Or: Films I took Seriously Back in the Day – a new AR series. See the first installment here.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: 1990. The year I began what my father would later refer to as my “smoking career” and G.H.W. Bush was in the White House. I can honestly say that the good times outweighed the bad, however, as it was also the year I met my best friend, The Stone Roses played their now historic Spike Island gig, Milli Vanilli had their Grammy revoked and Christian Slater “talked hard” while shamelessly channeling Jack Nicholson in the more-than-a-teenaged-angst-flick, Pump Up the Volume.
Pixies, Leonard Cohen, The Descendents and Sonic Youth are just a few of the artists/bands whose sounds are represented in this particular film. As heavy-hitting as they all were/are as far as “alt” music is concerned, especially in 1990, aside from creating the mood while Slater (“Mark” aka “Hard Harry”) spun the wheels of steel as a pirate radio DJ, music has very little to do with the plot. It’s not about the music.
After watching this film again for the first time in at least a decade, the messages passed along from Slater’s character to his listening minions still speak volumes about society. Musings about suicide, sex, art, being alone…he covers the gamut. Or should I say the writers did. Succinctly.
Now of course, as a teenager these poetic tirades struck a chord with me because I was actively caught in the same spiral of trying to please my parents and my peers (simultaneously) as many of the students in the film are. Though it seems an impossible task at the time, year after year kids survive high school and as adults, look back to say either 1) “it was the best time of my life!”, or 2) “you couldn’t pay me to go back to that misery.” I wish for all of you, if you haven’t reached the point of waxing about your adolescence, curtain #2. Trust me.
The late-80s/early-90s Teen Drama genre has left an unfortunate asterisk on the cinematic timeline. In its day, what was once considered social awareness via the silver screen is now, more often than not, viewed as terribly over-dramatic and schmultzy rather than thought-provoking. Pump Up the Volume isn’t one of them.
Yes, the film contains the garden variety stereotypes of the day. It has its own Claire and Bender and bad hair and a girl who wears stripey tights and writes sexually laced poetry on red paper. Snore. It also has a protagonist with more of a soul than I’ve seen in a long time. That’s worthy of checking out if you haven’t already and most definitely worth revisiting.
[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]