' Cinema Romantico: Pirate Radio

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pirate Radio

When I was a wee middle schooler I walked into Peeple's Music (correct spelling) in downtown Des Moines, located a cassette copy of N.W.A's infamous "Straight Outta Compton", and hauled it up to the cash register where the gentleman behind the counter rang up my purchase and asked if I needed a bag. Please, I replied. He smiled and said: "So you can sneak it into the house, right?" Thank God Almighty I live in a society where the only thing standing between a kid at that age and the music he or she wants to listen to is a mere paper bag.

It's the 1960's and the British government's refusal to air the landmark rock music of the day has driven rogue dee jays to the icy waters of the North Sea where a ship labeled, simply, Radio Rock blasts the music the people want 24-7. The dee jays are, of course, quite a motley crew. There is the The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffmann), an American, with frenzied belief in this boat's righteous cause. There is Big Dave (Nick Frost) and Angus (Rhys Darby, he of the brilliantly dry line readings on "Flight of the Concords") and Gorgeous Gavin, a man so debonair he could only be played by someone once engaged to Sienna Miller (Rhys Ifans.) There are many more, as ensemble films, a category in which writer/director Richard Curtis ("Love Actually") specializes, require and they are overseen, more or less, by the hep cat Quentin (Bill Nighy, the line about his "traditional languor" was my favorite in the film), whose godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) becomes the eyes through which we primarily see this adventure.

Of what does rock and roll consist? Oh, lots of things, I suppose. Drugs and booze, obviously, but it's also about lust and love disguised as sex and sex disguised as love (have I heard that somewhere before?) and broken hearts and losing virginity and infighting between band (family) members and fathers and sons and The Man trying to keep you down. Not to worry because Curtis checks 'em all of the list.

None of it is explored in depth. It shouldn't be, either. This isn't instropective songwriting, damn it, or easy listening. "Zipping through the days at lightning speed" is what Mick sneered at the start of "Exile On Main Street", remember, and that's life at Radio Rock. They get their "Rocks Off" while they're sleeping, of which there seems to be very little. Carl's on a quest, kind of, to figure out something and his mom (Emma Thompson) turns up to perhaps offer a clue and, yet, as soon as she's there, she's gone. Her brief appearance mirrors those of the becoming Marianne (Talulah Riley) who turns up a couple times to portage our young hero through to Manhood.

The Man is represented back in austere London by Sir Alistaire Dormandy (Kenneth Branah, one dimensional and loving it) who commissions a guy literally named Twatt (Jack Davenport, becoming to the go-to smarmy Brit it seems) to take down Radio Rock by any means necessary. And take it down they will. Or will they?

The third act of "Pirate Radio" desperately needed editing, going on much, much too long but then Springsteen's "Human Touch" also goes on much, much too long. (I mean, seriously? Six-and-a-half minutes? Why all that noodling solo stuff at the end? It takes away some of the punch of what really is a teriffic tune.) Despite its unwarranted girth the conclusion of the film still poses one of the most important questions of our times. Is rock 'n roll worth dying for?

The answer, as it has always been and will always be, is a resounding YES!!! If you disagree, please turn in your copy of "Hot Rocks" at the door.

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