Currently watching Fences, a play turned movie that feels a tad stagnate, it reminds me that this week’s current stage to screen hidden gem is once again due to delight – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! Today’s selection is a great example of how to take a former piece of theater and make it cinematic. Expanding on characters and locations, taking inspiration from real life people and matching it with the style of the controversial voice of the day are surefire signs of a movie to remember. So let’s hit the airwaves for some quick witted opinions via our humiliation loving host. He’s crass, he’s crude, but most of all he’s got ratings in the world of…Talk Radio!
Barry Champlain is a successful Dallas, Texas radio personality. He’s a shock jock whose job it is to insight, inflame and engross his listening audience and there’s nobody who does it better than Barry. He’s a man who came from humble beginnings, dominated the airways early on and even cast his personal life aside all in the name of becoming the biggest name in radio. Tonight he’s about to get his chance as not only is his loyal audience in audio attendance, but also ever-present suits about to possibly take his show national – all are listening.
The above descriptive bulk bit more summarizes the stage play written by lead man and Talk Radio’s Barry Champlain Eric Bogosian than the actual fleshed out film, but fortunately exceptional individuals expand the work well beyond the simple premise. Along for the ride is the great Oliver Stone, who not only directs the film but also helped Bogosian with the screenplay and as such his hands are clearly all over Talk Radio. Filled with biting commentary (the topics of the day are more than mere fluff stuff!), signature style (Stone is at home in flashback scenes or just a simple single studio setup!) and dark moments of deep personal reflection (the somber side of Barry is put on full dark display!), Talk Radio is thus the epitome of a Stone film and his pairing with Bogosian is pure dramatic movie gold. Plus Stone fills out his flick with a killer cast early in their careers; Ellen Greene as Barry’s estranged wife, Leslie Hope as his cooing producer, John C. McGinley as his freewheeling partner in crime, Alec Baldwin as the hard ass station manager and John Pankow as the suit deciding on his national syndication fate. All are top notch and bring their own unique flavor to the Bogosian/Stone stew.
But if there is one standout performance besides the insanely brilliant Bogosian (a career best – not counting Under Siege 2: Dark Territory!), it’s the turn by an almost unknown Michael Wincott playing a crazed Barry fan named Kent. Projecting the aimless, mindless and ultimately hopeless joy of pure adoration with ample glee, Wincott not only brings burst of character energy, but ups the reflective dramatic game of Bogosian in their scenes together too. It’s a feat that may seem small from a character that’s a bit of an airhead, but Wincott’s impact on Talk Radio is undeniable and provides the film with its best moments.
It’s known that Stone and Bogosian not only adapted the play, but also included biographical info via late Denver talk show host Alan Berg (who himself was killed by white supremacists), plus Bogosian took vocal and tonal inspiration from former LA radio personality Tom Leykis and frankly in the final film it all adds authenticity. Going appropriately beyond the bard, Talk Radio the film is a living, breathing and decadently designed example of what you should do when you go from stage to screen – make a movie.