"Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon"
Directed by Mike Myers
Currently available on DVD/Blu-Ray and via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes
"Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" sometimes resembles a real-life "Forrest Gump": kindly white savior surfaces at key junctures in American twentieth century history to gently shape aspects of the world as we understand it today. Shep Gordon, the subject of Mike Myers' documentary—deep breath, now—subtly advances the field of stunt publicity, contributes to the invention of the celebrity chef, transforms Teddy Pendergrass into a bona fide sex symbol, is an early champion of independent cinema, and explodes the fledgling Alice Cooper into public consciousness as an avatar of the downfall of western civilization. That Gordon's diversified ambitions appear at odds with his amiable, schlub-like mien makes him both a tantalizing contradiction and a dramatic challenge. Myers (yes, the Mike Myers by the way) navigates this complication by contrasting his subject's achievements and big-hearted gregariousness with an inability to find a mate, and start a family.
Via campy reenactments, talking-head interviews with bold-face names, and footage cherry-picking so omnivorous that it verges on the cartoonish, we witness a Long Island-born, neglected son evolve to State University of New York graduate to selling weed to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix to music-biz talent manager to a grizzled Yoda puttering around his ocean-side Maui estate. Myers ably maintains a light and madcap tone throughout, and there's a lot of laughter and sly humor from Cooper, Tom Arnold, Anne Murray, and others—yet Gordon's various ex-lovers and wives are touched upon but never interviewed. One walks away from "Supermensch" admiring Gordon's business acumen and deep Rolodex, amazed that Myers remains capable of jazzy coherence, and reminded that 95 minutes isn't anywhere near enough time to capture a single life in full. These are just the greatest hits.
Directed by Jesse Moss
Currently available on DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming via Netflix
"What would I do if I got off a bus, and had to find a job?" Jay Reinke poses this question in the early going of "The Overnighters." It is not entirely existential; this documentary is set in 2013, as the oil fracking boom arrives in Williston, North Dakota. Reinke, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church, offers lodging to dozens of transient, economically disadvantaged laborers from across the country and around the world seeking the opportunity to better their lives and those of their families. In the name of Christian compassion, vehicles jam the parking lot, cots and sleeping bags line the offices and hallways, and Reinke's cell phone buzzes at all hours, to the detriment of his family life. Functioning (sometimes concurrently) as spiritual guide, social worker, and psychologist, he's a peppy presence when we first meet him: a rumpled, chipper Tim Gunn of the cloth, peering benevolently over lowered spectacles and—perhaps too accommodatingly—extending good will to all comers.
As crime and suspicion overtake the area, his congregation, the city council, and church neighbors actively oppose the overnighters program, and cries of outrage grow in volume as it's revealed that some newcomers may be convicted sex offenders. Over 90 increasingly tense minutes, director Jesse Moss deftly captures, through this town, the country in free-fall, and it should be recognizable to us all: crumbling houses, abandoned downtowns, the pinched faces of proud men whose distant labor ruptures connections with loved ones, machinery penetrating the earth, the strained voices of residents pushed past their charity thresholds. As the stress grinds Reinke, his wife, and their children down, it's as easy to picture Williston's diorama playing out nationally as it is difficult to determine where or how to draw a humanist line in the sand.