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Entries in Slash: Raised on the Sunset Strip [2014] (1)

Friday
Feb052016

Slash: Raised on the Sunset Strip (2014)

L.A. Squirt Guns

Slash has many great stories to tell, and he's very good at telling them. The people behind Slash: Raised on the Sunset Strip aren't very good at telling stories. I'm not even convinced they're really people, beyond the gross Supreme Court definition, which ascribes as muclh personhood to sponsors DirecTV and Guitar Center as to director Martyn Atkins. 

With its slim running time (71 minutes), oddly glossy production values, and scattershot narrative, Raised on the Sunset Strip lands squarely in the “docummercial” category. The first half is effective. We learn a bit about Slash's wealthy-Bohemian childhood; his friendship with future Guns ‘n Roses band mate Steven Adler (who introduced him to the guitar); and the early gigs that helped forge the rock god's reputation on the L.A. club scene. But there’s an Axl Rose-sized hole at the center of this story that sucks the life out of the rest of the show, leaving both filmmaker and audience spinning into a brightly colored, nonsensical oblivion.

Full disclosure: I appreciate Slash as a cultural icon, and I like what he did with G’nR. But I’m neither qualified nor passionate enough to call myself a fan. I went in to Raised on the Sunset Strip hoping to fill in some knowledge gaps, and gain a better understanding for why the film’s subject has had such a profound impact on rock music. It may be unfair to say this, but it’s the truth: I was spoiled by We Are Twisted Fucking Sister!, another rocker-profile doc I watched last week. That film so fully explored its subjects' personalities, context, and culture that I felt as though I’d become proficient in a foreign language by the end. I only had questions after watching Atkins’ film, and forgot most of them an hour later.

Here are a few that linger:

1. Is there an official style guide for the West Coast music scene, or does everyone just happen to wear the same Goth-teen costume? For a lifestyle that promotes individuality above all else, I had a hard time distinguishing between anyone who was not Joe Perry or Dave Grohl. Alice Cooper seems to have set the tone, which was copied by Nikki Sixx, and then Xeroxed endlessly down the line, with Slash’s current band, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, perfecting the blandness of the uniform: jet black hair, black t-shirts, tattoos, sunglasses, leather pants. I have nothing against any of these things, mind you, but I now understand why Slash adopted the top hat and aviator-shades look: to keep fans from wondering if he’s one of the bearded old guys trying to look twenty or one of the non-bearded old guys trying to look twenty.

2. What is Dave Grohl’s beef with Alice Cooper, and why is it in this movie? Cooper and Grohl have a little spat about grunge fans. More accurately, the editor cuts their spat together to comedic effect. It's very funny, especially Cooper's remark about "rounding up all the grunge fans and putting them on buses to Disnelyand". Like an outtake that never got taken out, the scene perfectly illustrates the narrative-cohesion problem I mentioned earlier. Right around the time everyone starts tiptoeing around Guns 'n Roses' history, the film cuts furiously between musicians talking about God knows what from various points in (or out of) the Slash timeline, desperately trying to make a meal out of appetizers.

3. Would I have cared at all, were it not for last month's epic Celebrity Dead Pool? Admittedly, a big part of my fascination with Raised on the Sunset Strip was seeing late, great music legends Lemmy and David Bowie in a documentary for the second time this week. The inclusion of Stone Temple Pilots front-man Scott Weiland (who passed last year), highlighted just how mortal rock icons can be, and how sparse the current landscape is. In fairness to Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, I liked what I heard during the rehearsal/concert footage toward the end, but only time will tell if any of these guys warrant the full Guitar Center treatment.

The heart of the problem is there's simply not enough Slash in this Slash documentary. Between the off-the-rails talking heads, the unofficial Conspirators music videos, and the inescapable aura of affected, buttery privilege in each interview and interview setting, one could easily mistake this for a Nivea hand cream infommercial*--or a fan club video targeted at selling members-only access for upcoming tour dates. If you're looking for an unguarded, in-depth look at Slash's career, in his own words, check out his episode of The Movie Crypt Podcast instead. It's free, it's two hours long, and it rocks.

*The interviews with Slash are especially crisp and beautifully lit. I can see why Shout! Factory opted to put this out on Blu-ray, even though I can't recommend a blind buy.