Yet even if Bingenheimer's celebrity and influence have declined in recent years, Hickenlooper doesn't make him an object of pity. That may be because Bingenheimer doesn't see himself as an object of pity, even though it often seems that he's thrown much of his energy into building the careers of others while not being particularly devoted to bulking up his own. Bingenheimer is charming, understated and waiflike. His hairstyle has undergone some minor changes over the past 40 years, having settled into something that's half Ron Wood rooster cut, half Dutch-boy bob, but also weirdly timeless. His eyes are serious, inky and honest. When Hickenlooper, off-camera, asks him a question, he answers with so much unrehearsed forthrightness that you realize it would never occur to him to lie or embellish. In fact, his longtime friend, the nefarious producer and heel-about-town Kim Fowley, builds up Bingenheimer's legend more than Bingenheimer does, informing us that, in the '60s, Robert Plant noted that "Rodney gets more girls than I do."It's easy to see how girls in '60s Southern California would have gone wild for the teenage Bingenheimer, who looked like the innocent little boy every girl wanted to mother (and more). But Bingenheimer didn't have a particularly glamorous upbringing. He grew up in the small California town of Mountain View. His parents divorced when he was 3. His father went on to remarry and, as he practically admits in his on-camera interviews here, had little to do with Rodney's upbringing. Rodney was closer to his mother, who died several years ago, but even that relationship is a bit shadowy: Bingenheimer was left on his own at a young age, roaming Sunset Strip and somehow (it's never made clear exactly how) meeting and befriending the most sensational musicians of the day, from Mick Jagger to Elvis Presley to David Bowie.
Hickenlooper mixes contemporary and vintage footage, crisscrossing the past and the present to sift out every possible fleck of glitter from Bingenheimer's sometimes glamorous, sometimes pedestrian, career. Zelig-like, Bingenheimer shows up in photograph after photograph, as well as in live-performance footage, sidled up to the big stars of the day. He was never a stone's throw away from a photo op with the likes of the Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa.
Apparently both persistent and likable, Bingenheimer became a fixture on the Hollywood scene of the mid- to late '60s. His glamour quotient increased further when he tried out for the Monkees. (He didn't make the cut, but he resembled Davy Jones closely enough that he did serve as a Monkee stand-in now and then.) Somehow, everybody who was anybody knew Rodney. In the early '70s he opened a club known as Rodney's English Disco, which featured a tiny roped-off VIP area that was barely separate from the space where the club's garden-variety beautiful people shimmied and shook. Not long after the disco closed, in 1976, Bingenheimer got his slot on KROQ, and his web of rock star (and rock star wannabe) acquaintances continued to grow. Hickenlooper interviews a starburst array of them, including Blondie's Debbie Harry, former groupie extraordinaire and ex-GTO Pamela Des Barres, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Brooke Shields and Nancy Sinatra. Courtney Love recounts how she met Bingenheimer: "I stalked him." And Des Barres, looking prettier and more vivacious than many women half her age, reveals that Bingenheimer was the first boy she kissed when she got to Hollywood. "He tried to feel me up, but I wouldn't let him!" she adds, breaking into a fit of giggles.
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