It’s probably safe to say that it’s no mere coincidence that the subtitle of “Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon” recalls “Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy.” Both men—one real, one fictional—are products of the ’70s, a decade when drugs and women were easy and outrageous behavior was routine. When rising agent and manager Shep Gordon wore a t-shirt declaring “No Head No Backstage Pass,” it was a sexual invitation certainly, but it also served as a bit of territory-marking. Here was a man who could get what he wanted because of the access he had, and Shep certainly didn’t waste a second. But there is so much more to ‘Supermensch’ than simply sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, which is what makes Mike Myers‘ directorial debut so involving, satisfying and even moving.
But let’s be clear: there is sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in the film. Shep’s adventures in Hollywood are an almost too-good-to-be-true tale of myth-like proportions, where he found himself accidentally staying at the infamous Landmark Motor Hotel and his casual drug dealing put him into contact with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Around that time, he also met a young man by the name of Vincent Damon Furnier, who you might better know as Alice Cooper. The two hit it off instantly, and when Shep curbed his dealing, fearing he might be arrested, and turned to managing Alice Cooper, his life forever changed (the pair have been inseparable ever since). With an ability to create press and drum up publicity that seemed to come as easy as breathing, Cooper was just the first act in Shep’s career, which seemingly had no limit.
“If I do my job perfectly, I’ll probably kill you,” Shep is known to have quipped, and indeed, his early career was a roller coaster of life lived to the extreme. Described by Myers as “a perfect combination of Brian Epstein, Marshall McLuhan and Mr. Magoo,” Shep was blessed with the art of meeting people as well as an ear for discovering talent. Everyone thought he was crazy when he signed up Canadian, clean-cut songstress Anne Murray (who is nothing short of an icon north of the border), but it’s perhaps telling that in her memoir she recounts an early trip to Los Angeles on which she was provided with an unasked-for vial of cocaine in case she needed it. And to convince R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass to sign with him, Shep boasted he could outlast him on a bender … and he did … only for that aforementioned quote to serve as chilling foreshadowing of what was to come.
This is all as wild and entertaining as you might expect, with Myers rounding up no shortage of celebs who have been lucky enough to pass through Gordon’s circle—Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Arnold, Sammy Hagar and more—to share various anecdotes about the man. Shep’s career started in music, moved into film production (Alan Rudolph‘s “Choose Me,” along with John Carpenter‘s “They Live” and “Prince Of Darkness” are some of his better known credits) and even television (it’s no exaggeration to say that Shep invented the modern day celebrity chef, launching Emeril Lagasse to worldwide fame). But where ‘Supermensch’ moves from your standard doc chronicling wild eyed debauchery of yesteryear into something more poignant is when it zeroes in on Shep’s personal life.
Unlike the music and film industry, which is generally known to be swarming with assholes, what made Shep special was his reputation for being exceedingly fair and kind, powered by his own very real belief in karma (side note: he’s a close friend of the Dalai Lama, obviously) and his desire to make sure his talent got everything they were owed. (Shep lived by three rules: 1) Get the money, 2) Remember to get the money, and 3) Always remember to get the money.) And what emerges rather touchingly in Myers’ film is the tale of a man who unselfishly did everything he could by his clients (he practices what he calls “compassionate business”) to help give them the lives they could only dream of while putting his own plans for family aside. With total access to Shep, Myers delicately captures a man who still hopes to have a child of his own, even as that window is nearly closed. When his personal assistant weeps, recounting how sorry she felt for Shep when he was nearing death in hospital—he had no wife or girlfriend to call—it’s a powerful moment that underscores the isolation he created by making others able to succeed and live out their wildest imaginations, wherever it took them.
But Shep’s big heart ensures he always has plenty of friends around. Shep’s property in Maui has a state open door policy (Myers reveals he once spent two months living with Shep during a particularly dark period in his life), and moreover, he does have children of sorts. Perhaps the ultimate example of Shep’s boundless generosity was his decision to care for the children of his ex-girlfriend’s deceased daughter. It wasn’t out of guilt or pity, but simply the right thing to do in his mind—he had the means, he still cared for his ex, and they needed his help. And thus he now has a quasi-family, a group of young people who care for him deeply, and vice versa, who weren’t an obligation by any stretch for Shep, but a responsibility he willingly took on.
‘Supermensch’ is a strong first outing from Myers that plays like that one round of drinks that gets everyone telling stories at the end of a boozy night. We’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg of the great tales within that, just like a classic storyteller, Myers builds and builds, with one quick, third act recounting of a random encounter between Shep and a major cultural titan (we won’t spoil it) so unbelievable that you can’t help but burst out laughing in pure incredulity. But underneath the many laughs is a tender story of man who succeeded in a profession filled with ugly individuals and empty meaning and found his own path of personal enrichment and fulfillment that went far beyond how many records he sold. Shep Gordon will undoubtedly go down as a legend for his many achievements across multiple industries, but also for being the kind of person we should all strive to be in how we take care of ourselves and others. [B+]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.