Title: Pump Up The Volume
Release Date: 1990
Released By: New Line Cinema / SC Entertainment
Written and Directed By: Allan Moyle
Cinematography: Walt Lloyd
MPAA Rating: R, for language and some nudity
Some spoilers follow; you have been warned.
This movie was not at all what I expected. Instead of the early-90's
teen rah-rah film I'd had in mind for some reason, Pump Up The Volume was
a character and dialogue-driven study of the nature and implications of free
Specifically, Pump Up The Volume is the story of mild-mannered Mark Hunter (Christian Slater)
and his alter ego, charismatic late-night radio host Happy Harry Hard-On. Mark
is a high school student who is having trouble establishing a social life since
moving to a new town. He is lonely, moody, and shy -- except when he fires up
the makeshift pirate radio show in his basement. Once the microphone is turned
on and the transmitters begin to send their illicit waves into space, Mark becomes
Harry, a dirty-talking, cynical extrovert. Mark uses a voice changer he refers to
as a "harmonizer" in order to prevent his voice from being recognized by his
fan base, which consists of the very fellow students he avoids while at school.
Mark's parents are concerned that their son seems to have no friends, but they
pretty much leave him alone in his basement; that's his domain. If they searched
his room like other paranoid parents, they'd doubtlessly find cigarettes, porn,
and a number of inexplicable gadgets.
Harry's show is a hit. Students all over town drive their cars to the geographical
locations known to get the best reception; since Harry's radio enterprise is small,
he lacks the massive transmitting tower of legitimate stations. On his show, Harry
plays songs from his impressive record collection, simulates wild wank sessions
by making palm-slapping noises, and reads letters written in by his loyal listeners.
Notable are the poems that always arrive in a crimson envelope, by a girl poet
referred to as "The eat-me beat-me lady". Her poems are always read with great
dramatic inflection by Harry, who wonders about the identity of this mystery vixen.
The first poem we hear read on the air by Harry is as follows:
Every night you enter me like a criminal
You break into my brain
But you're no ordinary criminal
You put up your feet and you pop a pepsi
You start to party
You turn up my stereo
Songs I've never heard but I move anyway.
You get me crazy
I say "Do it"
I don't care what
Just do it
Jam me, jack me
Push me, pull me
The "vixen" herself is a student named Nora, played by a young Samantha Mathis.
Nora is a strong character; she is ever so slightly punk, with a wild streak and
a sense of her rights and the rights of her fellow teens. She is the only student
to figure out that quiet Mark is actually wannabe shock jock Harry. When a student
takes his own life shortly after writing what amounts to a suicide note to Harry's
show, Harry comes under suspicion by the community. Though Harry did nothing to
encourage this boy to kill himself, once the administration is aware of Harry's
rather subversive show, they deem it a bad influence on students and want to stop
them from listening to it. Harry's underground following has been selling cassette
tapes of the show for $5 apiece to students who can't tune in the station; these
tapes often end up in boom boxes at the school, much to the dismay of the teachers
and especially to the principal, Ms. Creswood.
The high school administration is corrupt, Harry/Mark and Nora discover. A
student is expelled simply because she is pregnant. It is discovered that
school "troublemakers" are being expelled on minor charges simply so the principal
can keep the SAT average up. Harry exposes these corruptions on the air, and
chaos ensues. The principal and several teachers make excuses as to why Harry
ought to be found out and taken off the air; ("He manipulates his fans", "He drove
a student to suicide", "He is a disruptive influence", etc.) however, it is likely
that these are only rationalizations for wanting to cover their own transgressions.
Frustrated officials call in the FCC to see if they can sniff out and shut
down Harry's operation. The events that follow involve Harry's run from the law,
his parents' near-discovery of his secret basement station, and Nora's bold yanking
off of her sweater.
Harry's show resulted in quite a few very amusing or evocative or precociously
insightful quotes, some of which are offered as a sample below:
"Being young is sometimes less fun than being dead."
"I hate the sixties, I hate school, I hate principals, I hate vice principals!!
But my true pure refined hatred is reserved for guidance counselors."
"Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!"
"However powerful our voices, there are still those that would quiet us down.
there is no reasoning with them. they are too blinded by their own submission to
the universe to understand. they will say we will grow out of it. they will say
that someday we will understand. we say bullshit. they say, and rightly so, that
they (and not we) control the reins of power in the world today, and that they
will make us conform. we say we doubt it. someone will wind up right and someone
will wind up wrong. in the end, the universe will decide. so be it."
"My parents wanted to have me tested. Because I sat alone in my room all day.
Naked. Wearing only a cock ring."
Talk Hard. That is Harry's motto, and it later becomes an anthem for the throngs
of disaffected students who rally around Harry during his final moments of persecution
by the FCC and the community. To talk hard is to not be afraid to say what needs
to be said, and that is the central message of this movie: to make your voice heard.
Pseudo_Intellectual reminds me that the movie had quite a spiffy soundtrack. The "Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" CD lists the following tracks:
Everybody Knows, performed by Concrete Blonde
Why Can't I Fall In Love, performed by Ivan Neville
Stand, performed by Liquid Jesus
Wave of Mutilation, performed by The Pixies
I've Got A Secret Miniature Camera, performed by Peter Murphy
Kick Out The Jams, performed by Bad Brains with Henry Rollins
Freedom of Speech, performed by Above The Law
Heretic, performed by Soundgarden
Titanium Expose, performed by Sonic Youth
Me and the Devil Blues, performed by Cowboy Junkies
Tale O' The Twister (special "bonus" track), performed by
Two Sheds points out that It's worth noting that the recording of Everybody
Knows prominently featured in the movie was the original Leonard Cohen recording,
while the one on the soundtrack was a made-for-soundtrack Concrete Blond cover. I
haven't heard the soundtrack, but I'm led to understand that the Concrete Blond version
isn't as good. Anyway, the Leonard Cohen song is great, and deserves mention.
He's right, folks. I have heard the soundtrack (my boyfriend owns
it) and the Concrete Blonde version of Everybody Knows pales miserably in comparison
to the Leonard Cohen version. Why, oh why, can't they just make soundtracks that
reflect the actual songs in the movie?
Christian Slater as Mark Hunter
Andy Romano as Murdock
Keith Stuart Thayer as Luis Chavez
Cheryl Pollak as Paige Woodward
Jeff Chamberlain as Mr. Woodward
Billy Morrissette as Mazz Mazzilli
Samantha Mathis as Nora Diniro
Lala Sloatman as Janie
Holly Sampson as Cheryl
Annie Ross as Loretta Creswood
Anthony Lucero as Malcolm Kaiser
Annie Rusoff as Annie
Jonathan Mazer as Jonathan
Alexander Enberg as Alex
Ahmet Zappa as Jamie
Seth Green as Joey
Mimi Kennedy as Marla Hunter
Scott Paulin as Brian Hunter
Ellen Greene as Jan Emerson
Robert Gavin as Doug
Dan Eisenstein as Donald
Mark Ballou as Eric
Daryl Sebert as Cary
Gregg Daniel as Teacher Moore
Marc Siegler as Teacher Stern
Robert Schenkkan as David Deaver
Ariana Mohit as Alissa
Jill Jaress as Mrs. Kaiser
Nolan Hemmings as Chip
Justin Hessling as Veldon
Jay Lambert as Gordon
Allan Kolman as Postal Clerk
Clayton Landey as Shep Sheppard
David McKnight as Detective #1
Tony Auer as Police Officer
Paulette Ballock as Police Dispatcher
Robert Harvey as Detective Denny
Matt McGrath as Chris
Chris Jacobs as Matt
Virginya Keehne as Linda
Steve Archer as Harry Video
Larry Clardy as PTA Parent #1
John K. Shull as PTA Parent #2
Lin Shaye as PTA Parent #3
Michele Bernath as PTA Parent #4
Steph DuVall as Reporter #1
Sherri Shaffner as Reporter #2
Roger Scott as TV Announcer #1/Crispin
Gary Dubin as TV Announcer #2
Nigel Gibbs as Marshall
David Glasser as Jack
James Hampton as Arthur Watts
John Pinero as Carlos Chavez
Juliet Landau as Joni or Jeni
Ed Trotta as Gil
Kenny McMurphy as Mick
Paul Vasquez as Zack
Alexandra Datig as Reporter #3