Voice Over (1981)

Director: Chris Monger

It’s amazing how some films that attract controversy manage to do so. Apparently, in the case of Voice Over, it was a case of the director being in the wrong place at the wrong time… a radical feminist group were going to protest the new Dennis Hopper film for being misogynistic at the 1981 Edinburgh Film Festival, where Chris Monger’s film was also playing; however, when they found Hopper wouldn’t be there for them to harass but Monger would be, they turned their attention to him instead. The “misogyny” claim dogged the film ever after, though given the film’s virtual disappearance after its release it probably didn’t really ensure its notoriety. At this distance (and even at the time, as a 1982 Monthly Film Bulletin review in the DVD booklet recognises) it’s hard to understand the misogyny thing; to seriously view Voice Over as misogynistic would probably require holding a view of what constitutes misogyny that even a Tumblr social justice warrior would consider unnecessarily wide-ranging.

Anyway, our “hero” is a radio host, “Fats” Bannerman, author of an inexplicably popular radio serial called “Thus Engaged”, a Jane Austenesque Regency romance. It’s a hit, but Fats finds it’s not with the people he’s aiming at; instead, his chief audience is younger people who dig the show for ironic kitsch reasons. This, and a rough encounter with a couple of his listeners, drive him to abruptly transform the show into a bizarre gothic horror affair; amazingly, the ratings increase and Fats gets to take the show to a bigger station. Behind the scenes, though, things are going south for him as he takes in a young girl he finds one night who’s evidently been badly assaulted, and life and fiction start to intertwine some. Voice Over is almost awe-inspiringly unattractive; it’s the sort of film that tends to be anchored primarily by its central performance, in which capacity Ian McNeice as Fats is quite remarkable. Without him I suspect this film would’ve been insufferable, which it nearly is even with him; the film’s slack pacing makes it far longer than it has any right to be and the brutalist production manner—admittedly forced on it by its sub-£11,000 budget, which left room for neither retakes nor beauty—doesn’t offer much more. Monger actually did graduate to bigger Hollywood-style productions, but damned if this film gives any indication of him ever achieving that…

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