'Doc opera' telling the Jekyll and Hyde story of the 1970s shock rocker
In 1975, after the band named Alice Cooper self-combusted, their lead singer struck out alone with his debut album ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’. Almost 40 years later Super Duper Alice Cooper doesn’t just welcome you to his nightmare, it delves right in and spends an hour-and-a-half rolling around in all its filthy, squalid glory.
Directors Sam Dunn, Reginald Harkema and Scot McFadyen have got their hands on a king hell bastard of a story and they know it. Presented with a cunning mix of archive footage and cleverly manipulated photos, this is the tale of a man who created a monster so powerful it almost devoured him.
When we first meet Alice he’s Vincent Furnier, the straight-laced son of a preacher man who forms a gimmicky Beatles cover band called The Earwigs. Within a few years they’re in LA in the boudoir of The GTOs, a “groupie group” fronted by Pamela Des Barres and mentored by Frank Zappa. The girls turn them into cross-dressing deviants, and give them a new name, taken from a Ouija board which tells Vincent that he was burned as a witch called ‘Alice Cooper’ in a previous life.
That’s the band’s side of the story, anyway, and if this film proves anything it’s that there’s few greater self-mythologisers in rock’n’roll.
You can barely blink without missing a brilliant anecdote; as per the origin of the band’s “shock rock” reputation, where they accidentally throw a live chicken into an audience who tear it apart in front of 70,000 hippies, including John Lennon. (By this point, they’ve come a long way since The Earwigs.)
As their fame grows in the decadent ’70s, the once tee-total Vincent changes his name to Alice Cooper and plunges headlong into alcoholism. He splits from the band. When he finally stops drinking he swiftly replaces booze with a cocaine addiction so monstrous that even then-collaborator Bernie Taupin freaks out – and that’s from a man who works with Elton John.
It’s an unusual documentary in that not once do we see the contributions from Iggy Pop, John Lydon or any other interviewees framed as talking heads, only as narrators. This keeps the story in the moment, although it’s occasionally tricky to keep track of exactly which old band member is talking.
The film’s real masterstroke, however, is to cut in clips from the 1920 film ‘Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde’. This fits not only Cooper’s love of vintage horror, but also the film’s over-arching narrative: that Vincent and Alice were locked in a battle for one man’s soul.
Ultimately, the story is redemptive as Cooper beats his cocaine addiction, rediscovers his parents’ faith and learns how to unleash Alice’s monster only on the stage. Compared to this outlandish nightmare, conventional rock documentaries are just not worthy.
Kevin EG Perry
Release date: 26 May, 2014