Saturday, August 7, 2010

Oliver Stone's Talk Radio (1988)

Title: Talk Radio

Director: Oliver Stone

Writers: Eric Bogosian, Oliver Stone (based on the book by Stephen Singular and the play by Eric Bogosian)

Cast: Eric Bogosian, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Green, John C. McGinley, Michael Wincott


It's no secret that Oliver Stone is a director known for making films that can be considered controversial and subversive. The famed director seems to thrive in showing the ugly, violent, twisted and dark side of human nature. He loves exposing it to us, as if saying: "uh, guys, check this out why don't you? Maybe we can improve a bit on this part of our society?" I have to say I love Stone's films just for that. Along with The Hand (1981) one of Oliver Stones first directorial efforts (and a horror film no less!) Talk Radio is not one of Stones most renowned films. In fact, you might not have even heard of it until now, but trust me, thats no reason to ignore this great film. It is every bit as subversive and socially conscious film as any of the other film in Oliver Stones repertoire. What's it about? 

Essentially, Talk Radio tells the story of Barry, the host of a radio show known as Night Talk. On this show, Barry takes calls from the public and basically either gives them great advice, or insults the hell out of them; depending on the nature of the call. Barry's show catches the attention a big corporation that wants to put his show on national syndication, in other words, they want Night Talk to be heard all across the nation. This kind of makes Barry nervous because he doesn't want to loose creative control over his show. He likes to say what he wants, when he wants and how he wants without any rules and regulations that come from being associated with a big corporation. At the same time, Barry is starting to feel the preassure of talking to so many crazy, twisted people on a day to day basis. Will his job eventually get to him? Can he take talking to schizo's, Neo-Nazis and rapists on a day to day basis? 

So what we are talking about here is a film that wants to show us how sick and twisted the world we are living is. Its one of those movies that criticizes society and begs us to re-examine ourselves and how we live. This type of film can feel like taking an ice cold shower because we live our lives in this world, but sometimes we simply take for granted how inseane humanity is. The crazy things we think and do. Our lifestyles, our beliefs, how we are. And this movie holds a mirror up to all those who watch it. Its one of those films that has anger laced to it, kind of like that anger I saw in Network (1976). I know theres a lot of you out there who haven't seen Network, but trust me, you should. It's one of those movies from the 70's that had some balls to it, and to me, it's the kind of film that doesn't get made much these days, cause you know, according to some, these films are so politically incorrect! They are too sincere, too shocking, and you know, the powers that be don't like this kind of film to get out, it might wake up a couple of minds. Network is a film that strangely feels more appropriate now then when it was originally released. It has that great line "Im mad as hell! And Im not gonna take it anymore!" That line from Network encapsulates perfectly the feeling you'll get when you watch Talk Radio, which of course I loved because as some of you may already know, I love films that show the truths of the world, the way things really are, not the way the media wants us to see them. 

The main character, Barry the talk show host, is a character that resembles Howard Stern, the real life talk show host who went on to become a celebrity simply by insulting as many people as he could over the radio. If you guys remember correctly, the guy even got his own TV show on E! Entertainment Television. Stern had a show that made him a millionaire and that lasted for years and years, he even got his own movie made called Private Parts (1993). Barry is essentially a Howard Stern type of character, with the slight difference that Barry has more of a social conscience than Stern ever did. Barry is a guy who tells it like it is, and same as in Network, there is this brilliant moment in the film where the filmmakers have their main character spew all the negativity and all the things they see wrong in the world in one electrifying eye opening moment. This to me was the pinnacle of this bleak film. It's the kind of film that makes you think "damn, its true, the world is extremely ass backwards!"  

Whats interesting about this film is that it takes place almost entirely inside of a radio station. Some might think that this might make for a boring film, but strangely enough it doesn't. What makes this film interesting is its dialog, its themes. What the film has to say is the main attraction here, and what this film says is extremely relevant in my book. Talk Radio is based on a book which in turn spawned a stage play, which would probably explain why it takes place in so few locations. But truthfully, it didn't matter to me. I found it extremely interesting how Oliver Stone made an interesting and thought provoking film within the constraints of one room! What Stone did to keep things visually interesting is, he focused on the little details, the faces, the consoles, the gadgets, the microphones, Stone successfully showed us the little things that make up a radio station and the stress and claustrophobia of working in one. 

Eric Bogosian, playing Barry Chmaplain in the stage play

Another thing that makes Talk Radio special is its cast. Alec Baldwin plays the guy who runs the burocratic, business side of running a radio station. He does his role well, but what shocked me the most is how thin and young he looks! I mean, when you compare the Alec Baldwin in It's Complicated (2009) to the Alec Baldwin in Talk Radio, we are talking about 300 pounds of difference here! Eric Bogosian, who I knew very little about previous to this film blew me away as Barry Champlain, the no non sense talk show host, who isn't afraid to say what he really feels to the world. He plays Barry with an edge, an out of control persona who is equal parts truthful as he is chaotic. What makes things even better is the fact that Bogosian not only wrote the stage play, he also played the character on stage. So he was the perfect guy to play Barry. Michael Wincott, who'm some of  you might remember as the villain 'Top Dollar' in The Crow (1994), has an extremely funny role in the film. He plays a teenager who listens to the radio show and is a fan of Barry, but, ultimately paints a disappointing portrait of America's youth. His character is one of the few funny spots in the film, cause he plays this spaced out rocker dude. Even thought his performance can be considered a bit of comedic relief in an otherwise entirely dark film, his character is actually pretty relevant in the film. Then we have Ellen Green, whom I instantly recognized as Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors (1986). Once again, same as in Little Shop of Horrors, she plays a very vulnerable and delicate character, Barry's ex-wife. And finally we have John C. McGinley, an Oliver Stone regular you might remember him as Charlie Sheen's co-worker in Stone's Wall Street. On Talk Radio he plays Stu, Barry's best friend who assists Barry in making sure the technical side of the show runs smoothly. Since this is a film that relies on performances and dialog, its great to see that we have such a good cast to run with the film. 

All in all, I loved this film because it has the guts to tell things for what they are. It analyzes how much society depends on entertainment, how sometimes our lives are so hollow, that we got nothing better to do than be entertained, since we don't have an original thought in our heads. We are like drones, connected to The Matrix, not thinking, just watching, hearing, being given everything. At one point, Barry actually challenges his listeners to come up with something original! It also criticizes Radio Talk Show hosts like Barry, who criticize the status quo of things, but are ultimately a part of the system they supposedly despise. To me, this film can be categorized along side similar films like the aforementioned Network, Joel Schumacher's Falling Down (1993) and Allan Moyle's Pump Up the Volume (1990). Films that criticize the media, society, and our need to stand up for liberty and truth instead of the brainwashing and the numbness. Films that speak about our constitutional rights to freedom of speech; a right that can sometimes seem like a facade, a lie, a mere formality written on paper thousands of years ago, but that doesn't really stand for much these days.  This is a film that begs for you to look at yourself, look at the messed up world we live in and wonder: How can I truly make a change? How can I truly make things better?

Rating: 5 out of 5

Talk RadioTalk RadioTalk Radio [VHS]


Neil Fulwood said...

Great review, Francisco. Good call in comparing 'Talk Radio' with 'Network'. There were a hell of a lot of fearless and ballsy movies made in the '70s (more so than in the last couple of decades!) and 'Network' is one of the best of them.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah Network is awesome, I love watching movies like that one, I need to see "All the Presidents Men" which I hear is also a fils that exposes the evils of the world!

Im going to be on Oliver Stone mode for the next couple of days, I just acquired an Oliver Stone boxed set and wow, Im having a great time watching his movies! I had missed out on a couple of them, like this one.

So expect some Oliver Stone reviews in the next couple of days!

Unknown said...

Great review on this underappreciated gem of a film. You really nailed what makes this film work and I think that it is a fantastic snapshot of the rise of radio shock jocks back in the 1980s. Now, people can voice their opinions on the Internet back then there were limited avenues to air your grievances and/or rant and rave.

I also thought that Alec Baldwin was particularly good as the owner/operator of the radio station that Barry worked at. In the late '80s/early 1990s, Baldwin played a wide variety of roles and this is an excellent example of his versatility back then.

Franco Macabro said...

Oliver Stone enjoyed using the Baldwin brothers on a number of his films, on Born on the Fourth of July I believe he used practically every single one of the Baldwin brothers!


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