Saturday, November 7, 2009

GREAT STUFF Vol 3: Talk Radio

Back in 1990 a film was released entitled "Talk Radio". Unfortunately, It was a box office dud. Over the years, however, my top 5 movie list has shifted and twisted with the tides, yet "Talk Radio" is the only film that has remained constant. It ws written by playwright Eric Bogosian (a stage performer, now playing the chief detective on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent") and director Oliver Stone. It's directed by Stone himself (among his lesser known films, shame that)and based on the stage play scripted and played by Bogosian primarily solo in theatre stages. It should be noted here that "Talk Radio" is loosely based on events in the life of Denver radio host, Allen Berg, whose controversial on-air nature led to his unfortunate and violent demise.

Bogosian plays the lead role of Barry Champlain in the film, a late night shock jock-call-in talk show host of a Dallas radio program called "Night Talk". The movie takes place primarily over one night, albeit with character building flashbacks that are extensive. At the outset, in the midst of his shift, Champlain finds out a representative of a major media outlet is present at his station, watching with interest as he's thinking of syndicating Barry's show nationally.

The rest of the film is, succinctly, riveting. Champlain, a very difficult person to say the least, feels like he's "auditioning" for his own job due to the circumstances and begins taking foolish chances on the air. Chances including answering phone calls from potential rapists, engaging neo-nazis in chilling banter, and even inviting a borderline wacko teenage caller to join him in the studio, are among the radical stunts he begins pulling live and broadcasting it out into the Dallas night. All of this is very entertaining, but it all eventually leads to a stark, raving realization for Champlain that starts with that crazy teenager's line, "It's your show, Barry."

Champlain then realizes with some shock that his show is just that, a show, an entertainment. The viewer sees here that surprisingly, Barry is caught off guard by that revelation. He seemed to think that "Night Talk" was much more important than all that. He then displays astonishment and nausea when he realizes his listeners are weirdos, creeps, freaks, and potential psychopaths and tears into his audience with one of the single greatest on-screen monologues I have personally witnessed. The truth of the nature of his pro9gram isn't quite enough to blow him away as much as the knowledge that he is the unpleasant listening demographic's ringleader. He spews into the Texas evening airwaves all the self-hatred that made him a ratings giant in one surprisingly non-vulgar, eloquent, emotional, hilarious, sad, seething blast of venom that is all the more amazing due to the visuals going on behind him that are beautifully orchestrated by Oliver Stone.

During the course of this evening's program, barry is gradually becoming overcome by self-doubt and anxiety as his engineer, (a wonderful early performance by John C. McGinley) his producer girlfriend, his program director, and yes, even his ex-wife are on hand watching his show crumble to the ground around him, largely at his own hands. Alec Baldwin, consummate character actor that he is, is fantastic in a scene where he tells Barry he's dragging it all down, but that it's up to him and him alone to make this venture succeed.

Bogosian is terrific in this flick as he seems born to play the character he created, having both harsh vindictiveness and a puppy-like softness in his eyes tht represent perfectly the dual nature of his character. He has loved and been loved, only to stomp on these positive aspects of his life in the end. Not to mention the killer on-air pipes that Bogosian possesses, he has a voice that is cut and dried for radio broadcasting, and that indeed lends another degree of authenticity to the proceedings, as if the film didn't carry enough of that with it already.

To be down to the point, "Talk Radio" is a character-study drama that as the pacing and feel of an action film. it moves so fast and Bogosian carries it all the way. I will never forget the complete success this film had in impressing me, as at the time I saw it I was a beginning radio broadcasting student. Looking back, it makes me wonder something?

Does the audience hurt the media, or does the media hurt it's audience? Or, which one does more damage to the other?

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