Film 73: Talk Radio
My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.
We watched The Three Musketeers. The 90s one. Why do we put ourselves through these things? It’s all for love.
There wasn’t a shortlist this time as Tim decided to play his cards close to his chest. So the lights dimmed, the credits rolled and I discovered we’d be watching…. Talk Radio (1988).
He’s the badassest villain in The Crow, he’s the slightly rubbish right hand man of the villain in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Three Musketeers, he’s the dead-too-soon captain in Alien Resurrection… And presumably some other things too. He’s got a voice and cheekbones to die for, I know that much.
What will he be up to in Talk Radio? If I had to guess (which I don’t, but will anyway), he’ll be a late night radio show host with some kind of grudge against the main character. He’ll be a nemesis, but not as nemesis-like as (let’s assume) the station owner. There’s always a villainous station owner.
Talk Radio and me
I’ve heard of it, but little more than that. It falls into a mass of broadcasting films that I don’t know well enough – Broadcast News, Network, A Face In The Crowd and I think a couple of others. Presumably there are others, otherwise that’s an embarrassing quartet to muddle up.
I used to listen to talk radio a fair bit while going through a lonely patch in my early/mid teenage years. I still remember Queenie from Margate calling up Adrian John for a natter every night on Radio Kent, so that’s the dramatic benchmark I’ll be holding this film up to.
But I bet there’ll be a villainous station owner.
A rude, contemptuous talk show host becomes overwhelmed by the hatred that surrounds his program just before it goes national.
Well this was a nice surprise. Eric Bogosian is a late night talk show host on local radio. Station manager Alec Baldwin has big news for him… as of next week he’ll be syndicated nationally, but will his signature rudeness cut the mustard with the powers that be, and just who is he pissing off on the other end of the phone?
This was based on Eric Bogosian’s play, and it shows. Most of the action happens over two show broadcasts, and the snippets we see outside those moments – added in for the film – seem very much tacked on. For largely all happening in one room with a static protagonist the film fair zips along and manages to keep a surprising amount of energy. Oliver Stone directed, and I think I normally associate him with a deal of ponderousness. Not so much here.
Eric Bogosian. Who he? Apart from looking like the missing link between Jeff Goldblum and Elliot Gould he didn’t seem familiar as an actor. I read one of his plays when I was auditioning for drama school and hunting for monologues so I’ve always assumed he was a playwright. Knowing what I do about the creative industries it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has many feathers to his cap, but somehow it always does. It’s like being surprised Bradley Walsh has an album out. No, wait, it’s nothing like that.
Funnily enough the play I looked at for drama school didn’t yield any useful monologues. As I watched Talk Radio it occurred to me that this would have been a much better play to read… until I remembered that I had been looking for monologues for a playing age of 18-25. Talk Radio would suit me now at my, ah, more mature age.
Important things to note:
1. There wasn’t really an evil station manager. Alec Baldwin came close but ultimately any undoing was more as a result of Bogosian’s character. Nice to be wrong for a change.
2. The credits list the actors Park Overall and Rockets Redglare. Those are incredible names. Scarcely more incredible is Rockets’ bio on wikipedia.
3. Michael Wincott. Wow. He was reprising his role in the stage version (as were Bogosian and John C McGinley) which is always good to see. I didn’t know he was also a stage actor (usually a given in the UK, not always in the US) but it makes sense. His voice, presence and stillness make a bit more sense in that context. But he is utterly different here to the measured villainous roles I know him from. He’s a street corner Jon Bon Jovi, a big-haired, stoned, hooting gutter punk. And it works very well.
This is the quickest a film has ever spoiled itself in my recollection. The opening credits roll. The text ‘Based on the play Talk Radio by Eric Bogosian’ appears. Below it also appears ‘And based on The Life and Death of….’ blah blah blah. So. In the opening credits they plant a pretty strong implication about where the plot is going. Sigh.
END OF SPOILERS!
Thoroughly enjoyable with plenty of drama and also a few Queenie from Margate moments. An overwrought ending and dodgy flashback away from greatness though.
Plenty to pick from for me. Baldwin, McGinley, Redglare (he’s in Big!), Bogosian and more besides.