Toronto filmmaker Sam Dunn and his Banger Films have been responsible for some of the best documentaries in metal: from flicks on Rush and Iron Maiden to more general overviews such as Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and Global Metal, as well as a stop for a successful television series in Metal Evolution along the way, Dunn's passion for telling the stories of the metal bands he loves always comes through loud and clear.
Which is the first thing that makes Super Duper Alice Cooper, his new feature-length documentary about Alice Cooper, a bit different than his other projects. When we catch up with Dunn to chat about the movie, we ask if he's a big Cooper fan and his answer comes without hesitation.
"No," admits Dunn. "I think the first time I heard Alice Cooper was 'Poison' on MuchMusic in ’89. All I knew as a teenager was that he looked like an older version of Nikki Sixx. So I just thought, Who is this granddaddy jumping on the glam metal bandwagon? But, of course, as time passed, I came to recognize he was a pioneer of shock rock."
So when Cooper and his management team approached Dunn with the idea for the project, Dunn knew there was a great story to be told. And he also knew that there was more to Cooper's story than most people knew about.
"Particularly the drug abuse problem was never something he had talked about before; it was taboo for him," says Dunn. "He didn’t think it was cool to be a druggie. I think also what makes Alice different than a lot of rockers is he’s got this moral compass that comes with a Christian upbringing; his father was a pastor. So we tried to tell the story of Alice in a way that gave a sense of where he came from and how this lifestyle he got caught up in sort of threatened to dismantle his own morals and the principles with which he was raised."
The movie, which is presented in a very visually unique and stunning fashion, chronicles Cooper's innocent beginnings, rise to fame in the '70s, descent into drug and alcohol abuse, and return in the mid-'80s. As far as classic rock and roll story arcs go, it's right up there.
"I guess in many ways Alice’s story is the typical rock and roll story," says Dunn. "The white picket fence origins, then getting sucked into the storm of rock in the '60s and '70s and hitting rock bottom with drugs and alcohol and then making a triumphant return."
And the return is another curveball in the movie: while Dunn's films usually tell the full story, this story ends with Cooper returning to the stage in 1986 after some time away from it. Then, suddenly, the movie is over.
"Well, that was a difficult decision for us," says Dunn. "We pride ourselves on being comprehensive. A lot of what we felt was important in our films and what people have come to expect from us is that we’re kind of telling the whole story and there is hopefully an authenticity to what we do. You feel like you’re getting to the bottom of the story. But we felt with Alice that it’s such a long career, for one, and secondly, it’s not that exciting after 1986 (laughs). We just felt that his return to the stage fully clean and sober in the mid-'80s was a fitting finale. We had this great story arc staring us in the face; we just couldn’t resist it."
As for what's next for Dunn and his crew, he says that a return to television is in store, this time bringing the stories of specific metal musicians to the small screen through a new series via VH1 (they're working on getting a Canadian broadcaster).
"We’re working on a multi-part biography series that will be coming out early next year that will be half-hour profiles of some of the biggest metal and rock musicians, focusing on specific individuals rather than bands," he says.
As well, look for online exclusive content through Bangertv.com (inspired by the enthusiastic response to Banger's too-metal-for-TV extreme metal episode of Metal Evolution), a documentary on the devil due out by year's end.
Also, the team is working on a Soundgarden documentary. Dunn says they were the one band out of the Seattle scene whose records he actually bought and really liked and still goes back and listens to (I'd have to agree: in a sea of their peers' eye-rolling angst and no-fun rock, albums like Badmotorfinger stand the test of time even better than we figured they would).
"They’ve always resisted a lot of media, they’ve never done a DVD, they’ve never even done a concert film," says Dunn. "Now I guess they want their story to be out there and to be recognized as really one of the first bands on the Seattle scene. They formed in ’84, and they had this bizarre thing that happened where they debuted at #1 in the mid-'90s and called it quits not long after that. I think that will be a really interesting story for fans to hear why that happened and what went through their heads. They kept their break-up really quiet but I guess now with the passage of time they’re ready to open their vaults for us."