Citizens Band Reviews
regulate the airwaves was particularly amusing as was his alcoholic father, a complete asshole in life, but a kind, nice man while operating his CB radio. Demme has crafted a fascinating, well written film with lots of unique and interesting characters that is just fun and socially relevant as well. Surprised this film isnt mentioned more when talking about Demme's filmography.
The phenomenon of connecting with people you've never seen is not new to the latest generation. It's probably relatively modern; it requires on things like reliable mail. However, when I was in high school, you could pay a couple of bucks to be hooked up with someone on another continent as a pen-pal. Remember, too, that Charlie Brown was always writing his "pencil pal"--starting in 1958, which even predates the phenomenon under discussion here. Even before that, I've read of at least one marriage wherein the parties got to know each other while working in telegraph offices a considerable distance apart. The ceremony, of course, was also telegraphed so that their friends could "be there." And for a stretch in the 1970s, the American fixation was on Citizens' Band radio. In fine Hollywood tradition, movies were made to cash in on the phenomenon.
Our Hero operates under the handle Spider (Paul Le Mat), and the credits assume we don't care about his real name--anyone's real name. Anyway, Spider lives with his father (Roberts Blossom), who operates as Papa Thermodyne. Also in town is his brother (Bruce McGill) and his ex-girlfriend (Candy Clark). There are also all sorts of wacky people around the town. We take a lot of time with a trucker, Chrome Angel (Charles Napier), and what turns out to be his two wives, Dallas Angel (Ann Wedgeworth) and Portland Angel (Marcia Rodd). Oh, and his girlfriend, a prostitute who goes by the handle of Hot Coffee (Alix Elias). After a particularly frustrating fight with everyone he knows, Spider goes kind of nuts and starts a one-man crusade to get everyone in town to obey the FCC regulations for use of the CB system. This includes battling Red Baron (Harry Northup), who spews Nazi rhetoric and apparently wants to drive all non-Aryans off the radio, and The Priest (Ed Begley, Jr.), who interrupts others' conversations to proselytize.
There's also illicit context, of course. There's an obnoxious teenage boy who claims to be "The Hustler" (Michael Mahler), who spends his time reading pornography over the air. More mysterious is Electra, who exchanges dirty talk with Warlock (Will Seltzer). This is one of the things Spider is determined to eliminate, leading to about the only really funny bit in the movie. He has taken to driving around to triangulate various people's signals, and The Hustler is the first one he finds. The kid claims to be home sick, and Spider pushes past him. He goes after the kid's radio with a baseball bat. The kid's mother (Micki Mann) comes home after he finished, and the kid tells her what has happened. Presumably so she'll call the cops. But anyway, her response is that she's wanted to do it for ages. I have told you this entire scene because I didn't want you to think there was a reason to watch the movie--now, you know the only funny thing which happens.
I think we're supposed to find the situation with the trucker's two wives was funny, but I did not. I wanted the smarter wife to walk out on him. Honestly, I wanted him to end up with the prostitute, because their relationship was at least honest. And he did have a clever idea when he set her up with an RV and made her a . . . what do you call it when it's trucks? A truck stop follower? Anyway. The Portland wife was intelligent, and I wanted better for her. The Dallas wife, I didn't much care. She was dumb and really deserved whatever she got. Though I don't ever think much of anyone deserves having their trust betrayed. That's part of the reason I wanted the trucker to end up with Hot Coffee. No, she didn't know about his wives, but she had no reason to expect that he was faithful to her. She knew exactly what their relationship was, though of course, she was a prostitute he visited whenever he was in the area. So I guess that's fidelity of a sort.
All in all, the only thing approaching new here is the use of CB radio in its tired plot devices. The relationships aren't really dependent on it most of the time, because most of these people live in the same town. It's worth noting that there's at least one case of someone pretending to be someone different from who they are, and there is probably at least one case of someone being more themselves over the CB than they are in person. Which I think is another case of "nothing new under the sun," even though people think it is. The Red Baron probably does not actually, for all he's shown doing so at the end, deliver Nazi rhetoric in person. However, the CB is a type of anonymity, the one which has only exploded in the days of the chat room and the message board. What we can do now is create even greater anonymity, of course. I can lie to all of you about where I am, because you don't have to be within a certain distance to hear me. I don't have to disguise my voice to keep you from recognizing it, because all I am to you is words on a screen.
Citizens Band is interesting because it was made in 1977 and I'm watching it now. Other than that, it's decent, but nothing really pops out at me. I stand by my claim of an uncanny parallel between the abuse of a citizens-band radio and the online networks of the information age. Look at what these characters do! Calling themselves by monikers on the airwaves such as Chrome Angel, Dallas Angel, Papa Thermodyne, Hot Coffee. Isn't that what we did for years on MySpace before we got sick of it and gravitated toward Facebook and started using our real names? At its core though, Citizens Band, or Handle With Care, as it is known in a further edited version, is a B comedy about an assortment of deadpan screwballs. That's not bad at all. Don't get me wrong. It feels like an Altman film in ensemble, in situations, in the depiction of a fully realized world of people, and certain plot strands are kind of novel and fun for that reason, such as when two women meet on their way to the same town, and find out they have more than a lot in common. Demme never looks down on his working class characters, displaying instead a compassion and empathy. Even a polygamist trucker, our young protagonist who in this day and age would probably be written off as a McCarthy or Murdoch sort of oppressor, and even his controlling, competitive older brother.
Having seen Demme's later work, from the 1980s and his obvious crowning achievements later on, I suppose I expected more of his love of music as well, and there is very little. But who am I to criticize a filmmaker at the start of his career, making B films and exploitation films, trying to get started, feeling out his strong suits and his weak ones? The reasons why an above-par director could've made a sub-par film is often because he has yet to discover the sources of his passions, the key to his craftsmanship. Citizens Band is one of those sub-par films by one of those above-par directors. And don't miss Bruce McGill in his first film. That's right, pre-D Day!