Good evening sinners…
As cultural avatars of the 20th Century, the Disc Jockey surely ranks as one of the most powerful. They have similar capabilities to viruses in the way that they transmit and spread culture in the form of music and ideas. Film also loves the idea and the world of the DJ, often using the role as a plot device to hold everything together, (Do The Right Thing. The Warriors, Vanishing Point, Grosse Point Blank, American Graffiti, etc, etc) but often things become more complex when the DJ, or their job takes centre stage. DJ’s are often seen as cool, sexy, complex characters for the movie world.
Although YouTube does not have such classics such AMERICAN HOT WAX, PLAY MISTY FOR ME, or TALK RADIO, it has provided two fine examples of the genre that form the basis of tonight’s Sunday Cult film Corner double bill.
First up is PUMP UP THE VOLUME. Directed in 1990 it stars Christian Slater as Mark, a teenager living in a boring suburb in Phoenix, Arizona. By day he is a loner and rarely mixes with anyone, but at night he broadcasts a pirate radio show under the moniker “Harry Hard On”. His anarchic shows prove popular with the bored teenagers in the area. but as his fame and influence among his audience increases, the authorities, from the police to the FCC, decide to shut him down.
PUTV is one of those films that does its best to portray its world as painfully “Cool”, as the opening credits, with the graffiti style lettering, casts a voyeuristic eye over the tools of his trade, tapes of alternative music and various pop culture detritus that mark him as a cool outsider. Plot-wise, the film is no great shakes. There’s the standard love interest, the run against the law, the mark of being a free individual and the whole “just be yourself” feel-good message. At the time it was considered edgy, but the years have not been kind to the film.
While Slater does his usual charismatic vulpine act that we saw him do in HEATHERS, the real star of the film is the music, which featured tracks from the cream of alternative music at the time (Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Henry Rollins). I actually bought the soundtrack album as many of the tracks featured are bloody excellent (check out Henry Rollins’ version of “Kick Out The Jams”. Effectively PUTV is a rather shallow film where the music upstages the actors.
The second in our DJ double bill is PONTYPOOL. Released in 2009, it stars Stephen McHattie as Grant Mazzy, a former shock jock DJ who is reduced to working as a radio announcer for a radio station in the small Canadian town of the Pontypool. One night the town comes under attack from a mysterious virus that is turning the local populace into rage filled “zombies”. It becomes even more ominous when it seems that the virus is being transmitted through the English language, with the virus latching onto certain words as the victim hears and repeats the sound or word. As the staff at the station barricade themselves in the building, it becomes a fight for survival against both the horde outside, and the virus lurking in their own language.
Based on the novel “Pontypool Changes everything”, PONTYPOOL is a tight, clever, claustrophobic little nugget of a film that gets around the low-budget by utilising the layout of the radio station very well. As the film progresses, it racks up the tension rather nicely, as it shows workings of the station as the drama of the story begins to unfold. The casting is also impeccable, especially that of McHattie as the wise cracking jerk of a radio DJ. It’s an interesting twist on the zombie film by playing with the power of the transmission of language.
So that’s your night’s viewing sorted. Now I’m off to scour the airwaves for some inexplicable strangeness…