Saturday, November 28, 2009

On Pirate Radio

I've now seen this movie twice and am ready to discuss it. First, though, the bottom line: I absolutely love it. I can understand how some would find it slow, but I did not, not even the second time; I loved every frame and left it wishing I could have seen the thirty-minutes-longer British version. I very much hope that cut of the movie becomes available on U.S. Blu-Ray.

The film is very much a love song to rock and roll from a man who grew up loving it. Curtis is a year younger than I am, and we clearly share the experience of a life spent caring passionately about rock. It's entirely predictable, therefore, that I adore this movie. I would guess that if you are not a rock fan, the film may not work quite so very well for you--but you should still see it.

One reason is that an equally strong part of Pirate Radio's emotional arc is a celebration of the intensity and the not-quite-real-world quality of being a college-age teenager. You're definitely in the world, away from home and on your own, and yet the responsibilities of adulthood have not quite caught up with you. These characters live isolated on a boat, their food provided by a loving and safe household-mother figure of a lesbian cook, and their income magically appearing from the kind of father (Bill Nighy) who could also be everyone's favorite dorm RA. I could keep up with this analysis, but it hardly matters, because those times are glorious times that are indeed worthy of celebration.

Most of all, though, this film is about art and its making. Alone in their own space, with distant fans listening and only occasional contact with others, these DJs are artists of the airwaves. They remind us of the incredible value of making art, even when that art fails to live up to our dreams, and of the vital importance of the young in re-stoking the artistic fires. Tellingly, though, the character who is most committed to this art, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is also among the oldest (if not the oldest) of the crew. His presence reminds us that we never need to stop making art--nay, that we absolutely never should for as long as there is air in our lungs.

I've now seen this movie twice. Both times, I exited the theater high from the experience and more determined than ever to be a better writer and to write until I die. How could I not love it?


John Lambshead said...

When I was a boy, I used to tune my AM radio into Radio Luxemburg to hear pop. AM radion broadcast across Europe into a 1963 portable transistor radio was an adventure. The signal swelled and faded, distorted and disappeared. Somehow it added to the experience.

Radio Caroline, the pirate ship, was a great jump forward both in signal and content.

Now we have digital radio picking up a hundred channels but I still remember snuggling down in my sleeping bag on camp listening to illicit pirate radio.

John Lambshead

Mark said...

Very cool. My first experience listening secretly to rock was on a self-repaired AM radio tuned to WLCY in Tampa.

Michelle said...

My father hated what he referred to as hippie drug music, so anything composed past the 50's was banned in our house. I remember clearly listening to a transistor radio bought discreetly with my babysitting money at night under my covers and pillow to a local station. It had static and I could barely hear it, but that didn't matter. I loved my illicit rock and roll.

Mark said...

I still love it.

Mark Staff Brandl said...

Best review I've read of the film yet. If you have the opportunity, get the European version (The Boat that rocked) --- it is longer and tighter narratively. I think you'll love it even more. i thoroughly enjoyed your reading of the film as a message about artistic creativity. I felt that too. I wonder if all those complaining that the film is "simply" a comedy are just part of the continued backlash against any positive representation of the 60s.

Mark said...

I have also wondered how much the movie was tarred by the (largely unwarranted, in my opinion) backlash against the decade. I also suspect, though, that those who enter the film seeking only to laugh may not be in a frame of mind receptive to the broader reading.

I have been looking with lust at the Blu-Ray of the European version, but I believe it won't play on my system because of Region 2 encoding.


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