Alice Cooper director Reg Harkema : “I cannot honestly think of a band that symbolizes the cultural shift from the 60s to 70s better than Alice Cooper “
After a successful theatrical run, the great new Alice Cooper documentary “Super Duper Alice Cooper” has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray with a ton of bonus footage and extras. The movie takes a dramatic look at the rock icon from his earliest beginnings to the heights of rock-stardom and was created by the team at Banger Films (Iron Maiden Flight 666, Rush-Beyond The Lighted Stage”). It’s all pretty exciting stuff for longtime fans of the Coop and I recently spoke with the film’s director, Reg Harkema; read on….
LRI: I had high expectations for your movie, “Super Duper Alice Cooper” and definitely felt satisfied watching it as a fan. When do remember noticing Alice Cooper or becoming a fan of Alice’s work?
Reg Harkema: I remember going to garage sales and seeing Alice Cooper records. At the time, I thought I was into more “Serious” music and he just looked like this clown prince of rock and roll. Years later, this friend of mine who is a gay bear was like “Dude, you know Alice Cooper? You gotta hear his weird 80s period, listen to this album” and he played me the record “Flush The Fashion”. I had this one concept of what I thought Alice Cooper was and he just completely upset those preconceived notions I had about him with this new wave record from like 1980 produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who produced the Cars. It was just very intriguing and not what I expected and then you start reaching back and coming up with his early stuff and the classics and being a Stones fan I was like “Woah, this is the same new wave guy and they’re doing like classic Stones style riffs?” and down the rabbit hole I went from there.
LRI: Was there any one particular moment where the lightbulb really came on as far as understanding or realizing the genius of the early Alice Cooper years?
Reg: I was at a party and “The Ballad Of Dwight Fry” came on and my wife went running to the host to ask who was doing the Melvins cover because she knew it as a Melvins song. That was our entry into “Love It To Death”. I am a huge fan of 70s rock so I was just stunned like “Why did I ever pass on this guy? He’s as good as Led Zeppelin and on and on” so I just started to investigate more and more til the point that you realize Alice has been doing this since the 60s, he didn’t just jump on the glam bandwagon or hard rock bandwagon, he built the damn wagon. Alice was wearing tye dyed stuff and they were all in women’s clothes and it was like “What the fuck?” the more I investigated how they eventually became huge rock stars and just took all that happy 60s Grateful Dead type stuff and just killed Flower Power dead. It wasn’t just a musical shift it was a cultural shift from the 60s to the 70s and I cannot honestly think of a band that symbolizes that better than Alice Cooper.
LRI: Was there a certain turning point when the making of “Super Duper Alice Cooper” started to look more and more like a reality?
Reg: Well, I am a director who comes from an editing background so I really think in terms of the film grammar, the images and I was working as an editor for Sam Dunnand Scot McFadyen of Banger Films on their “Metal Evolution” series and Scot approached me about doing the film on Alice. He wanted to kind of do it in the style of “The Kid Stays In The Picture” and have graphic images or sequences kind of moving stuff and maybe having like a 3-D effect and I suggested just not just taking this images of these mid-60s rock stars but just letting them live in the present moment along the way during our story and when we started cutting some of those types of scenes that was a definite turning point in the creation of the movie. I had my wife Cindy Wolfe do a bunch of visual research with Benjie Gordon and everyone at the Alice Cooper archives and we ended up getting access to all of these images that really supported the style we were going for.
LRI: Anyone who’s watched Sam’s work knows of his intensity level and passion for the bands he covers. Did working with Sam on this documentary raise the bar on your own work?
Reg: I really enjoyed jamming with Sam, we were like a rhythm section where he was laying down the bass foundation and I was just drumming out ideas all over the place. That back and forth totally raised the bar for the project because we kind of had this collision of styles. My background is in dramatic feature editing, I haven’t done many documentaries, I’ve done a few but most of my stuff has been drama so I came in with Sam and Scot who have done these types of documentaries and I was like “Holy shit, this is how you make a rock documentary”. It was like film school to me just watching the whole machine coming together and Sam sort of walked me through the process but then once we got all the material in, when it came time for me and my editing thing which is what I’ve been doing for 25 years, I was like “Okay, now I am in my element” and I was working a lot with the footage where the guys would come in and be like “Woah, fuck, what did you do?” (laughs). In the end, we were all sort of raising the bar for each other like a good power trio should.
LRI: I’ve interviewed lots of Alice’s bandmates and they have all been great guys. Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith are probably two of my all-time favorite interviewees, what was it like working with those original Alice Cooper group guys and how did their experiences help shape the story arc?
Reg: I didn’t do an initial round of interviews with Dennis and Neal, Scot and Sam did but when I started listening to them I realized how unique their point of view was and Dennis in particular had a real sensitivity to him and his story. We immediately touched upon a few things that hit a nerve with him and we decided to let those scenes swim to the top so I think Dennis provides quite a bit of the emotional content of the film which is something that I am pretty proud we were able to achieve. As for Neal, he was amazing. His stories were so funny and he was so great that we were like “God, how could we cut Neal out?” and he is actually in some of the bonus footage.
LRI: Did you get the sense that there was still a great bit of respect or brotherly love between the old Cooper band guys based on your dealings with them?
Reg: I think they all went through a lot of tough times in dealing with the breakup of the group, Alice included but I think they are all now very proud of what they achieved and their body of work. Yeah, there were tough times but now they’re all older and if they were our fathers they’d be retiring by now at their age so I think they are at a point where they’re like “Hey, let’s just be happy and proud of what we’ve achieved and let’s be friends”. I think they’re all friends at this point, I had pictures taken with Neal, Dennis and Alice at the after party. Michael Bruce is still alive and he is sort of a controversial omission from the movie but it was difficult to try and get an interview with him for various reasons and trying to wedge in the presence or story of someone into the film whom you don’t have access to just feels weird and only the most hardcore fan who somehow doesn’t know how to Wikipedia is going to care.
LRI: I’m not a film expert by any means but a big movie fan and the thing that strikes me about this movie compared to most Rock Docs is the high level of cinematography in it. Super Duper Alice Cooper could be watched back to back with Goodfellas and looks fantastic in its visuals.
Reg: Yes, print that please (laughs).
LRI: There have been other documentaries on Alice Cooper including Prime Cuts which was good but this feels much more cinematic and more like a true movie. Was it important for you to approach every visual moment as art rather than just traditional storytelling documentary style? Were you trying to do something different from those other films?
Reg: Oh yeah but again, I kinda came into the whole Alice thing late so I really enjoyed those things like Prime Cuts or Behind the Music as a fan because they were so informational so I was just soaking those things up and occasionally there would be really interesting juxtapositions and Behind The Music has all that flashy editing and they jam in every piece of archival footage so I love it, I love it but yeah, we were trying to do a whole different thing but again, a lot of that comes from my background in dramatic feature films and that collision between Sam and Scott and I. It was a pretty fortuitous thing where we were able to make the best of their abilities and the best of my abilities and if people are happy with the movie than I think we succeeded.
LRI: Obviously Alice’s involvement allowed him the chance to get the story down definitively and on his terms. It opens with some references to his faith and that theme is sort of recurring in the film in subtle moments. Were there certain overall themes that just naturally emerged during the course of making the movie?
Reg: That all evolved really. I found it fascinating, I mean I grew up in a Christian household and I stopped going to church when I was 20 but I was fascinated by the story of Alice who has this life and death experience with his appendix for a year and he almost died and the only reason he thinks he lived is through the power of his parents praying for him. He literally has this huge scar which we have footage of in the movie and it just seems so Shakespearean and symbolic to the point where I was like “What? Are we gonna turn some people off because we have some Christianity in the movie? no way!” To me, it was like Shakespeare (laughs). The light kind of shines down on him, like “God, I feel so strong”, I mean it’s in the music (laughs). Seriously, having grown up in a Christian household myself, if I would have had that kind of life and death moment like Alice, who knows, I might have felt the exact same way so I could have some empathy for that whole theme.
LRI: I got the feeling from watching Sheryl that she was just trying to hang on for dear life after Calico was born despite her intense love for Alice/Vince. What did you take away from the footage with Sheryl?
Reg: Sheryl for me is kind of like Sarah Palin without the nastiness (laughs). Like I don’t know if you ever saw that HBO movie “Game Change” about Sarah Palin?
LRI: That movie kicks ass. Julianne Moore was amazing.
Reg: Do you remember when Sarah Palin first gets nominated for Vice President and she’s becoming this huge public figure when they find out that has a down syndrome child and there’s that scene where everyone is holding up their down syndrome child and she’s just giving all these people hope? That’s Sheryl . All the backroom politics and nastiness of her, that’s NOT Sheryl but that honest, good side of her there in that movie, that’s Sheryl. She’s this 18 year old Christian girl who found the man of her dreams and has lived a dream life and owes it all to God and feels that way so God love em if they feel that way.
LRI: You got most everyone who is integrally involved in the Alice Cooper story. Were there time constraints or a few people that you really wished you could have gotten in, for instance a guy like Dick Wagner who was also just an amazing interview?
Reg: No, we actually talked to Dick Wagner, he was a fascinating interview, we have some of it on the extras and he and Alice are actually talking about recording “Zipper Catches Skin” where they were all high on freebase cocaine. Dick Wagner is an interesting cat, man. I really enjoyed reading his book “Not Only Women Bleed”. It was like the first ebook I ever ordered and he was a great interview and I really enjoyed meeting him but the whole cocaine thing became part of the Bernie and Alice story arc. I’m from that drama/story background so I can be quite ruthless when it comes to editing stuff out for story reasons where I can be like “Ok, Cyndy Smith Dunaway, I love you, but you’re outta here” (laughs).
LRI: The movie ends with Alice getting sober and playing the MTV Concert with his “Constrictor” tour in 1985. Was it just a point of the movie having to end somewhere or was there a certain significance to that point that struck home for you all?
Reg: That’s something I got from watching Behind the Music or Prime Cuts was seeing what their ideas were in terms of dramatic moments or pivotal moments. Some people thought it was the moment where he makes “Poison” and comes back to be number one again or the whole thing with Mike Myers and “Wayne’s World”. There were plenty of interesting moments that happened in that whole late eighties, early nineties timeframe but that stuff was about Alice’s career where I think that moment when he steps onstage sober in front of an audience was more about “the man”. That was really why we made that decision. Someone like VH1 is looking for more of a career overview where we were more looking of the dramatic story. The story we are telling of the man is dramatic and I think that if we were to continue on with the same style and the same characters that story would have stopped being as dramatic and been more like “I woke up, I played golf and then we went for breakfast and shopping and came home to watch a few kung-fu movies and then went out onstage tonight and rocked for a while” and that would be it, did we really want the story to continue on for another 90 minutes like that? Having said that, I think that a lot of those albums he made from that point on are pretty interesting and I am starting to investigate that era of Alice and think it’s pretty interesting to find those albums and see how Alice approached dealing with the grunge era and all of that. I think it’s always interesting how Alice is able to ride the waves of different styles and interprets everything in his own way. Just recently he said something about the whole Lady Gaga thing about how “Only the girls are daring to be theatrical or do elaborate shows”. He can’t say “theatrical rock” though, that’s the problem and that’s what we lost (laughs).
LRI: Last question, thanks again Reg. Beyond promoting the DVD/Bluray release of “Super Duper Alice Cooper” what are you working on, what other projects do you have in the pipeline?
Reg: Sam, Scot and I are planning on doing a Soundgarden documentary but right now we are just waiting, I am starting to feel like Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now” where I am just waiting for a mission. My great discovery today was finding out that Paul Anka did a cover of “Black Hole Sun” (laughs). We are starting to move forward on that but my dream project would be to do an Elton John documentary kind of equating Elton John with Oscar Wilde and showing how England evolved in its social, more so in the 20th century.
LRI: I saw Soundgarden back in the “Louder Than Love” days in a little club and think their early years in particular are pretty interesting. If you do that can you do me a favor and delve into Chris Cornell being roommates with Andrew Wood and their relationship with Mother Love Bone?
Reg: Well, the interesting thing about Andrew Wood from a geographical standpoint, which is important to me, I want the movie to be more than some silly exteriors of Seattle and the Space Needle, but the interesting thing is that he’s from Bainbridge Island, the same place that Ben Shepherd (Soundgarden bassist)is from. That’s the thing, when Hiro left the band and it didn’t work out with Jason Everman it was Ben Shepherd’s “Andrew Wood-ness” that really sold Kim, Chris and Matt on including him in the band.
Pick up “Super Duper Alice Cooper” at Amazon
For more on Reg and Banger Films visit www.bangerfilms.com