[box cover]

Talk Radio

There are two Oliver Stones. There is the kinetic filmmaker who came up with a near-revolutionary editing style, both fluid and grabby, and one of the few modern cinematic innovations. Then there is Stone the proselytizer who is so busy making a larger, and all too often obvious, political point that his scripts end up relying on clichés (the hectoring wife, the grunt killed after showing a snapshot of his girl back home). Half the time Stone is a modern Sergei Eisenstein; the rest of the time he is no better than a slightly more dynamic Stanley Kramer, who never lets art get in the way of a dogmatic political lesson. Talk Radio, from 1988, mostly falls into the latter category. Based on Eric Bogosian's one-man show and expanded for the screen in collaboration with co-writer Stone, it's about a few days in the life and career of Barry Champlaign (Bogosian), host of "Night Talk" on KGAB radio in Dallas, Texas. Champlaign's on the edge, nervous about something, and a major radio network wants to take him national. An unlikely blend of Howard Stern and Larry King, Champlaign abuses his callers when not spouting a combination of liberal pieties and radical ideas. He outrages everyone, including his producer (Leslie Hope), the station manager (Alec Baldwin), and the rep from MetroWave (John Pankow) who is keeping an eye on the erratic host. Later, Champlaign is joined by his ex-wife (Ellen Greene), and we learn some things about his past. More of a personal chamber piece than a political epic, Talk Radio takes Barry to the point of exhaustion, whereupon he delivers a lengthy speech that encapsulates his life and tensions. Talk radio was a source of anxiety for media pundits in 1988, and it still is, so Stone's film had timely subject matter. But Champlaign, supposedly based in part on Alan Berg, a Colorado talk show host who was assassinated, has too many contradictions to be believable — he is a typically extreme Bogosian creation, clever but inorganically created, with some embarrassing back-story sequences added on that illustrate points made better in dialogue. Still, Bogosian plays the role grippingly. Upon release, Talk Radio made a mere $4 million, despite the fact that Bogosian won a much-deserved actor award at the Berlin Film Festival. In fact, the whole film is very well acted, except for the usually overbearing Stone favorite John C. McGinley. Universal's DVD edition offers a relatively clean widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with some slight color fading, while audio is in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Extras are minimal — a few screens of production notes, and talent files on seven of the actors and Stone. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm



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