Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014)

Starring: Alice Cooper, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith, Sheryl Cooper, Shep Gordon, Bob Ezrin, Bernie Taupin, Elton John, Iggy Pop, John Lydon

Directed by: Sam Dunn, Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen

Rating: 1 2 3 4

'In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil.'
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Alice Cooper

So begins shock rock documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper, as we witness first John Barrymore's famous transformation from Jekyll to Hyde in the 1920s silent film, then Hyde's hunch-backed, twisted figure stagger onto the stage in the emaciated, intoxicated form of Alice Cooper.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote an essay on Alice, explaining how, by splitting himself so resolutely into two distinct personalities, Nice Guy Alice and the Killer, he is in fact, unwittingly or otherwise, tapping into one of the great fundamental truths about human nature: that 'the impulses of nature and impulses of the spirit are at war with one another' as St Augustine put it, around 2,000 years ago. I argued that the Alice Cooper show, a descent into hell complete with demons, monsters and murderous femmes fatales, allows us to face up to the shadows growling in our own closets and help assimilate them into our lives.

But the Alice I was talking about was the Alice of the last 30 years: the man who is able to hang up the mask at the end of show and leave the demons in the dressing room, to stalk from the stage in his make-up and leather and head to the green for a round of golf.

Super Duper Alice Cooper, on the other hand, focuses on the years before, when, like the ill-fated Dr Jekyll, Alice allowed his Mr Hyde to take possession of his soul, almost destroying him in the process; when his descent into madness and self-destruction took place off stage as well as on.

With a title like Super Duper Alice Cooper, it's fairly obvious that this lovingly crafted, meticulously researched, keenly focused documentary is not going to be a hatchet job. Yet I've watched, read and listened to many, many, many interviews with the legendary shock rocker, and still found room for surprise and, yes, shock here.

The Alice Cooper band in the early days

Like most Alice Cooper retrospectives, it's not really about the original band as a whole but the individual, the wholesome all-American preacher's son Vincent Furnier turned cross-dressing wild man/woman of rock. In fact, although his once close friendship with and subsequent betrayal of school friend and co-founding band member Dennis Dunaway is highlighted, the latter (unusually) contributing to the narrative, the others (as usual) receive little attention – poor old Michael Bruce is never even named. But this is not a film about old men of rock relaxing in armchairs, surrounded by gold discs and other music biz paraphernalia. Told entirely through animated images and archive footage – much of which I've not seen before – it's a bold, visually arresting comic-strip of a movie which skips over many of the nuts and bolts of the history (albums and release dates, the names of the rest of the band – who needs 'em? Not me) to focus on Alice's personal story arc – or story rollercoaster.

Alice with Salvador Dali

Sure, the legendary yarns we've heard a hundred times are all present and correct – the ouija board, the chicken, the meeting with Salvador Dali, etc – but that's not all. Besides rare interviews with Alice's parents and wife, we also have the shocking revelation that the loquacious, seemingly open star has managed to keep quiet for half his life: that his second relapse after the release of From The Inside was not, as he has always claimed, due to booze (in his autobiography he blames it on a sip of his wife's wine at dinner) but cocaine, first sampled during the recording of the seminal album meant to exorcise the demons of his incarceration in a mental hospital to treat alcohol addiction. In other words, it's all Bernie Taupin's fault, and Alice has lied about it ever since. As I said, I was shocked. Though looking back at the horrific footage of the glassy-eyed, sunken-cheeked, twitching skeleton he became in the lost Flush the Fashion//Zipper Catches Skin/Dada phase, it's a miracle more people didn't guess...

As an Alice Cooper fan, I found this film absolutely fascinating, if perhaps a little too respectful – some dissenting voices wouldn't have hurt. But is it only for the super duper groupies? I'd say no, because at heart it's a story that anyone can relate to: a tale of a riven personality fuelled by rock'n'roll excess, a meteoric rise and crashingly devastating fall, a triumphant redemption and happy ending. Hello, hooray...

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