Citizens Band (Jonathan Demme / U.S., 1977):
(Handle with Care)

Seeing on the horizon the "Electronic Age" described towards the end of The Guttenberg Galaxy, Jonathan Demme spreads his arms wide and welcoming. A cacophony of scrambled transmissions over the opening credits establishes rural Nebraska in the grip of CB-radio mania, imagery and soundtrack continually and pointedly wavering between static and harmony. For the characters, it’s not just a novel technique but a new dimension to be explored: People turn on their "idiot channels" and their psyches take flight, suddenly they’re ribald storytellers with monikers like "Electra" or "Warlock" or "Chrome Angel" or "Hot Coffee." At the center is the repairman (Paul Le Mat) who takes upon himself to enforce the rules and regulate the crackpots clogging up the airwaves. ("Small minds and big antennas," he sighs at the local bigot broadcasting his venom.) While he plays with his vigilante persona, his girlfriend (Candy Clark) doubles as a raunchy on-air seductress and his brother (Bruce McGill) turns himself into a threatening disembodied voice in order to articulate their familial tensions. Inverting their romantic triangle, the film’s parallel narrative finds two women (Ann Wedgeworth and Marcia Rodd) realizing they’ve been married to the same trucker (Charles Napier), "a communications problem." Fantasy can breed isolation yet heaven here is other people, everybody is brought together by the crusty father (Roberts Blossom) who sits sullenly at Le Mat’s table but bubbles with joy when jabbering roadside lingo into the CB speaker. "It’s a funny country. Everything’s going mobile. If you can swing that..." A vivacious poem of American restlessness, a sprawl of campers and motels and junkyards lovingly captured by Demme’s freeze-frames and dissolves, a vision of technology made vibrantly human. In the rear-view mirror are The Sugarland Express and Nashville, up ahead are Peckinpah’s Convoy and, of course, the Internet. Screenplay by Paul Brickman. With Alix Elias, Richard Bright, Ed Begley Jr., Michael Rothman, Will Seltzer, and Harry Northup.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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