If this documentary about some of Asheville’s talk radio personalities had been trimmed by about 10 minutes, chances are good I’d have given it another half star. Even if I was ready for the film to call it a day sooner than it did, some of the choicest bits in it were toward the end, suggesting to me that the overall film was good—just that there was a little too much of it. I have to admit I’ve never heard any of the personalities in question. (I’ve met Virato a couple times, but have never heard him on the air.) As a result, I came to the film relatively unbiased and ready to see what Talking Tall was all about.
The film is the brainchild of directors C. Eric Scott and Joshua P. Warren. The latter is, in fact, one of the talk-radio personalities in the film, though it’s a testament to his overall interest in the whole talk-radio form that he doesn’t turn over the lion’s share of the footage to his program. Instead, the clear stars of the film are Virato of the Virato Live! show and Matt Mittan of Take a Stand. That’s not surprising, because they provide the best material, especially Virato, who is definitely the most colorful of the subjects—and the one most prone to do (and probably initiate) outrageous things. (Catch the scene where he leads the camera crew into the church.)
Most of the talk here is good—even the more maddening variety—but the cleverest thing Scott and Warren have done is to realize that a film about talk radio could quickly turn into nothing more than talking heads doing that which they do best: talking. That’s all well and good, but even when you break it up with Virato walking around town and Matt Mittan fishing, it’s not exactly exciting filmmaking. To make up for this, the film takes the generally successful approach of cutting away to more cinematic evocations of what’s being discussed. This works better sometimes than others—the marijuana brownies segment, frankly, doesn’t work at all—but it keeps the film visually interesting. All in all, it’s a solid, entertaining effort that sheds some light on the diversity of local talk radio. I did leave thinking that maybe I’d have liked more of Angela Moore’s The Hillbilly Psychic, but wonder if I’m not better off just thinking about the concept than exploring it. And I think I want to know what the devil Virato was going on about in reference to “non-genital sex.” Then again, maybe I don’t.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke