Pump up the volume – Radio Unnameable review

Radio Unnameable

By Simon Miraudo
November 28, 2013

The history books are written by the winners. Failing that, those with the loudest voices. This is probably why the most famous DJs – or, at least, the ones to get movies made about them – are raucous types like Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern. Bob Fass does not fit that mould. A central figure in New York’s underground radio scene, he was witness to some of the biggest social upheavals in recent American history. He interviewed legends like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell when they stood on the precipice of fame. And he did it all on a station that encouraged occasional stretches of silence. Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson‘s love letter to Bob and his legendary program, Radio Unnameablerewrites the record and places the disc jockey in the pantheon beside his louder contemporaries.

The structure of their documentary isn’t revolutionary, merely moving from one era to the next in the course of Fass’ five-decade long career. The real gift of the movie is the unfettered access to old – and thought to be lost – tapes from Radio Unnameable’s past. There are stirring live reports from the site of protests and riots, as well as live performances from incredible musical talents. The most compelling captured moment concerns a tortured individual who calls in to announce his impending suicide. As the pills begin to take effect, Bob attempts to keep the man on the line – and awake – until emergency services can locate him. Fass speaks to the man without an inkling of panic or pretension. Radio Unnameable employs a similarly unassuming tact.

RadioUnnameable2

The directors tell this tale without much fanfare, even when we learn of Fass’ own personal trials (including a run-in with his employers at station WBAI). But their subject’s talent and impact is undeniable. No wonder his frequency continues to draw listeners year after year. Radio Unnameable is a fascinating document of a time in which the media landscape wasn’t so significantly divided, options were limited, and Bob’s show, like a lighthouse’s beacon, was a reliable comfort for those on the fringes of society; the late-night workers, drivers, and lost souls who used his voice as a compass and companion every evening. You’ll envy them, and the times they shared.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews.

Radio Unnameable plays the RTRFM Gimme Some Truth Festival November 30, 2013.

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