Sunday, September 16, 2012

RADIO UNNAMEABLE, portrait of free-form Fass, in Film Forum U.S. theatrical premiere

Note: This delightful documentary, 
 which TrustMovies originally covered nearly three years back, 
will air nationwide this coming Wednesday, June 24, 2015 
 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Link TV (DirecTV 375 and DISH 9410) 
 and at 9 p.m. PT on KCET (Southern California). 
Following the broadcast, Radio Unnameable will stream 
 on both and

Late night New York radio mavens, arise! Your hero (one of 'em, anyway) is about to have his two weeks in the sun. Though he'd probably prefer it in the moon. One day, we'll get a movie, maybe, about Joey Reynolds, but for now, we can exult in the story of one, Bob Fass, and how he came to WBAI radio in New York (we also learn how WBAI radio itself came about) to create a new form of radio for folk who were either insomniacs or worked the night shift. Next year marks the 50th anniversaty of the start of his show, RADIO UNNAMEABLE, which doubles as the title of this documen-tary about Mr. Fass, his "form," and his life and times. It's a good film -- full of history, humor, surprise, nostalgia.

The filmmakers, Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson, (shown at left, with Wolfson on the right) have created a kind of visual and aural collage, using archival film and photos combined with voices from over two dozen of the many people who interacted with Bob Fass during his very lengthy and interesting career. "To all you people cleaning up the effluvia of those who work from 9 to 5," is the dedication to his audience that we first hear from Fass, and it, as much as anything that follows, encapsu-lates his attitude and politics: Let's give a nod to the other, the outsider, the one who doesn't fit into mainstream thought or action.

Mr Fass began his New York City stay attending drama school (at my own alma mater, The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre) and went on to do a play or two off Broadway before finding his real career at WBAI. Nobody else had come up with the kind of show Fass was doing, which was off-the-cuff in extremis, and made use of then up-and-coming musicians (Bob Dylan, anyone? Or Phil Ochs?) who would stop in at the show, pretty much impromptu.

Fass' audience, some of whom would phone into the show -- you'll hear a very funny, useful comment offered to Mr. Dylan by one listener -- began taking it to heart and making it among the most popular in New York nighttime radio. As a longtime New Yorker, I must admit to never having listened to radio during those wee, small hours. I am one who falls asleep minutes, if not seconds, after he hits the sack. So I cannot claim to understand nighttime radio's particular appeal. Yet the filmmakers manage to make that leap for those of us non-listeners, thanks to their many interviews with everyone from Robert Downey, Sr., to Arlo Guthrie, Paul KrassnerWavy GravyJudy Collins, Judith Malina and of course Fass himself, who, even now in his 80s, is still going strong.

In addition to the current interviews, there is also some rather amazing archival audio and video appearances from the likes of Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Shirley Clarke, Abbie Hoffman and even Holly Woodlawn. We see history here -- via a liberal, left-wing slant -- as the hippies, the folk-rockers, and then the Yippies take over the canvas. We're even privy to a suicide call that Fass tries to handle as best he can, and which appears to have left its mark on the man, as much as it did on his listeners of that time.

At some point Fass and his politics became too much for WBAI, so the station's Board of Directors shut not just Fass but the whole enterprise down. Over time, old grudges seen to have settled, and even now Fass is back at work -- though unless I have misunderstood something, this work is now all "volunteer," as the fellow is no longer getting paid for his time and effort. (But these days, who of us is?) Still, he has amassed a mammoth archive of material that should prove a treasure to historians down the road.

Not surprisingly, the movie has its own pace and audio level, just as did/does Mr.Fass, and this is a smart combo. Nothing feels rushed or over-stated in this 87-minute movie, distributed by Kino Lorber, that makes its U.S. theatrical debut this coming Wednesday, September 19, in New York City at Film Forum. You can find the two-week screening schedule here. (Please note that the filmmakers, along with Bob Fass himself, will appear at Film Forum in person for a Q&A on September 19 at the 8:00pm showing, September 21 at the 8:00pm showing and September 24 at the 6:15pm. TrustMovies would hope that there will be other playdates around the country (Chicago, perhaps?) but as of now, none are listed on the Kino Lorber site.

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