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The ultimate rock fan

The Los Angeles Film Festival's centerpiece documents a local promoter and legend.

June 12, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Film Festival has chosen as its annual centerpiece premiere George Hickenlooper's documentary on local character Rodney Bingenheimer, "The Mayor of Sunset Strip."

This engrossing work, at once compassionate and rigorous, comprehensive and succinct, would be the centerpiece of any festival for the way it illuminates the life and times of the enigmatic, diminutive Bingenheimer, an influential figure in rock music for four decades and long-running on-air personality at KROQ-FM (106.7). (A CD of the film's far-ranging soundtrack is scheduled to be released.)

Bingenheimer is essentially a loner, though he's cherished by many. Hickenlooper realizes that while he was typical of a generation of celebrity-crazed, glamour-seeking throwaway kids who flocked to Hollywood in the swinging '60s, he also was special. As Cher observes in the film of those times: "If you were a little different something could happen."

With Bingenheimer, people just naturally seemed to want to look after him. That allowed him to pursue his "Zelig"-like passion for turning up in photos of the rich and famous, while discovering that he was a natural promoter of the music and the musicians he admired.

He wrote about them, he promoted them at concerts and at various record companies, and above all he was crucial in launching them on his radio program. Unassuming, empathetic and encouraging, Bingenheimer became the kind of person rock bands found useful to have around.

Bingenheimer's life, in fact, is a veritable who's who of rock 'n' roll, and those who speak of him with gratitude and devotion, in addition to Cher, include Nancy Sinatra, Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Courtney Love and David Bowie. The late Lance Loud, eldest son of the family profiled in PBS' groundbreaking 1970s TV series "An American Family," aptly compares Bingenheimer's personality and modus operandi to Andy Warhol's.

But unlike Warhol, Bingenheimer, who lives in a modest Hollywood apartment, never got rich. Born in Mountain View, Calif., of parents who divorced when he was 3, Bingenheimer inherited his passion for celebrities from his mother, with whom he stayed close until her recent death, though they didn't keep in touch during his early Hollywood years.

His father and stepmother seem decent, ordinary folks but reveal they weren't close to their son. No matter: Bingenheimer is a survivor blessed with the gift of self-invention, and while he may seem lonely at times, he knows how to take care of himself while extending a helping hand to others. The transitory nature of fame, especially in the world of rock, is a key theme of the film, yet Bingenheimer himself endures.

'Particles of Truth'

The images of "Particles of Truth" are so sharp and cut so deep, it's as if its writer-producer-director and co-star Jennifer Elster made them with a scalpel.

Elster takes an emotional seesaw ride through the 48 hours preceding the first group exhibition for her heroine, Lilli, a talented young Manhattan painter. Near the outset of the film she connects warily with Morrison (Gale Harold), a young writer who, like Lilli, comes from a dysfunctional family that makes him almost as skittish as she is.

Consumed with a fear of failing and ambivalent in her responses to Morrison, Lilli strives to sort out her feelings as the show's opening draws ever closer and developments, both expected and from left field, start piling up. As taut as a suspension bridge cable, "Particles of Truth," a notably assured and ambitious first film, builds tension as it involves us deeper and deeper in Lilli's destiny.

'You'll Be Back'

Like "Particles of Truth," Antonio Chavarrias' compelling "You'll Be Back" unfolds over a short space of time, deals with the impact of two people upon each other and creates an ever-increasing amount of uncertainty.

Ignacio (Unax Ugalde) is a slim, nice-looking architectural student prepared to follow in his highly successful, domineering father's footsteps when he has a chance encounter, after much time, with his ne'er-do-well older brother, Carlos (Tristan Ulloa), a scruffy-looking gambler down on his luck. To Ignacio, Carlos represents the excitement and apparent freedom of living on the edge.

It's one thing, however, for Carlos to present a constructive challenge to Ignacio as to what the younger man really wants to do with life, and quite another to lead him astray, even into serious danger. "You'll Be Back" is deceptively low-key and highly accomplished.

'Iran Is My Home'

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