“Who was (or is) Shep Gordon?” might have been an appropriate title for all but show biz insiders, but it wouldn’t have conveyed the reverence (albeit often obscene) that went into this homage/doc.
Gordon shaped and saved the careers of many — Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, Luther Vandross, Emeril Lagasse — and even in the swarm of show-biz archaeology out there, it will be a novelty, given Gordon’s longevity across the entertainment industry and the marquee friendships that have lasted.
Shep Gordon was a Long Island kid who went to the University of Buffalo — Harvey Weinstein’s alma mater, in case you didn’t know — and ended up in Los Angeles at the Landmark Motel in Hollywood. Gordon was punched by a rowdy woman guest there, who happened to be Janis Joplin. He also met Jimi Hendrix. “You’re Jewish?” Hendrix apparently said. “You should be a manager.”
Gordon took the advice, seeing that access to musicians was also access to sex with the women who followed them, but things started slowly. One of his early clients who became a life-long friend was Alice Cooper. Gordon saw that the unknown Cooper could make a name for himself by marketing notoriety. If the cops closed down a show, the house would be packed the next night. It worked for decades. Today, according to the documentary, the two still golf together.
More than a friend, Gordon was an asset for his clients: “Get the money” was his mantra. He recognized that black entertainers were not being paid by promoters, and took an interest in Teddy Pendergrass. Pendergrass’s appeal was sex, so Gordon organized shows for women only, also a shrewd maneuver. Pendergrass proved too grand, even for Gordon, a JewBu (Jewish Buddhist) who warned the singer of karma repercussions when he refused capriciously to play a sold-out concert. Pendergrass was paralyzed in a car crash a week later.
The stories go on and on. Gordon represented Anne Murray, the wholesome square Canadian with a golden voice. (She’s past Middle American — she’s Canadian,” he said.) He also represented Emeril Lagasse; chefs were another unpaid group and Gordon’s appetite for food surpassed his appetite for sex. The celebrity chef phenomenon is largely his brainchild. Like his loyal clients, Gordon will never starve — literally.
Myers brings energy to his first film the way he brought it to his early comedy – a little too much. The first-person narration by Gordon (akin to Brett Morgen’s “The Kid Stays in the Picture”) is enlivened by constant clips, edited rapid-fire, that sound a lot like comics juicing a crowd for response. Myers also throws in archival movie reaction shots that seem taken from unrelated sources — maybe just for laughs?
Regardless, there are a million stories here, enough to make you wonder what they cut out to make it acceptable to A&E IndieFilms, which produced it. Like so many testimonials, this cine-roast (roast-umentary?) with Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, and Myers himself (who met Gordon through “Wayne’s World,” and calls him “a perfect combination of Brian Epstein, Marshall McLuhan and Mr. Magoo”) rises above wax museum level, because the tales become wilder and wilder, and because Gordon truly seems to be a mensch – rare in a business of vain backstabbers.
When the doc moves to Gordon’s adoption of the family of his African American ex, and his survival of an “intestinal heart attack,” the tears start flowing. What’s a remembrance without a Jerry Lewis moment? But the first hour of “Supermensch” is a crazy excavation of the insanity underneath depravity. In short, see it. There won’t be another doc on Shep Gordon while he’s still with us.
A version of this review was published during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday.