorced his first wife, Robin Ruzan, whom he often cited as a muse and inspiration for his comedy, in 2005, he married Kelly in 2010, and Spike was born the following year. “Being a new dad was a wonderful, all-consuming thing,” Mr. Myers said. “It just takes up a lot of one’s qi.” His only onscreen film appearance during this time was a small part as a British general in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” But for two decades, Mr. Myers had been trying to convince Mr. Gordon to let him tell his life story, after encountering him on the set of “Wayne’s World.” What had always interested him about Mr. Gordon, Mr. Myers said, “is how he has not sought to be famous at all, but has toiled in the fields of fame.” “In all of his stories,” Mr. Myers said, “it occurred to me that fame is the industrial disease of creativity. There’s a toxicity to fame that will have reproductive harm.” Mr. Gordon, 68, a tall, lean man who now lives in Maui but whose deep voice never lost its Long Island accent, said he resisted Mr. Myers’s entreaties while pondering whether he wanted to make an open display of his life. “I didn’t want to deal with all the baggage that getting known brings,” said Mr. Gordon, who in the film shares stories of doing drugs with Mr. Pendergrass and cooking breakfast for the Dalai Lama. “It’s not how I earned my living. There’s not a lot about fame that I’ve seen that I like.” But, Mr. Gordon added, “I made a decision that Mike really loved me, that he had a genuine respect for the way I conduct my life and a great sense of humor about the stories I would tell him.” Not that Mr. Gordon understood how the movie fit into Mr. Myers’s professional trajectory. Were he Mr. Myers’s manager, Mr. Gordon said with a laugh, his recommendation would have been: “Do not do this. It’s absolutely, on paper, the worst career choice he could have possibly made.” Mr. Myers said he did not worry about this kind of long-term planning, and was more concerned about creating something new every day: a GarageBand recording; a haiku; a feature-length documentary. His heroes are creative multitaskers like Spike Jonze, and he so often invokes the personal motto “What would Soderbergh do?” that a friend put it on a needlepoint hanging displayed in Mr. Myers’s office. “This isn’t a career move,” Mr. Myers said of “Supermensch.” “But often, things for me are not career moves. They’re just what’s on my mind.” “Supermensch,” which blends archival footage, new interviews and comedic re-enactments, has been shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, South by Southwest and elsewhere; a review in The Hollywood Reporter called it “brisk and engaging,” but said that Mr. Myers’s “inexperience as a filmmaker shows in its choppy narrative.” For his part, Mr. Myers said his lack of hands-on directing experience did not dissuade him from pursuing the project, and other frequent collaborators are not surprised to see him making the transition. “He’s thinking like a director the whole time,” said Jay Roach, who directed the “Austin Powers” movies. In his performances, Mr. Roach said, Mr. Myers is “kind of directing himself.” He added, “I’ll give him suggestions, but he knows how to do it and doesn’t really need me as much as other people might.” “He’ll take a risk if he believes in something,” Mr. Roach said. “He gets sort of — fixated is a negative way of saying it. He becomes focused on a certain way that it’s going to go. And he’ll fight like crazy until it goes that way.” And, eventually, everyone believes that Mr. Myers will steer himself back in more familiar directions. “This is just his pure, artistic stuff coming out,” Mr. Michaels said. “I think he’ll come back and do a big, dumb comedy soon enough. We all return to that.” A few days after the birth of his daughter, named Sunday, Mr. Myers was sitting in the lobby of the Mercer Hotel in SoHo, vibrating with nervous energy and frequently glancing at his phone for updates from his wife. Whatever expectations others may have about his career, Mr. Myers said, “things are less forecasted than you would believe.” Asked if an artist with as much choice and freedom as he possessed ran the risk of creating nothing at all, Mr. Myers offered a cryptic response that seemed to mean no. “If you’re in the mentality of possibility, you’re not in the mentality of deficit,” he said. “If you’re in the possibility of creating, you’re not in the possibility of taking away.” His phone began to buzz, and a smile crept across his face as he intently scanned a text message from his wife: Another missing toy had just been located. “They found Spike’s bunny,” Mr. Myers said triumphantly. “That’s a big deal. That was a morning. That’s very good news.”
    DAVE ITZKOFF , The New Youk Times, MAY 15, 2014


    What you thought about Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    16 (32%) 23 (46%) 8 (16%) 2 (4%) 1 (2%)
    Total Number of Responses: 50
    Film Score (0-5): 4.02

    Collated Response Comments

    This week we start with a compliment followed by a small criticism which is as follows, “I went to the Odeon Guildford over the New Year and it just highlighted to me how good the sound and picture are here + it’s clean. Thank you GFS. As a lifelong Alice Cooper fan I have seen it before but enjoyed it even more this time! Entertaining and factual! Great shame the music was turned down so quite at the end”. But someone else told us that while this documentary was “fairly interesting – I must say I preferred the society before the quotas, when we saw excellent world drama most of the time with the very occasional musical etc.”. This documentary evening did give us “one of those remarkable stories that if you made it up people would not believe it” but this reviewer also felt that “the short was really dull and pointless” Another said that the film was “really delightful and a wonderful insight into creative management techniques!! A beautifully put together documentary of a truly endearing and caring person. Loved the humour and wish there were more people around like him”. This was echoed with “a well-made documentary in terms of cutting in clips/photos etc... Interesting man with a massive life. Thought provoking on “fame” and “family” and loved the “coupon” way of living i.e. pay it forward”. Others told us that this was a “super film” and “humanly funny; a lovely story about a lovely man”. “Thank you film society – not a film I would have watched otherwise, but really enjoyed it. What a life!” The film was considered “Fascinating, fun…a feel good documentary” and “I didn’t expect to enjoy this but it gradually became compulsive. Unlike the Gib monkeys who became rather tedious!” One commentator told us that the film was “enlightening, interesting and entertaining” and provoked the following memory….“Having worked in the record industry in the 70s and met a few characters and heard stories about others, Shep Gordon was one of the good guys I would have liked to have known”. Another commented that this was “an example of how many lifetimes can be fitted into one lifetime. Honestly and sensitively made”. Others said that this was a “good example of how to do this style of documentary”. “Surprisingly entertaining – he certainly came over as Mr Nice Guy”. “A good film of its type”. “I had not heard of Shep and normally would not have chosen this film to watch but found it interesting”. “Fascinating portrait of an amazing life. I nearly didn’t come but glad I did”. “What an amazing and fascinating man! Very well filmed. A full life but sad in the end”. Additional comments ranged from “A film of two halves – second half much more interesting. Short film: fascinating to see the human population doing weird things watched by the monkeys!” “The sort of man I thought I disliked but could not help liking in a bizarre way” to “fascinating story about a rather lonely individual…. The endless dialogue got rather monotonous”. “It wasn’t instant but I ended up liking the guy”. “Not particularly interesting”.

    We have placed cookies on your computer to help make this website better. For more information please click here

    By continuing to use this site or closing this panel, we'll assume you're OK to continue. You can view our full privacy policy here