Rodney Bingenheimer, the subject of the unsettling and unsettled documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip, is a small, middle-aged man made from parts that disappear as you look at him – blurry mouth, spindly legs – until all that remains is his silky pouf of age-defiant bangs. Bingenheimer is known today as a disc jockey on the influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ, but since the early 1970s, he has held a more nebulous and fabulous position in the pop-culture traffic jam: He has met everyone from Elvis to John Lennon, promoted bands from the Sex Pistols to Coldplay, and basked in proximity to the famous with a blithe zeal to rival that of the fictional Zelig.
And like Zelig, Bingenheimer gives off an aura of guilelessness that draws Cher, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, among others, to speak affectionately of their own little Mr. Cellophane. (His aged father and stepmother appear to know him no better, his alluringly zany mother died a few years ago, and the woman he shyly loves refers to him vaguely as ”a friend.”)
But while watching Rodney be Rodney is uneasy fascination enough, writer-director George Hickenlooper (”The Man From Elysian Fields”) insists on drawing a cultural analysis of celebrity from his subject’s one-degree-of-separation fame – a feint that pushes the documentary from unnerving portrait to presumptuous thesis: Gentle Bingenheimer, who retreats from being ”figured out,” is dubiously honored with unenlightened commentary by people hell-bent on doing so.