Monday, January 10, 2011

Pump It Up

I watched Allan Moyle's Pump Up the Volume for the first time last night. One of the films that solidified Christian Slater as some sort of Gen X James Dean - as a mate of mine called him - albeit only temporarily. It gets progressively more ridiculous as it goes along and the ending feels more like the end of a TV episode where, by the following week, the previous episode's escapades have been all but forgotten, but it is endearing in its oft silliness. How about the scene where Slater's parents try to get into his private basement because they think he's the pirate radio host that's taken over the town's airwaves and then gladly leave when they realise he's there with a girl? Or how about the subplot about the principal played by Annie Ross expelling students, but pocketing the SAT funding? How about that Ellen Greene!! And I couldn't help but think all these people were incredibly stupid if they couldn't figure out who the radio DJ was since "Hard Harry" gives so much away, but what would I know?

And then there's the whole "wow, this movie is incredibly dated" vibe that runs from the opening credits to the very end. Pirate radio programs being circulated at school on cassette tapes, people! None of this fancy podcast and YouTube videos, 1990 was all about cassette tapes! How about that moment where the football jocks walk through the isles of the video store (VHS!) carrying that old radio? The clothes! And how about the music? The music is pretty darn great, you have to admit! Although I found it strange when "Pump Up the Volume" never actually found its way onto the soundtrack.

Pump Up the Volume is a "teen movie", but not the sort of teen movie that teenagers actually get anymore. While the film is very silly and never truly veers too far away from a multiplex sensibility, it has a lot more to say than any recent teen flick I can think of. It frequently hits a precise note regarding teenage rebellion, disturbance and how being lonely/outcast can feel. Slater's radio speeches, which he speaks with particularly relish, ring quite true of the way a teenage mind works. This dissatisfaction with the world is palpable. That feeling of having something to say and having no way of saying it. Being looked down upon by adults because "you're just a kid", as if "kids" can't have intellectual thoughts. The feeling of never being inspired enough to break out of the shell that high school life places on you for fear of embarrassment and ridicule. You don't need to be a teen right now to understand the characters in Pump Up the Volume, you just need to have been one at some point.

Teen movie characters have always been and will always be exaggerated versions of the real thing, but why must they be exaggerated in their stupidity? Nobody in Pump Up the Volume is the overblown nerd, way-too-buff-to-be-16-years-old jock type characters and overly fake cheerleaders. It's a movie about a teenager who tries to do something for societal change rather than their own selfishness (which, I admit, is something high on teenagers radars). I guess I appreciated that when there are so many movies aimed at teenagers that are merely about trying to have sex or trying to be popular, movies that are rarely satirical enough ala Heathers or Mean Girls to really mean something.

Do teenagers have a "Hard Harry" to look up to these days? A character that doesn't condescend to them and allowing them to see things from a different point of view? I can't think of any. Christian Slater, it must be said, was quite a hottie back in the day - as this wonderful piece explains, "Slater was the tits back in 1990" - and the scene where he walks around with no shirt on for seemingly no apparent reason was a nice touch. I can't even imagine what it must've been like to see him in Heathers as a hormonal teenager. Vapours! It is, however, not just a physical thing since his character is attractive on an intellectual level, too. You can't say that about many other teen movie protagonists these days, can you? The movie may, ultimately, be silly, but I reckon if I had more movies and characters like this growing up in my teen days, characters that showed me how to be extraordinary at not fitting in, then I would have been better for it. B

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