In 1990 the Steans Clan packed up our stuff and moved from Austin to Houston. The Admiral had transferred to what turned out to be a pretty good job. Like a lot of high schoolers, I was less than thrilled to change schools. I'd already put in the leg work with three years of middle school and a year of high school with the people I'd expected to endure until I escaped to college. Now I'd have to start all over again.
What would be odd, as per my living situation, was that we were leaving Jason behind in Austin. It was sort of like deciding the family dog was too old and wouldn't like the new arrangement, so you leave it with the neighbors. He was to finish out his Senior year rather than slog through a new school just in time to graduate.
Shortly after we arrived in Houston, the newest Christian Slater flick "Pump up the Volume" made its way to the Loew's theater a few miles from the house, right by the blimp hanger. It piqued my interest for two reasons (a) I was a big fan of "Heathers", and (b) it featured Pirate Radio.
Jason had spent some time in prior years trying to figure out how to set up a pirate radio broadcast out of his bedroom. Eventually, he abandoned the idea, I think due to legal concerns (not wanting to go to jail).
At the time, I loved the movie. It had teenagers talking about teen-agery type stuff. It had a pirate radio station. Christian Slater stuck it to The Man (ie: the crusty principal), and mostly, circa 1990 Samantha Mathis.
Oh, Samantha Mathis, your art-school girl chic made my heart pitter-patter
"Pump up the Volume" may or may not have been the original name for the movie. But it's a terrible title and suggests a late 80's break dancing movie. I have suspicions this was some MC Hammer-inspired tweaking when someone from marketing realized that they were marketing a movie to teens that didn't feature music that it was, at the time, perceived that teens listened to.
The soundtrack features Concrete Blonde, Leonard Cohen (I think), the Pixies and others of the late 80's, early 90's, pre-Nirvana music scene, and starts by establishing Slater's character's cred with his record collection. All on cassette. Because I think in 1990, I knew one person with an actual CD player.
The movie, really, hinges on technology and the Newsweek-covered hot button parental issues of the era. Today's teens would see a neolithic world before cell phones, internet lines, and when teenagers with their own computers were a pretty darn rare commodity. Only one character has a computer in their room during the course of the movie (and he dies!).
Re-made today, no doubt the idea would basically be a well-run website with illegally distributed MP3's, a chat room, some e-mail, and podcasts of Mr. HHH. At the time, the idea of just anybody taking to the airwaves was considered extremely difficult and illegal. (I should pause here to give a mad shout out to the 1993-1994 residents of Jester West, 12th floor. Patrick and Jeff put together a small radio broadcaster from scrap parts and their TV antenna. Jester briefly enjoyed the rockin' tunes of Jester Pirate Radio. Until, that is, we wanted to watch TV again. And, yeah, they let me on the air once or twice. And I was awesome.)
The hot button issues of the day were teen pregnancy and teen suicide. The suicide angle kind of also explains the entirety of "Heathers", and the tune from Heathers: Big Fun's "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)". Anyhoo, the switch to the real drama of the movie occurs when some kid kills himself because Slater didn't tell him not to. The witch-hunting overreaction by parents as part of the sequence is still actually pretty darn accurate.
As a 33 year old watching this movie, one winds up feeling less like Christian Slater is speaking for you (or anyone). It comes across more as a lot of teen angsting, talking about how the whole world is screwed up and needs change, but there aren't a lot of specifics regarding what needs changing. Slater eventually winds up spouting this really crazy diatribe about how the earth and trees need healing... and uncensored pirate radio, I guess.
None of it really makes a lot of sense, unless you consider Slater's character was just moved from NYC to what was a stand in for Paradise Valley, Arizona circa 1990. In which case, the dissatisfaction is all too rational.
In order to provide the audience with an actual antagonist that isn't just Slater V. Society-at-Large, there's a cockamamie scheme cooked up in which the Principal is magically expelling teenagers with lower SAT scores so she can keep up some sort of public funding for the school. It's a little convoluted, and really tangential to whatever is supposed to be going on with Slater's pirate radio show. And suggests that this is a school in which no parents are involved, and nobody fears a lawsuit.
Probably the two weirdest moments in the movie belong to Samantha Mathis, whose character suddenly goes topless in one scene (something I cheered during my first viewing as I believed the movie to be PG-13). And, as a plot point, we learn she's failing high school math. Which... is unintentionally hilarious.
Failing math = Not terribly attractive
The movie is oddly ham-handed in other ways.
-Hip-hop is used as a sign that the kids are getting too rebellious for the likes of the ever-crusty faculty.
-Slater's character drops a half-dozen clues that would immediately identify him as HHH. Mr. Magoo could unravel the mystery.
-And there's a lot of insinuations that (a) this is the least happy bunch of privileged kids EVER, and (b) something is very, very wrong at Harding High, but they manage to make it through the 102 minute runtime without ever saying WHAT is wrong.
In many ways, I'm left peppering the movie with the same "What?" that I usually reserve for movies like "D War Dragon Wars".
The ending is absolutely ludicrous, with Slater and Mathis hauled off in a paddywagon, sure to go to jail for some vague moral victory. I'd worry more about her future, but with that "F" in Math, I'm not sure that Mathis's character couldn't use the focused environment of prison in which to get her GED.
And, of course, a million kids supposedly take to the airwaves with their own pirate radio shows... The end
The Internet has, of course, taught us what teenagers and adults will do with a public forum. If this blog is any indication, it hasn't healed the rocks and trees, and its mostly given nutjobs like myself a bull pulpit from which we can espouse our half-baked sasquatch theories.
Still, it's got Samantha Mathis.
This look of loving concern at our hero's exploits is the opposite of what I was used to from the ladies of KOHS. Change this more to a look of disapproval.
A brief DITMLOD: Samantha Mathis as "Nora Diniro"
I'm not ashamed to admit that in middle and high school, I had my eye on the stripey sock girls. Give me a girl in an over-sized black sweater and clunky black shoes, and any young lady automatically got a second look (this predates all the Marilyn Manson co-option of the art-school girl stuff, which... doesn't work so much for me).
The look showed up in a few movies. Sort of sported by Winona Ryder in "Heathers". Absolutely seen by the female lead in cult classic "Three O'Clock High". But I still think Mathis does it best.
Despite 13 long years of loyalty, Jamie seems to get a little jealous whenever this previous fascination is brought up. I think Jason initially revealed my old achilles heal to Jamie, and every once in a while it becomes a point of contention that I did not fancy Jamie before I had, in fact, met Jamie.
Whatever. Jamie loves 1988 Greg Louganis.
Anyhoo, yes. As a teenager I thought Samantha Mathis was the bee's knees. She was cute, did the stripey sock thing very well, was occasionally topless, and, to a kid who'd just moved and went weeks in a new school without talking to anyone... the idea that such a girl was hiding under a rock somewhere at KOHS was deeply appealing.
That is not to say that KOHS was devoid of awesome ladies (you know who you are). But, you know, we were sadly lacking in Samantha Mathisii.
I should of just learned that the girls who smoked behind the school at lunch were more fun...
I salute thee, Samantha Mathis as "Nora Diniro". You left an indelible impression upon my youthful psyche.