Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Oliver Stone|
|Based on||Talk Radio|
by Eric Bogosian
Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg
by Stephen Singular
|Music by||Stewart Copeland|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Talk Radio is a 1988 American drama film directed by Oliver Stone and starring Eric Bogosian, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Greene, and Leslie Hope. The film was based on the play of the same name by Bogosian and Tad Savinar. Portions of the film and play were based on the assassination of radio host Alan Berg in 1984 and the book Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg by Stephen Singular. The film was entered into the 39th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear.
Champlain's radio show is about to go nationwide. A former suit salesman, he achieves his rise to fame through guest shots on the Jeff Fisher radio show. Barry begins to steal the show with his acerbic sense of humor and sharp wit, which aggravates Fisher. Barry is subsequently given his own show which rises to the top of the Arbitron radio ratings. Barry receives calls from people who appreciate him for what he does and how he does it as well as people who seem to hate him. Attacking everyone from gays to drug addicts to rednecks to African Americans, he has a substantial number of hostile callers, from people who take offense to his attitude to radical right wingers to hate groups phoning in to harass and intimidate him. He receives threatening fan mail when one caller makes a bomb threat. His rise to fame is accompanied not only with attention from radical far-right elements, but also with the alienation of his wife.
As his show is going through a final audition to go into national syndication, Barry grows increasingly isolated and asks his ex-wife Ellen to come and visit him, saying he needs her input and that she's the only person he trusts. They attempt a return to their relationship. Using a fake name and calling from the radio studio, Ellen talks to Barry on the air--the only place he seems to relate to people openly--in an attempt to reach him, to bring him back from the depression he seems to be suffering from. She begs for him to come back, but Barry refuses, bitterly attacking her as the radio production staff, all friends of Ellen, watch in horror; Ellen walks away. Barry confesses his true intentions, admitting he cares more for personal gain than the societal ills he addresses and refusing to apologize for his hypocrisy. He shouts that the American people scare him because of what has happened to his friends, family, and co-workers. He berates his callers that they have nothing worth saying, and that they tolerate his abuse and return for more. He screams at them to go away, seemingly unaware of the obvious fact that he attracts his own listeners and most of the ire he receives. In the end he realizes he has made his own bed and is as stuck with them as they are with him. Despite Barry's meltdown, his co-workers tell him it's now the highest rated segment in the show's history and his boss adds that the show is going to go national.
While Barry is walking to his car, an apparent fan asks for his autograph. As Barry signs it, the "fan" pulls out a gun and shoots him several times, killing him. As the film ends, callers to Barry's show, then his co-workers and Ellen, speak on air about him. They say that Barry was a talented, smart and funny man, but none of that mattered; he hated himself, and his death wish was finally granted.
Eric Bogosian wrote the screenplay with help from director Oliver Stone. The script was almost entirely based on Bogosian's original play with some biographical information about Alan Berg, a talk show host in Denver who was murdered in 1984 by white supremacists. In his research for the film version, Bogosian often watched the on-air production of Tom Leykis' talk show, then originating from Los Angeles station KFI. Bogosian's fictional character shares many speech patterns and mannerisms with real-life talker Leykis.
Talk Radio received mostly positive reviews from critics On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a "Certified Fresh" approval rating of 82% based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 7.06/10. The consensus summarizes: "The gripping union of a director and star at the peak of their respective powers, Talk Radio offers the viewer a singularly unlikable character and dares you to look away."