Talk Radio is a 1988 American film starring Eric Bogosian, directed by Oliver Stone. From what I gather, the script was almost entirely based on Bogosian’s original performances, with some biographical information about Alan Berg, a Liberal talk show host in Denver who was murdered in 1984 by white supremacists.
Eric Bogosian as a talk show host, expressing
himself in a very emotional and hostile manner,
reveling in bringing up controversial topics
and probing the minds and
motivations of those faceless listeners
who call into the show.
In silence in darkness in the studio conceding to the audience that he and they are stuck with each other. Part of an extraordinary monolog:
“I’m here, I’m here every night, I come up here every night. This is my job, this is what I do for a living. I come up here and I do the best I can. I give you the best I can. I can’t do better than this. I can’t. I’m only a human being up here. I’m not God….I may not be the most popular guy in the world. That’s not the point. I really don’t care what you think about me. I mean, who the hell are you anyway? You…”the audience”… you call me up and you try to tell me things about myself…you don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You’ve never seen me. You don’t know what I look like. You don’t know who I am, what I want, what I like, what I don’t like in this world. I’m just a voice. A voice in the wilderness.”
Despite the differences in delivery and content, Bogosian, in his uncensored bile, touches here on a few indicators of the relationship between broadcaster and listener that suggest to me that he might have been a Shep-listener. Not to suggest that their attitudes or content are similar.
<Talk Radio is a misanthropic tragedy, following Bogosian’s slide into an abyss of spite and self-loathing. Bogosian has lost the ability to love or to relate to anything or anyone except in cynicism, bitterness and pain. As someone who finally realizes that he has nothing left but his contempt, he is a “fallen” man. The horror of his situation and the source of his contradictory behavior at times, is that he is aware of his own fall but cannot stop it. In the final broadcast, he is straining for some connection, something to almost “save” him, but when this presents itself, he must attack and humiliate it – it is as though he can no longer help himself. At one point he chose this manner of communication, but now he feels as though he has no choice.>
Bogosian on the radio.
In the darkness of his studio world.
(This extraordinary sequence can be seen on YouTube)
Most of the film is done in the studio and is visually dark. Closeup above of Bogosian talking, alternating between contemplative low volume and screaming into the microphone at listeners. The camera seeming to be slowly circling him, 360° continuously, unstopping, him in the center. Actually, the camera continues to be unmoving in its focus on his face, the background studio slowly revolving. (I imagine that Bogsian and his desk, along with the camera, were mounted on a revolving turntable that slowly turned, keeping him seemingly unmoving. The entire, 360° studio set constructed around him, seeming to revolve, remains still.)
“Marvelous technology is at our disposal. Instead of reaching up to new heights we’re going to see how far down we can go, how deep into the muck we can immerse ourselves. What do you want to talk about? Baseball scores? Your pet? Orgasms? You’re pathetic. I despise each and every one of you. You have no brains, power, no future, no hope, no god. The only thing you believe in is me. What are you if you don’t have me?….Pearls before swine (he muses to himself. Pause). If one person out there had any idea of what I’m talking about, I….”
This horror of a movie vision is like an improvised, reversed, antithetical image of Shepherd. Recognizable in some of the intimations one might get of our hero if he only once lets it all out–but this hostile Talk Radio madman created so marvelously by Bogosian, this near-psychotic who has lost all control, is only recognizable as a perverse, other side of a coin, only as the near-opposite of the Shep we so rightly embrace for the positive delight and encouragement he has given us–perfect human being he is not, but we should remain overwhelmed by the positive mentor-ship he gives to every one of us. Seeing the Hell depicted in this movie, this antithetical vision, we should be grateful that Jean Shepherd, whatever his inner (almost entirely unrevealed) demons might have been, lived and created as he did.