This blog post is dedicated to my good friend Jenny. Jenny is the one who, at the age of thirteen, convince, no forced, me to see this movie. How much did I love Pump Up the Volume? Let’s count the ways.: 1-I owned the movie on VHS tape and watched it about once or twice a month from the ages of thirteen through about eighteen, 2-I owned the soundtrack on cassette tape and later on CD once I got a CD player, 3-I had the movie poster on my wall, and 4- I bought a Pixies CD just because Wave of Mutilation was on the soundtrack. That’s love. But would I love it as much as a thirty-two year old woman, not having seen the movie in probably ten years? Well, let’s find out.
“Do you ever get the feeling that every thing in America is completely fucked up?” begins our hero of the movie, Mark Hunter. Played most awesomely by Christian Slater. (And how much did I love Christian Slater???? Well, not only did I have a PUtV poster in my room, I had a Kuffs cardboard cutout of him. And Kuffs sucked ass.) Mark Hunter is a shy kid originally from “back east,” who just transferred to Hubert H. Humphrey High school in suburban Arizona. His dad bought him a short-wave radio to keep touch with his friends back home, but it didn’t work. So he found an empty radio frequency, and pirated it and started broadcasting a filthily awesome radio show hosted by his alter ego, Happy Harry Hard-on.
Happy Harry fills his shows with such wonderful quips as “tonight I’m as horny as a ten-peckered owl,” and “This is Hard Harry reminding you to eat your cereal with a fork, and do your homework in the dark.” And he fakes masturbating, pretty much in every show, very appropriately to the song, Love Comes in Spurts. Heh. But he also laments this impersonality of the suburbs, the 90’s already being “a totally exhausted decade with nothing to look forward to and no one to look up to,” and the general suckiness of being a teenager with total fucking sell-outs for parents. And so, his show starts to become wildly popular around the school. But no one knows Happy Harry’s true identity.
We get to meet Mark’s overbearing parents. His dad, turns out, is the Commissioner of the school district, which includes Mark’s own high school (supposedly the best high school in the state). Mark’s parents constantly get on his case about making friends, joining clubs etc. His mom is basically personality-less, except for the fact that she played Abby Finkelstein, aka Dharma’s mom from Dharma & Greg. (Greg: “Dharma, get off that table.” Dharma: “I’m kooky!”).
In school, Mark is so unbelievably shy, he barely speaks to anyone. His English teacher (whose name I have already forgotten) reads one of his stories in class that catches the ear of one Nora Deniro. Played rather awesomely by Samantha Mathis (aka Older Amy from 1994’s Little Women, which also starred a pre-douchebag and a very hot Christian Bale). Nora works in the school library and tries to talk to Mark when he returns the book, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, by Lenny Bruce. And there, my friends is my first introduction to Lenny Bruce. Mark can barely look at her though so painful is his shyness.
The movie basically bounces back and forth between Harry on his show and Mark at school. Something fishy is going on at school. Students are mysteriously not showing up to class. And the test marks for this school seems mysteriously high. What, oh what, is going on at good old Hubert H. Humphrey High school?
Harry’s show really starts to pick up steam. He takes note of the missing students and one day finds a letter in his dad’s office from his school’s guidance counselor expelling a girl for getting pregnant. He calls the guidance counselor at home to call him out on it. He accepts letters from fans, and if you include a phone number, he promises to call. One night he talks to a boy who claims to be suicidal. Harry’s doesn’t advise him one way or the other. The boy says that he’s all alone and Harry goes on a diatribe about what it is to be alone, how we’re all alone.
The next day at school, Mark’s teacher announces that one of their classmates, Malcolm Keyser, took his own life the previous night. Also that day, Nora confronts Mark. She knows his secret identity, which she confirms by following him to the post office picking up Harry’s letters. Mark feels guilty about Malcolm and plans on quitting the show, which Nora fights him over.
Cut to later that night, and Harry does go on the air. At first just to quit. But he quickly goes back on with a rant about suicide. “The terrible secret is that being young is sometimes less fun than being dead.” But at least pain is real. “Doesn’t this mix of blindness and blandness make you want to do something crazy? So why not do something crazy?” He encourages people to take their problems and chuck ’em. Nuke ’em. And his listeners do. They go nuts. To Henry Rollins’ “Kick out the Jams Motherfuckers” no less! And then he reads a letter written by a gay kid who has had a cruel prank played on him by some meathead jocks, and it’s sad. But Harry rocks, naturally.
And then the cops get called. And then the cops decide to call the Feds (The FCC) because he’s been broadcasting across state lines. From here on out, the shit really hits the fan. The students at school are up in arms, and continuing to ‘Kick out the jams,’ so to speak. Harry-related graffiti is everywhere. Parents and administration want Harry stopped. When his identity is discovered, Harry is going to be charged with criminal negligence related to Malcolm’s sucide. A bunch of students, Nora included are expelled for failing classes. Mark’s dad, a school district commissioner, is called in for a PTA meeting, which ends in chaos.
As Harry goes on the air that night, Nora is over and trying to get with him (wink wink). During his broadcast, Mark’s parents obviously start to suspect him of being Harry and are banging on his basement bedroom door. He goes off quickly and his parents confront him. But Nora pops out from behind the couch, and they are soooo relieved that their precious son is just banging the local school arteest and not hosting a pirated radio show. And then after the show, Mark and Nora do a little making out in the backyard. Christian Slater is shirtless (and me at 15: “SQUEEEEEEE!”). Samantha Mathis also takes off her shirt (and me at 32: “Holy Shit, after nine months of pregnancy and seventeen (yes that’s seventeen months of breastfeeding, I forgot that boobs could be that perky!). Nora has Mark pinned to the ground, which even now I find pretty hot.
The FCC is out, and are going to use all sorts of miracles of modern technology to figure out where Harry is broadcasting from. So my smart lovely Mark decides to broadcast from his Jeep, while Nora drives. It’s awesome. Huge crowds are gathered at the school to listen as a group. The news is there. The school administration is there, and we find out the real deal with the Principal. She’s been weeding out ‘undesirable’ students, expelling them, but keeping their names on the school rolls to get the money from the government. Mark’s dad suspends her. So yay for Mark’s dad, I guess he really isn’t the total sell-out that Mark thinks he is.
While broadcasting from the jeep, Harry’s voice disguiser breaks, and he decides to broadcast as himself, as Mark. “Being a teenager sucks, but getting through it is the point.” The FCC finally finds his signal, and the cops are suddenly after him. He and Nora drive straight into the party, as Mark is encouraging everyone to seize the air. “Take the airwaves, they belong to you.” “Find your voice. Spill your guts. Say shit and fuck a million times!” “Keep the air…” He says ‘alive’ as the cops cut his cord, put him and Nora into cuffs and put him in the back of the cop car. The crowd is silent. Mark looks out at them and says “Stay Hard!”
And roll credits to the sounds of teenage voices on their own pirated radio stations.
- So, do I still love it? FUCKING A, I do! I watched it a couple nights ago and have already been looking to buy the DVD.
- OK, if this was happening today, he totally could have podcasted it. But in 1990, a pirated radio station is all we had, you know?
- Ah, the early 90’s fashion. I totally modeled myself after Nora’s character. Black dress, black and white striped tights, Doc Marten maryjanes. Hell yeah.
- Why are dudes smoking cigarettes in movies totally hot, but not in real life? Christian Slater smokes like a chimney in this movie and it rocks. I saw on IMDB that Christian Slater, a non-smoker, got sick from all the smoking he had to do for this film.
- Harry does this weird fake-masturbation thing as a joke, saying we’re listening to the sound of Harry coming on his own face (heh). But honestly, he’s in a locked basement….so why not just actually do it? I mean, he plays a 17 or 18 year old, it’s not like we all don’t know that 17/18 year old boys masturbate.
- When the kids are kicking out the jams, a bunch of kids bring this giant penis to school. Like, huge…takes about five of them to carry it. Where would you get such a thing? I’ve been in, well….a couple porn shops in my day (I got kicked out of one in college!) and I’ve never seen anything quite like that.
- Although I can’t related to the teen angst quite so much, I’m really do remember relating to it very well. So I’m not going to snark it, because. Well, I don’t really know why. I just think we shouldn’t necessarily dismiss what adolescents think just because the grownups think they’re being silly and angsty.
- I still relate quite well to the suburban angst though. I look out my window to dreary suburbia every day. I just count myself lucky that I live in a close-in suburb that actually has public transportation and shit in walking distance.
- Why is there a Hubert H. Humphrey High in Arizona? Wasn’t he a Minnesotan? And I love you Minnesotans with your Jesse Ventura and Al Franken. My state lays claim to Michael Steele, so yeah. Sorry about that America. *hangs head in shame.*
- Oh, I first heard of a cockring from this movie!!!!
- Mark’s dad is totally how I picture Richard Spier.
- There is this really wonderful scene toward the end of the movie where Mark and Nora see each other at school. They are super awkward and trying to lean in for a kiss. The camera is up really close, so close that at points their faces will drift off-screen. The awkward camera angle really accentuates the awkwardness of the situation. That is some fantastic film-making I tell you.
- If you haven’t seen this. See it. I’m soooo not kidding. And if you have seen it, but not in a while. Go see it again.
- Soundtrack features Concrete Blond, Henry Rollins, the Pixies, Above the Law among others. God, no wonder I fucking loved it so much. Now I’m looking for the movie and soundtrack.
- Totally unrelated, but evidently my neighbor thinks she’s an opera singer. Huh.
- EDIT!!! I gotta apologize for the fucked up fonts. I wrote some of this in Word while my internet was unavailable. And when I copied and pasted some crazy shit happened and it got all fucked up and I can’t get the fucking fonts and sizes to match. ARRRGH!