In Yiddish, “mensch” is a term of endearment used to describe a wonderful, kind human being who is a credit not just to his people, but to society as a whole. A supermensch would embody those wonderful qualities to an even greater extreme; he’d be such a credit to humanity, he’d make regular mensches seem like human garbage by comparison.
Yet if anything, Supermensch’s title dramatically undersells how flattering this documentary is to its subject: rock manager, world-class raconteur, close personal friend of every famous person ever, and all-around great guy Shep Gordon. It’s easy to see why first-time feature-film director Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers, the one who, to borrow Paul Shaffer’s roast joke on Chevy Chase, made us laugh so much, and then sometime around 1998, mysteriously stopped) is so enamored of Gordon. But Myers’ adoration doesn’t serve his subject or his documentary, which isn’t an exploration of Gordon’s life and times so much as a manic, effusive exultation of everything Gordon has accomplished.
In Supermensch, Gordon emerges as a rock-world Zelig who stumbles into a lucrative, debauched, exciting career managing Alice Cooper, Teddy Pendergrass, and Anne Murray, then reinvents himself as an independent-film pioneer, then plays a big role in creating and popularizing the notion of the celebrity chef, helping make people like Emeril Lagasse into household names. Gordon did enough drugs to kill several lesser souls, was briefly married to a Playboy playmate, and dated Sharon Stone for years, despite looking like a nebbishy Jewish accountant, complete with graying ponytail. He also won the friendship and favor of everyone from the Dalai Lama to Sylvester Stallone to Myers, who stayed at Gordon’s Hawaii home for months during a terrible personal crisis. What kind of personal crisis? Myers the director and interview subject doesn’t feel it’s necessary to say; after all, this is about Gordon being the greatest man in human history, not just about how Gordon selflessly helped one of his many, many famous friends in his time of need.
Supermensch is at its loosest and most engaging in the early going, as it chronicles with impish glee the P.T. Barnum-esque stunts that propelled Alice Cooper to stardom and infamy. Gordon brainstormed the infamous incident in which Cooper reportedly bit the head off a live chicken during a concert; it was also his idea to have a pair of paper panties wrapped around every copy of Cooper’s smash album School’s Out. Gordon saw pop music—and Cooper’s theatrical career and persona in particular—as a form of vaudeville. So did Gordon’s good friend Groucho Marx, whom he also befriended and helped manage. As long as Supermensch sticks to the too-strange-for-fiction terrain of Gordon’s early career as a rock guru, it’s on solid footing. But when it slows down to explore what Myers feels is Gordon’s important later career as a man who throws really amazing parties for all his super-famous friends, and gets them interacting in unexpected, inspired combinations (for example, forcing Clint Eastwood to interact with Tom Arnold), it grows sugary and boring.
Gordon’s success as a manager was attributable partially to his ability to make famous people happy, but hearing an endless assortment of celebrities gush about him quickly ceases to be entertaining or informative, particularly when Myers is the one gushing. And for a documentary about a man who worked in music for ages, and indulged in more than his share—and everyone else’s share—of drugs, sex, and bad behavior, the film is perversely devoid of conflict.
By the end, Supermensch begins to feel like a birthday-video tribute Myers found so fascinating, he decided to release it commercially—or alternately, a birthday toast that begins strong (so many great stories! Such a life this man led!), but wears out its welcome. (Christ, do we have to hear all the stories? How long is this going to take?) Supermensch is a loving tribute to a friend, but in gushing effusively and endlessly over Gordon—who, it should be noted, really does seem like a great guy—Myers shortchanges the audience.