Film Review: Sunset Strip

Posted November 11, 2013 in
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Sunset Strip
Vision Films
On DVD: 12.10

I’ve always believed that a successful documentary will mirror or at least capture the spirit of its subject. The best ones do: James Marsh’s Man on Wire, about Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk across the Twin Towers in the ’70s, is a romantic tightrope walk of a movie—always tense, like you are out there between the towers staring ahead and murmuring; Don’t look down … Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man captures the adventure and semi-insanity of Timothy Treadwell; and Sebastien Junger and Tim Hetherington’s Restrepo embeds you with a battalion of soldiers in the most dangerous valley in Afghanistan. You see what they see and you feel what they feel.

Sunset Strip, a new documentary from Vision Films directed by Hans Fjellestad, does not capture the spirit and lifestyle of the famous street in L.A., instead relying on the interviewees to provide the color and sustenance of the film. Now, that might’ve worked had they interviewed semi-interesting subjects, but instead we are regaled with half-remembered stories from a few half-remembered rock stars. America’s armpit, Johnny Depp makes a few appearances, looking like Bin Laden’s soap, and Billy Corgan reminisces about not being able to do as much cocaine as he would have liked. Thanks a lot, Cobain. Suffice to say it could’ve used much more Phyllis Diller, may she rest in peace.

Still, the history of the Sunset Strip is culturally important and the film adequately teaches this history without bells or whistles, in the vein of a Ken Burns series. You’ll probably learn something new and interesting, even if the film bores you.

From the days of Mickey Cohen and the Wars of the Sunset Strip to the riots of the mid-’60s, the Strip has always attracted creative types: rock stars, writers, coke heads, mobsters and prostitutes—and John Belushi, who was all of those things at once. If you can get past the boring format, Sunset Strip provides enough interesting history and off kilter charm to be a somewhat worthwhile experience.