Archive for December 1988

Talk Radio

December 21, 1988

Eric Bogosian and Tad Savinar’s acclaimed play was “opened out” a bit by Oliver Stone, who didn’t have much success with the result, though it’s one of his better movies. Bogosian reprises his stage role as Barry Champlain, a Houston talk-show shock-jock who loves to bait his callers. He’s acerbic and uncompromising, with a keen radar for listeners who “love the show” and just call in to suck up and hear themselves on the radio; he considers everyone an asshole, himself included. Stone and Bogosian do an excellent job of demonstrating how a figure like Barry attracts and repels people at the same time, and they convince you that Barry thrives in the atmosphere of venomous paranoia he creates. But since Stone also based the script on Stephen Singular’s Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg — the story of the controversial Denver talk-radio host who was gunned down by the lunatic fringe — Barry must become a self-loathing martyr who dies for speaking his mind. (No, that isn’t a spoiler, unless you don’t notice the credits that call out Singular’s book.) And some of the flashback scenes, wherein we see how Barry got his start, don’t quite go over. But Bogosian is a riveting performer — rent John McNaughton’s film of Bogosian in concert, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, if you doubt — and Stone knows enough to get out of the way and let him do his thing. A case could be made that this movie (as well as the play it’s taken from) was years ahead of its time, coming as it did long before Rush Limbaugh’s popularity, Dr. Laura’s rise and fall, and the debate as to whether “hate radio” contributed to the vibe that led to the Oklahoma City bombing. In other words, the movie is not only still relevant — it becomes more relevant as time passes.