Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Pirate Radio



I have a minor connection with radio broadcasting going back to the mid-Sixties when my father was the co-owner of a small-market station (KHRB in Lockhart, Texas, for those of you with really long memories who lived in that area 45 years ago). I wasn't exactly raised around radio, but I spent quite a bit of time around people who worked in that industry and did some production work myself when I was in college. As a result, WKRP IN CINCINNATI is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and as I like to tell people, it's not really a sitcom, it's almost a documentary.

Which is my long-winded way of getting around to the fact that we just watched PIRATE RADIO, a film that came out a few years ago and didn't make much of an impact, but one that I had high hopes for since it concerns radio broadcasting in England in that same era, the mid-Sixties. British radio never played rock and roll in those days, so it was up to pirate radio stations located on ships anchored off the coast to provide popular music. PIRATE RADIO is about the crew of disc jockeys who worked on one such ship, along with the 18-year-old godson of the station manager, which allows writer/director Richard Curtis to work a coming-of-age angle into the plot.

Obviously, any combination of radio and wacky DJs is going to show some WKRP influence, and there's plenty of that to be found here, most blatantly in a scene where the lone American DJ known as The Count (excellently played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) tries to say a word that's not supposed to be said on the radio. ("Oh, and by the way, Cincinnati . . . Booooger!") Hoffman's performance is very Johnny Fever-esque all the way around, but that's not a bad thing. The rest of the cast, led by Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, and the great Nick Frost, is very good, too.

PIRATE RADIO captures the era pretty well, especially in the reaction of assorted listeners to the music. I remember listening to a transistor radio with the sound turned down really low after I went to bed and was supposed to be asleep, tuning slowly through the AM band and picking up distant stations on the skip. As you might expect, the music in this movie is great, heavy on the British invasion (obviously) but with quite a bit of American rock as well. The comedy is more whimsical than laugh out loud funny, but it had a smile on my face most of the time. This one is well worth watching, especially if you're of a certain age like me. ("*Cough* Geezer! *Cough*") I really enjoyed it.

5 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Or, at least, the BBC played as little rock as they thought they could get away with. Radio Caroline, et al., proved they were more than missing a trick (hell, even other national broadcasters from Europe were showing them up by the time they started gaining some sense...when the Dutch and the French are an unintentional Radio Free Europe analog, it's time for change). I think some of the complaint about this film from the survivors of the era was the notion that Yanks had to come teach the Poms about good times...fair enough, given the Brit makeup of the real staffs, albeit a lot of the music was indeed North American, at least...

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have been told by countless people to see this. I will see if my library bought it.

Richard R. said...

This sounds really great!

Jim Wilsky said...

James,

I too remember listening to that little transistor radio....under my pillow. I would have been in HUGE trouble if busted. I can't even imagine how many batteries I went through because I fell asleep. I could barely pick up Bob Prince announcing Pirate games. My absolute idol, my baseball everything, was Roberto Clemente. I was then and still am a suffering Cub fan. Go figure huh? Really enjoyed this post.

Harli said...

I had no idea that Rock wasn’t allowed on British radio stations until I was talking music with one of the guys I work with at DISH. He recommended I check out the movie Pirate Radio, and to my surprise, my beloved Bill Nighy is in it! You’re so lucky to have been a part of radio during this era, even though you were in the U.S., because this is when some of the best music was created. I’ve held onto the copy of Pirate Radio that I got through Blockbuster @Home since my membership doesn’t include late fees, and I’ve already watched it three times for the fun and music the movie portrays. I’m definteily going to have to spring for my own copy at some point!