american hot wax, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

American Hot Wax (1978) 

In his memoir ‘What Just Happened?: Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line’, producer Art Linson recalls his initial pitch for American Hot Wax. “We take a close look at Freed and payola and it culminates in a big rock-and-roll show at the end… I gotta work more on the details”. All evidence to the contrary.

 

It’s going to be a busy week for Alan Freed. Apart from hosting his nightly radio program, Freed needs to deal with the fallout from a riot that recently took place at his Boston show, put the finishing touches on his upcoming anniversary concert in Brooklyn, sign an affidavit that he never took part in the payola scandal and buy a house. Adding to the pressure of being Mr Rock ‘n’ Roll is his inability to go anywhere, be it a pub, carpark or elevator, without somebody hassling him to play their latest record. Which may explain why Freed is rarely seen without a drink in his hand.

Trying to cram all these events into one week may be the reason director Floyd Mutrux has the film’s cast constantly talk over each other. Whereas overlapping dialogue created a certain sense of realism in Robert Altman’s work, here it just adds to the general confusion borne out of an underdone script.  With everybody yelling their lines above a continual soundtrack of rock and roll hits, the melee is dialled up even further by Fran “The Nanny” Drescher’s constant complaints of an impending headache.

Somewhere amongst this American hot mess, Tim McIntire manages to deliver a commanding performance as Alan Freed. Credit must also be accorded to the final concert that features performances by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. Making up a quarter of the film’s total running time, both concert and biopic conclude abruptly as end titles state that “This was Alan Freed’s last performance. He was taken off the air, indicted, moved to California where he died 5 years later, penniless.” It neglects to mention his death was hastened by chronic alcoholism.

Tim Mcintire, alan freed, chuck berry, lerry lee lewis, screamin' jay hawkins
Tim McIntire
Tim McIntire

as Alan Freed

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Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

as Chuck Berry

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Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis

as Jerry Lee Lewis

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Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Screamin' Jay Hawkins

as Screamin' Jay Hawkins

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fact check, factcheck, fact vs fiction, inaccuracies, true story

Condensed time frame of one week in 1959 results in many anomalies, including –

 

  • Alan Freed and his "Rock ‘N Roll" First Anniversary concert took place in 1955

  • The Boston “Big Beat” concert that ended in a riot occurred in 1958

  • Alan Freed’s last concert was held in 1960.

Biopic contains no mention of Freed’s film career