Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson’s nostalgic doc begins with a salute from hushed, husky-voiced WBAI DJ Bob Fass to “the unsung heroes of New York City.” The film that follows then returns the favor to a man who has remained the constant companion of Big Apple night owls for more than five decades as the host of the free-form graveyard shift radio program “Radio Unnameable.” As Fass describes his life and career, colleagues, fans and artists talk about his importance as a talk-radio pioneer and his crucial role as a sort of clearing house for 1960s counterculture music and activism. Abbie Hoffman was a regular guest; Jerry Jeff Walker performed “Mr. Bojangles” in public for the first time on the disc jockey’s show.
As a story about an imageless medium, it’s hard to dispute that Unnameable matches radio’s visual perspective a bit too closely; it’s little more than a loop of talking heads and stock footage. The real star, even more than the smooth-talking subject himself, is the archival audio. Viewers should proceed directly to the sequence in which Fass tries to talk a man out of committing suicide, with the caller OD-ing on the air while the WBAI staff desperately tries to trace the call. It’s as haunting and heroic as anything you’ll see on the big screen this year, even if the film itself has a tendency to traffic in an abundance of dead air.
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