Rodney Bingenheimer might not be a worldwide star, but he can call those worldwide stars his friends. Now a disc jockey on KROQ-FM, he can lay claim to being there at the time when many of the most successful bands and artists were looking for a big break. Not only that, but he was there in Hollywood of the nineteen-sixties when celebrities like The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones - and many more - were at the height of their powers. But is Rodney's life as glamorous as it sounds? When they ask him at the start of the documentary whether he would change his life, he answers "Yes"...
There's a tension at the centre of director George Hickenlooper's Mayor of the Sunset Strip, and it's whether he can make his subject look pathetic and deeply unfulfilled, or whether Rodney's blankly sunny disposition can win through and present an existence that has all been worthwhile. Not that Hickenlooper doesn't like his subject, it's just that he appears to be looking for more depth than Rodney is willing to give, or even be capable of; the impression is that he would rather the film be a flick through his photo album than an expose of his soul.
We learn about Rodney's early life, where he was bullied at school and looked up to his celebrity obsessed, autograph-hunting mother. Ah, the amateur psychologists can say, that's where he got this fame fixation from, he's trying to win the approval of a mother who, we find out, dropped him at Connie Stevens' house when he was a teenager and never saw him again for five or six years. In that time, Rodney moved to Los Angeles and started making his way into the music scene there, not as an artist but as a hanger on who eventually became something of a mascot.
He auditioned to be in The Monkees, not that that's anything especially unique for a young man in Hollywood at the time, but he did secure a role as Davy Jones' stand-in on the show, which earned him a long line of sexual favours from his female equivalent, the groupies and hardcore female fans who would do anything to get that little bit closer to the object of their adoration, including sleeping with the stars' friends. This guy should be a hero to music nerds everywhere, living the dream of getting close to the artists and reaping the benefits from the women who cling onto their coat tails.
However, Hickenlooper isn't satisfied with that and the tone turns mawkish. Rodney's radio show isn't the draw it once was, and the listeners' interest in the bands of his heyday is waning. He still has his finger on the pulse, but the pulse is slowing and at the time this was shot, his show is broadcast at that less-than-essential midnight to three a.m. Sunday night slot. Now Rodney's mother has died, we're meant to believe there's a gaping hole in his emotional life that the fact he can't find love only underlines. Poor little guy, is the theme.
Trouble is, he looks damn near oblivious to all this, even slightly embarrassed about being the centre of attention for once and his mild mannered demeanour sabotages Hickenlooper's efforts to fashion tragedy out of simple, if improbable, real life. The director must have been delighted when he caught Rodney losing his temper on camera, but it's an isolated incident that seems more to do with the stress of a film crew following him around all day. Seeing him scatter his mother's ashes is probing too far, making you wonder how much Rodney really enjoyed Hickenlooper putting him under the microsope. Watch it for the stars, then, as Bingenheimer would do - there's quite the assortment of famous faces here, both interviewed and in archive footage. His longtime friend Kim Fowley appears too: now there's a subject for a good documentary.