Retro Film Review: Pump Up the Volume (1990)

in film •  last year  (edited)

Age of Internet should be remembered as the first time in history when those unprivileged, unpopular or simply ignored got more or less equal opportunity to have their say in the matters of this world. But even before this time such people had found ways to express themselves. One of such ways was in the form of pirate radio stations. Pump Up the Volume, 1990 teen drama by Canadian author Allan Moyle, is dedicated to such media.

The hero in this movie is Mark Hunter (played by Christian Slater), high school student whose parents brought him from trendy megalopolis of New York to suburban Arizona. Withoutfriends, and feeling isolated, this nerdy student at day at night finds comfort by operating pirate radio station from his room. Every night at 10 PM he begins with programme, playing rock music and uses the medium to express his feelings and opinions about many things that bother teenagers, including the oppressive administration of his school. Gradually, his on-air personality of Hard Harry begins getting the cult following, but when one of the viewers commits suicide while listening to his programme, the authorities also become interested. Nora Diniro (played by Samantha Mathis), one of the students at school, is also trying to seek for Hard Harry and his true identity.

People who watch this film from today's perspective might be tempted to conclude that the pre-Internet times used to be the golden age of teen-adult relations. Teenagers were
less oppressed and their rebellions seldom expressed itself in violent or dangerous forms. Today, a teenager that preaches rebellion and uses media to spew anger towards world and its injustices is more likely to cause unease than sympathy, especially after some overhyped high school shootings in USA.

For Canadian author Allan Moyle, this film had a lot of autobiographical elements and explored themes very similar to his 1980 film Times Square. Unfortunately for the commercial prospects of the film, but fortunately for the viewers who like the movies that make them think, Moyle took this film and its subject seriously. Probably too seriously for MTV crowd that was too cynical or too scared to seriously ponder about problems expressed in Hard Harry's speeches. For some people, this film might also look sadly outdated - teenagers in previous two decades became most important target group of entertainment industry, and as such, their rebellious instincts became suppressed promotion of hedonism. On the other hand, outdated solution of the film might be still compensated with the fact that it asks the right question, in more ways than one superior to its much more celebrated companion, 1989 black comedy Heathers.
Difference between contemporary and today's perspective of the film and its topics can be seen through the different perspective of Christian Slater, its lead. In the early 1990s Slater was promising bright star of teen movies. At the end of the decade, Slater is bad boy of tabloid media. However, in this film he really shines with his great acting potential. Samantha Mathis also shows talent, and the chemistry between the two is great (and it was repeated six years later in Broken Arrow). Because of such chemistry, we can almost forget the fact that it was used in rather unnecessary romantic subplot that brought the taste of commercialism into the movie that didn't need such content.

However, despite its flaws, Pump Up the Volume is the very good film that deserves praise because it makes people think -something seldom seen in Hollywood these days.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on May 17th 1999)


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