Film and TV

Alice Cooper's New "Doc Opera" Details Drug Abuse and Other Sordid Stories

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From the get go, the film delves into a "Jekyll and Hyde" theme with clips from vintage horror films, providing a sort of realistic narration to a battle between of Vincent Furnier -- Cooper's alter ego -- and Alice Cooper. He's long described his two sides as Jekyll and Hyde, or an aristocratic villain, such as Sherlock Holme's nemesis Dr. Moriarty.

It's mostly narrated by Cooper, and favors a different documentary format. Instead of the typical "talking heads" interviews, it's peppered with voiceovers, contrastive animation, rare footage, music video highlights, vintage photos and, of course, a steady stream of music.

It's fascinating hearing some of the sound bites. There's Elton John, who talks about how he was at the famous Hollywood Bowl show in, when thousands of panties were dropped from helicopters on the crowd, and all he could think was "I need to grab a pair of these panties." Bernie Taupin discusses for the first time his role in hooking Cooper on cocaine while working on the 1978 album From the Inside. Dee Snyder admits to the fact that all the punk and glam rock bands that popped up in the '80s were all the kids who used to go to Cooper's shows -- "Alice Cooper ejaculated, and glam metal was born." Other interviews include Iggy Pop, John Lydon, manager Shep Gordon, Cooper's mom, Johnny Rotten and original Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway, the latter of which had an acid trip where Cooper describes him standing by the drapes asking, "who would wear pants this size"?

The documentary starts with Alice discussing how he ended up in Phoenix. As a child in Detroit, he attended church Thursday through Sunday, as his father was a preacher. He suffered from severe asthma, and the doctors told his parents they had to get out of the cold climate and pick a new place to live if they wanted him to survive -- and that new place was Phoenix.

He and his best friend Dennis Dunaway bonded over a love for Salvador Dali's art and were Beatle maniacs -- the style, the sound, the look. Parents were confused, which was a big part of his fascination. Their school had a talent show, so they decided to do a spoof of the Beatles, and recruited friends who knew how to play music. The school crowd loved it, and that fueled the fire. That energy. They played those songs 50 times a night and every day got a little bit better.

They started as the Earwigs, playing at a rock 'n' roll teenage dance hall in Phoenix called the VIP. Then moved up to the next bug: the Spiders.

He began to choose music over church, getting upset that people cared so much about his long hair. He wanted to get to Los Angeles and play rock, which the band did in 1967.

The documentary goes on to detail how the guys met The GTOS, a girl band that lived in Frank Zappa's cabin's basement. When Cooper's band played they realized they needed to look different from everyone else, and the The GTOs told them about a place selling old Icecapades outfits on the cheap. From signing onto Zappa's label and Lester Bangs calling their album Pretties for You a "tragic waste of plastic," the band struggled to find a place to call home. For years they played from town to town, saying they would move to the first city where they got a standing ovation.

They finally found their niche after playing after Iggy Pop and the Stooges at a Detroit festival. They realized they were there to be an outlet for the kids who were on the lunatic fringe of society. That demographic finally had a rock star to represent them: Alice Cooper.

Super Duper Alice Cooper highlights an array of stories and facts about Cooper's childhood, rise to fame, demise and recovery. There are well-known myths debunked, like the famous "chicken slaughter" story that occurred 45 years ago at the Toronto Rock n Roll Revival concert. Alice Cooper's band opened for John Lennon, he threw a chicken off the stage thinking it would fly (he has insisted for years that, "I'm from Detroit and never been on a farm in my life"), and the audience ripped it to shreds before throwing it back on stage. It details Cooper's meeting with Salvador Dali, one of his favorite artists as a child; meeting his wife, who was one of the dancers in his solo show; how the musician found his way back to Christianity; and how, after he got clean in a sanitarium, it was printed that "the new Alice Cooper is a housewives' delight."

And that's just a small part of the film that runs about an hour and fifteen minutes. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17 in New York, and will have about 400 screenings at theaters across the country starting on April 30. Super Duper Alice Cooper was made by the same people behind the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage -- Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn -- and Reginald Harkema.

Up On The Sun talked with Cooper about the most uncomfortable parts of the documentary for him, the inventive format, and the tough task of pinning down the origin of his name.

Alice Cooper: Hey Lauren. Just got back from New York last night!

Up On The Sun: I heard the afterparty was on the 10:00 news.

It was great. I had it catered by White Castle, because when I grew up you know the whole documentary is about my childhood and the battle between me and Alice -- I grew up on White Castle. So I thought, let's keep the theme going here.

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise