American Hot Wax (1978)

American Hot Wax (1978)

“The only way you can protect me is if I stop playing rock ‘n roll.”

Radio DJ Alan Freed (Tim McIntire) deals with pushback from law enforcement while promoting his upcoming (and final) rock ‘n’ roll show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Radio
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that director “Floyd Mutrux’s affectionate facts-out-the-window tribute to the late Alan Freed” — “regarded as the first white deejay to play black music” — has “as flimsy a storyline as those fifties ‘B’ rock ‘n’ roll movies in which Freed appeared.” “Nevertheless,” he asserts, it “has great drive and sustained momentum, a chaotic atmosphere that properly reflects the wild era it depicts, and familiar music from 1957-60 (both performed by acts in the film and played on the soundtrack) that will make you feel joyfully nostalgic.”

“Best of all,” Peary adds, is “Tim McIntire giving a dynamite performance as the former ‘Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll'” — someone who “really loved rock music.” We see Freed “respectfully spinning platters on his radio show”:

… “taking a quick look at aspiring acts whom agents march through his office”:

…”amiably chatting with teenagers on the street”:

… “stopping to listen to unknown doo-wop groups… who always cross his path between his car and a building”:

… and “watching a rousing recording session (of ‘Come Go With Me’).”

Peary argues that “McIntire’s Freed is totally believable,” and “looks as if he walks through this cluttered, special world every day.” He points out that “while the film hints at Freed’s imminent downfall (because of a payola scandal)”, it ends on a “high note,” with special performances by “Chuck Berry (doing a really dirty version of ‘Reelin’ and Rockin”), Jerry Lee Lewis, [and] Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.”

There are also a few minor subplots woven throughout, including a young boy (Artie Ripp) who shows up at Freed’s station as the President of the Buddy Holly Fan Club:

… a quibbling couple (Jay Leno and Fran Drescher) working for Freed:

… and an aspiring songwriter (Laraine Newman) trying to convince her dad (Garry Goodrow) about her dreams:

Indeed, this film very much has the feeling of a sprawling Robert Altman flick, with a cast of dozens; perhaps this was intentional, to show us how many rock ‘n’ roll lovers were orbiting Freed’s universe. It’s not must-see viewing, but those interested in this era of music history will certainly want to check it out.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • An intriguing glimpse into the unique world inhabited by Freed

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended if you’re interested in this subgenre.


One thought on “American Hot Wax (1978)

  1. First viewing. A once-must for its accurate and successful capture of this period in America.

    I agree with Peary that the film “has great drive and sustained momentum, a chaotic atmosphere that properly reflects the wild era it depicts, and familiar music from 1957-60.” I also agree that McIntire gives “a dynamite performance”.

    As well, I agree with the observation in the assessment above that the film “very much has the feeling of a sprawling Robert Altman flick”. I had the same feeling.

    Some might think that this film would go well on a double-bill with ‘American Graffiti’ but I wouldn’t go that far. Unlike ‘AG’, ‘AHW’ is about music and *only* about music. Even when its focus is suddenly on peripheral individuals, that focus is in relation to how those people are involved in music. (I would argue that ‘AHW’ has a better music score than the one that pervades ‘AG’.)

    While it’s true that the film only minimally broaches the subject of payola, it seems to me that the script’s intention was to highlight Alan Freed as a positive cultural force (which he undoubtedly was).

    This film bombed at the box office. It shouldn’t have; it deserves attention. I found it to be wonderfully detailed in its presentation and largely a joyous experience.

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