Mayor of the Sunset Strip
with Rodney Bingenheimer, David Bowie, Joey Ramone
Directed and written by George Hickenlooper
(First Look Media)
by Mike Delano
Rodney Bingenheimer, longtime DJ for the mega L.A. rock station KROQ and staple of the Sunset Strip music scene, describes himself as the bridge between the famous people and the not-so famous people. He occupies that celebrity limbo with none of the soulless greed you’d expect from an Angelino, but with a boyish enthusiasm that, amongst the priorities of today’s music industry, seems to be getting pushed back further than his “Rodney on the ROQ” radio show timeslot.
The only reason Bingenheimer is still on the air is because, as one interviewee puts it, KROQ is afraid if they fire him, they’ll lose the last shred of their once-hip soul to the corporate machine. Not that Rodney uses that possibility as any kind of leverage: Someone asks him what he’d do if fired after 20 years, and he replies he’d go to another station.
Such is the way of the Mayor, a man with seemingly boundless affinity for merely being in the presence of fame, even if it’s only passing through. A laundry list of stars huddle up to him throughout the film (Bowie, Gwen Stefani) and pay their respects, but only a precious few seem willing to expend the effort to create a bond that lasts more than five minutes backstage.
Thankfully, director George Hickenlooper isn’t at all interested in making a heap of vapid celebrity worship and chooses instead to delve into the character of Rodney, one of the most endearing subjects in recent film history. He puts up with a lot of crap from, of all people, his friends and the filmmakers, as well as the celebrities from whom he receives steadily smaller rewards.
As a bridge, he’s trampled, and he all but offers to trade in his kingdom of autographs and free records for someone to give him back some love. Music is his sanctuary, but he knows there’s more, and the film’s most poignant moment drives that home. After the credits, John Doe from X tells Rodney with a languid sincerity that despite its constantly changing late night slot, he looks for “Rodney on the ROQ,” and finds it.