Talk Radio Review

With Talk Radio Oliver Stone goes into “Dallas’ most unpopular talk show”. Yes, three years before JFK he visited the city for another film based on the assassination of a public figure, albeit far more loosely here. Though in part taken from a book on the killing of real life shock jock Alan Berg, Talk Radio’s more important source is the Eric Bogosian stage play from which it takes its name. Opened out slightly and in doing so presenting a less claustrophobic vision, Stone nonetheless sticks to the key ingredients: Bogosian, in the lead role, hosts the aforementioned talk show in which he effortlessly mingles his own self-loathing with that which he prompts in his public – an all-encompassing hatred from the local rednecks, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites who seemingly make up his core audience.

It could be said then that we have a typical macho-type here, uncompromising in his stance, but as a result afforded a certain integrity. Yet Bogosian and Stone (also the co-writers) never go all the way in this respect. Certainly, we may agree with much of what this character has to say, but we’re also allowed access to his darker side and he’s by no means a conventional hero. Indeed, there’s something of Stone’s Nixon to him, the one who offered the framework to that film as he sat in his darkened office, listening to old tapes and speaking solely in paranoid mutterings. The only difference is that here Bogosian has a team to help him get to the root of this: John C. McGinley fielding the calls; Alec Baldwin running the station; and Leslie Hope occupying the dual roles as girlfriend and producer.

Of course, this latter character is an undoubted addition to the original play, a means of making the Bogosian character a little more human and therefore more palatable. Likewise this need for acceptability continues in the form of flashbacks (and sepia tinged ones at that) which offer our protagonist as a young idealist, happily married and, oddest of all, sporting ridiculously long hair. From hereon in we of course get to sample the marriage disintegrate and see him moving away from this once shy figure into the more uncompromising type he is today, but such moments nevertheless remain additions and never once sit easily amongst the film’s darker framework.

Indeed, Talk Radio’s true heart lies within the cocoon from which Bogosian operates. At once shielded from his dissenters yet also face to face, Stone is able to capture this duality with remarkable technical assurity. Moving on from the gliding cameras which occupied the offices of Wall Street, here we find a more dizzying blend of techniques, from rapid cutting to extremely deep focus. Moreover, the vocal element – obviously the film’s most important aspect – is similarly layered, blending its overlapping dialogue into a patchwork of different voices, each of which demands our full attention. Indeed, Talk Radio builds its suspense through the little details as we certain voices recur or offer differing tonal shifts. In fact, in this respect it could be said that the film is constructed from numerous mini-narratives, each of which contributes to a rollercoaster of comedy, hatred, death threats and anger.

As such we never really know where we’re going from one moment to the next – except for down that is – makes for highly strung cinema. Certainly, it may be easy to dismiss Stone as going overboard with the tricksiness on this venture, yet it’s also true that he creates absolutely the correct environment. This doesn’t make for easy viewing at times, but then the sheer intensity of its mostly real time format also makes it difficult to look away. Indeed, forget the flashbacks and other additions as these disappear from the mind almost as soon as the film is over. What sticks in the mind is the darker moments, and these points Talk Radio truly excels.

The Disc

Talk Radio’s incarnation as a Region 2 UK DVD is perhaps best summed up as merely okay. We get the film in its original aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced, but the print is far from perfect. Age has resulted in some intermittent damage, whilst the graininess that this also creates leads to some highly noticeable artefacting. Moreover, the clarity of the image isn’t perhaps as good as could be expected – take a look at the end credits and a certain fuzziness makes them barely discernible. As for the soundtrack, we get the film’s original offering and again this is simply okay. It’s impossible to tell whether the layering of the voices is supposed to be quite so dense, but either way there are still, much like the image, signs of intermittent damage and a lack of perfect clarity. With regards to the special features, these amount solely to the film’s theatrical trailer, making this disc undoubtedly one of the lesser Oliver Stone offerings on the market.

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Last updated: 23/06/2018 21:24:00

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