The broad outlines of Alice Cooper's career will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen an episode of Behind the Music: ambitious youngster moves to the big city -> early setbacks -> learn lessons, refocuses -> success -> atmospheric success -> drug problem -> kicks drugs -> successful comeback. But even though this documentary isn't really breaking any new ground it's still a hell of a lot of fun. Why? Well, as Jules, the hitman played by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, noted: "Personality goes a long way."
On paper, Alice Cooper is just another weird looking skinny boy who was inspired by the Beatles to start a band, but this movie proves that his reputation for being larger than life on stage was well deserved. The archival footage of him in his prime shows how he managed to combine horror with humor in such a way that it got the best of both worlds. If his songs about the angry and the insane had been completely earnest, they would have been too scary to have much universal appeal - after all, there aren't a lot of death metal acts in the top 40. At the same time, if they had been too jokey it would have been too hard to take him seriously - there aren't that many comedy songs at the top of the charts, either. Cooper managed to thread the needle very precisely: just dark enough that square parents wouldn't approve, but not dark enough to get banned from radio, television or public performance. But beyond being at the right level of cool, his shows also looked fun.
Perhaps the best example of his unique tone is his song "Dead Babies". In the concert footage we see he's singing "dead babies can't take care of themselves" while chopping up a baby doll with an hatchet on the stage. If it was just a dead baby joke, it would be crass - something that a subset of cynical people might enjoy, but which a broader audience would probably think was in bad taste. But that sarcastic line is only used in the chorus: the verses are about how parents have to pay attention so their babies don't end up dead. It's a weird combination of message song, sick joke and performance art piece. I can see why Cooper tapped into the zeitgeist of the 70s, when the youth culture was chafing at how all the mainstream was mostly rated PG, but when no one was quite ready for an Antichrist Superstar.
Super Duper Alice Cooper isn't perfect - it ends suddenly in 1986 so it can make it look like Cooper went out on top, when he manifestly did not - but that doesn't matter that much. This sort of personality driven documentary lives and dies by how entertaining it's subject is, and Cooper is more than entertaining enough to keep a relatively short film like this zipping along. Even if you don't think you don't think you need to see another documentary about the rise and fall of a rockstar, well, give the man a chance. After all, Alice Cooper was infamous for killing a live chicken on stage and Kermit still let him guest star on the Muppet Show, the backstage of which was always overrun by Gonzo's flock of chickens. If that doesn't tell you how persuasive Alice Cooper can be if you let him get his foot in the door then I don't know what will.