Sunday, August 05, 2007

On-The-Air Amusement And Angst

After seeing the new movie TALK TO ME (reviewed below) I got to thinking about radio personalities in the movies. Sometimes they are disc jockeys, sometimes they have specialty call-in shows, sometimes they are rabble rousers - sometimes all three. Let's take a look at some of the most memorable motor mouths : Barry Champlain (Eric Bogosian) in TALK RADIO (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1988) Champlain is the epitome of all three of the above. His station announcer introduces him as "the man you love to love" and he gets more death threats than phone-ins. Taking place almost completely around a radio console as Barry insults, cajoles, and just plain provokes callers TALK RADIO can best be considered a comic tragedy. It expands on the stage play (recently revived on Broadway) by giving us Barry's back-story showing his rise to be one of the top talk radio personalities in Dallas on the verge of national syndication. His fame though is running face to face with the mounting militia-based hatred of much of his audience. Barry's final break-down resulting in a mesmerizing monologue lays bare a pathetic self destructive unsalvageable soul but the announcer is right - over the years I've come to love to love the man whose signature sign-off line is "Sticks and stones can break your bones but words cause permanent damage." Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) in GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (Dir. Barry Levinson, 1987) Based on the real life experiences of a Armed Forces Radio Saigon disc jockey this role features Williams way before he became so annoyingly over-exposed and before his film formula became so, well, annoying. Dealing with uptight army officials (the late greats Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh) and ignoring army playlists and protocol Cronauer learns and grows mostly when he's not on the air but some maturity is shown on the mike before we reach the treacly but still affecting conclusion. David "Dave" Garver (Clint Eastwood) in PLAY MISTY FOR ME (Dir. Eastwood, 1971) Eastwood's directorial debut with him as a soft spoken (I know, of course) disc jockey is really more of a thriller (the mold of which would be later used for FATAL ATTRACTION - 1987) than a radio-related story. Garver's most loyal fan (Jessica Walter) repeatedly makes the request of the title which is all good that is until she becomes a stalking murderous mad woman. Maybe it's because she fell overboard for Garver's smooth soothing tone. Maybe like Dylan, Eastwood should consider doing a XM satellite radio show - that is if he's not afraid of attracting new stalkers. Leon Phelps (Tim Meadows) in THE LADIES MAN (Dir. Reginald Hudlin, 2000) Yeah! Another awful movie made from a running SNL sketch character at least has some radio-tested charm by way of Phelps's smarmy self intro : "I am an expert in the ways of love. I have made love to many fine ladies from the lowliest bus station skank to the classiest most sophisticated, educated, debutant, high society... bus station skank." Phelps is a Chicagoan host of a late night sex advice show who is always accompanied by a glass of Courvoisier and an unjustified arrogant romantic philosophy. He unwisely journeys out of the studio to hunt down an ex-lover. I think that was the plot, I mean really - who cares? Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) in THE FISHER KING (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1991) The role of the "shock jock" gets played here in a role that comes from the same cloth as TALK RADIO's Barry Champlain. The twist here is - what if the guy has a conscience? One of Lucas's random radio comments inadvertently causes a mad man to open fire in a bar and one of the patrons - history professor Parry (Robin Williams again) watches as his wife gets killed. Tossed out of the radio fame game Lucas meets a homeless deranged Parry years later. Lucas decides to help Parry which will in turn be his redemption. Lucas even has a radio catch-phrase that fits in with the movie's premise, the Steve Martinesque "hey, forgive me!" Howard Stern (Howard Stern) in PRIVATE PARTS (Dir. Betty Thomas, 1997) Playing himself in his own biopic (based on his bestselling book) is not surprising considering the size of the ego of the self-proclaimed "king of all media" but come on, who else would or could do it? The best scenes here are the re-creations of Stern's infamous broadcasts and not the rom com trappings surrounding them. Much has changed for the man who popularized the term "shock jock" in the ten years since PRIVATE PARTS was released. Mainly the divorce from the woman that this film was a Valentine to and the gigantic $500 million Sirius Satellite deal that got him off regular radio make the meager goals of this movie seem quaint today. Funny how cute rather than cutting Stern seems when looking at this portrayal today - especially his naive reaction to Don Imus's (played by Luke Reilly - of course Imus wouldn't appear in this film) dismissal of him when they are first introduced. Shirlee Kenyon (Dolly Parton) in STRAIGHT TALK (Dir. Barnet Kellman, 1992) Yep, it has been a sausage party in the booth so far so we gotta to acknowledge Dolly! Sure, it's a silly disposable comedy but it's Dolly! She brings her smirking spunk to play a woman who through a wacky mishap is mistaken for a certified psychologist and becomes a successful radio talk show host. It feels unfair to bash on this innocuous inanity especially when it has Dolly wrapping her Southern lips around such lines as "get down off the cross honey, somebody needs the wood!" Okay! So now on to the current release about a real-life radio semi-legend : TALK TO ME (Dir. Kasi Lemmons, 2007) Ex-con turned outspoken AM Disc Jockey Ralph Waldo Petey Greene is not a household name these days and this movie is probably going to do little to change that. In the age of Stern and Imus the labeling of a broadcaster as a "controversial radio personality" doesn't carry the cache it used to. Greene's (Don Cheadle with a raspy clipped voice) story taking place during the turbulent late 60's in Washington D.C. does have gusto and a strong sentiment but the formulaic biopic approach mars the third act. MLK's death, riots, and demonstrations are given about the same amount of depth as the historical background in DREAM GIRLS. To its credit Cheadle does his thing though in a decisively funkier manner than before, Chiwetel Ejiofor slickly plays the right notes as his producer, Martin Sheen takes a few satisfying solos as the uptight white station manager who is perpetually about to pull the plug on Greene, and Cedric The Entertainer is well, there. Greene's legacy will get a few more fans from this treatment as it is not without heart, it's just that its soul is that of a TV movie. More later...

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

hello - joe pantoliano as doc robbins in eddie + the cruisers.
better than any of those art fuckers.
not that i'm a class warrior or anything.
sometimes you just wanna be entertained.

David said...

Is it just me or do "Talk to Me" and "The Ladies Man" look like the same movie... visually anyway.