Citizen’s Band (1977)

Demme’s passing last month hit me pretty hard but instead of mourning endlessly I decided to celebrate his career by filling in a load of blind-spots.

Citizen’s Band (a.k.a. Handle With Care) is highly regarded among Demme-heads but is otherwise a lost-gem (Barely 200 logs on here at the time of writing, crazy!) It’s very difficult to get hold of and as far as I know has never had a home-video release. Luckily you can now find it on Amazon video so…god bless the internet. Essentially Nashville for the 1970s citizen’s band radio boom, the film follows an eclectic ensemble of characters who are all connected through the radio waves. We only know them by their CB handles (Spider, Electra, Blood, Papa Thermodyne, Hot Coffee, Dallas Angel, Chrome Angel and Portland Angel are among the barrage of colourful monikers) and their problems are pleasingly low-key. Demme staple Charles Napier has a woman in two different states and when they inadvertently cross paths he is forced to feel their wrath; Paul Le Mat’s father (Robert Blossoms) barely says two words to him but is all chatter on the airwaves and his brother (Bruce McGill) is now sleeping with his ex-fiance; and then there’s The Hustler, a teenage boy who reads pornography aloud over the air. 

It all sounds very soap-opera but in Demme’s hands it is a minuscule delight of characterisation and episodic pleasures. As a pin in the board of 1977 Nebraska it also feels like a wonderful little time-capsule. Writer Paul Brickman, who also wrote The Bad News Bears and Risky Business, has a way with local dialect and situations as well as a knack for combining the edgy and bristly with the sincere and heartfelt. You like all of these characters – a Demme trademark – but they also feel like the kind of colourful cocamany oddballs only the movies can give you. For that it is an absolute joy. It’s a Jonathan Demme picture through and through, and the first that properly captured his sensibility completely. I loved it.

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