Talia Shire greases wheels for restoration of ‘80s BMX film ‘RAD’

0

Preston Barta // Features Editor

Actor and filmmaker Talia Shire will always be known for her roles in two beloved film franchises. She played Connie Corleone in brother Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, as well as Sylvester Stallone’s lovable partner, Adrian, in the Rocky films. Both are works that earned her Academy Award nominations.

However, in this writer’s household, she will forever be Mrs. Jones, the mother of young BMX racer Cru Jones in the 1986 sports movie Rad.

Directed by legendary filmmaker Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit) and produced by Shire’s late husband, Jack Schwartzman (Being There), Rad surfaced during the rise of the BMX bike craze. It’s a classic underdog story of one man’s plight to compete in a notorious race called Helltrack.

Starring Bill Allen and Lori Loughlin, the film features elaborate and, at the time, revolutionary bike stunts. In the era before the X-Games and viral videos, Rad showed people around the country how to bounce around on their bike handlebars and backflip onto landing ramps crowded by people with dropped jaws. Whether or not Rad was a box office juggernaut and critically-acclaimed piece of filmmaking, it undeniably inspired a generation of extreme sports enthusiasts.

For the longest time, the only way you could watch Rad (legally) was if you had a VHS copy. Since we’ve graduated from VHS to DVD, and DVD to Blu-ray, and now Blu-ray to 4K and digital HD, more movies are riding into the spotlight. Thanks to Utopia Distribution, co-founded by Shire’s son Robert Schwartzman, Rad can finally be seen again by the masses through the new distribution platform Altavod.

To celebrate Rad’s new home on digital, Fresh Fiction spoke with Talia Shire about her memories making the 1986 film, raising her sons in the industry, and the world of physical and digital media.

Courtesy photo.

Preston Barta: I think one of the things that I appreciate more and more as I’ve grown up with Rad is how it represents parents. As a parent myself now, I recognize more sides to the story and pick out new meanings. I wonder what sort of meanings you have been able to pick out of the film over the years, especially since you did an audio commentary with your son on the film’s 4K/Blu-ray release through Vinegar Syndrome?

Talia Shire: “Well, Jack Schwartzman – and you know this as a parent – he became very interested in doing projects that had to do with children, young people, morality and empowerment. So we did films aimed at the younger generation, such as [1986’s Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star, 1987’s Lionheart] and Rad.”

“What I loved about Rad then (and really love it more today) is the innocence of these young people and how they still have power. They’re good kids that can be empowered. What also has meaning for me, honestly, is that we lost Jack some years ago. My son, Robert, has given this movie a new life – a wonderful restoration. You’ve got to know this as a father: It’s Robert’s way to leave this at his own father as an adult. So it’s very meaningful. It’s just a terrific movie. It’s alive and refuses to die. It still has a great heartbeat.”

I’m so glad to hear you say that because one of the things I was going to ask about, because I listened to your commentary with your son, is what it was like for you as a parent to raise your sons around this business and seeing Robert venture down this route of helping to bring a project that his family was so involved with back into the public eye?

“It’s very powerful because Robert was a little boy when we were making Rad. Robert and [his brother Jason Schwartzman] were very young when Jack passed away. You can only imagine that loss. I kept everything here, always waiting for them to become adults to re-explore their father, especially because Jason is a father. It has been very powerful as a family. The opening of Rad is shot by John Schwartzman, Jack’s son. That was his very first film project, really. Now he’s a major [director of photography, including Armageddon and the upcoming Jurassic World sequel]. It is an exciting thing for us all to come together again. Jack, well, he’s around. He’s involved, too.”

When I interviewed Robert in April (read here) to promote pre-orders for Rad’s physical release in May, something we spoke about was questions we wish we could ask Jack and director Hal Needham about the making of the film since they are no longer with us. Robert brought up the construction of those race sequences and how they managed to get the timing right, which is crazy to think about. Was there anything that amazed you about Robert’s questioning that you hadn’t thought about in a long time or caused you to reflect on something later after the commentary?

“I have to say, I was always waiting for my children, Jack’s children, to re-find the movie – rediscover it. What you’re saying is fascinating about Robert highlighting Hal’s work. The day I went to the set, there was Helltrack, right? That edge that you fall down to start the race. I was in sheer terror. I think Robert was very interested in how Hal, with all of his experience, made the riders feel safe to try that stunt and how it had to be timed. This was a new sport. We discovered BMX there. Now it’s an Olympic sport. Rad is very precious to those BMX Olympic riders. But I have to say, being on the set that day, that was scary. Hal was able to inspire great confidence and safety.”

That scene at Helltrack has been one that I wish I could just step on set and see what it was like, especially hearing all those stories about that first drop and people having the guts to go down it.

“I was there! I said, ‘Hal! He said, ‘Don’t worry.’ I mean it was amazing as the young riders would approach that high place. Hal’s focus and how he cajoled –– you always felt safe, but it was scary. Absolutely scary.”

Something else that occurred to me during your commentary was when Robert pointed out your outfit when we are introduced to your character. She has this bonnet or design pinned to your shirt to signal to the viewer that you’re a hardworking mom. How important is it for you as an actor to think about these things that the audience may not necessarily see or know about, but it can be felt and absorbed in subtle ways?

“Well, when you construct a character –– I’ll just tell you what I learned in drama school: that the costume is a statement of character. She was a hardworking woman. She had lost her husband and she had another job someplace. So when she encounters her son, you see she is struggling, right? To keep things together. Those things are very, very meaningful for the audience. But yes, for the actor, very important.”

Courtesy of Utopia Distribution.

To circle back to why I think your character is such a great parent, the key scene is when you confront Cru at the qualifying race after you learn he’s been going behind your back and not taking his SATs like he was supposed to. I watched that conversation and thought to myself, “Wow. That was a fair compromise.” I feel like there are so many movie parents that would be so hot on Cru until the very end, but that wasn’t the case here.

“Yeah! That’s what Jack and Hal loved about it from the beginning; it had that small-town innocence, but great power. These kids play, but there was an innocence. Now as a parent, I think we’re getting rid of SATs – thank God! You’re a single parent and you’re trying to say, ‘Gee whiz. You can’t do that. Really, for parents?’”

“I came to the same conclusion raising my children: ‘Gee whiz.’ I didn’t want Jason to play the drums or whatever,’ but my sons were good at it. They needed to be good at that and have that in their young lives. Way better than all the other dangerous things around them. You know this as a parent because you’ve got to keep your kids centered and away from dangerous other things.”

Courtesy of Utopia Distribution.

You mentioned that small-town aspect earlier. What’s cool about the opening of Rad, and something you noted in your commentary, was how the paper route lays down the geography of the town. It feels like an authentic small town. There are the filmmakers’ perceptions of a small town and then there’s encouraging people (who live in this real town that you’re shooting in) to be themselves to make it more real. Do you have any insight into what that balance was like in the construction of this fictional town?

“Movie sets have a sense of community. Hal did foster that. There were young writers there. They were there. I have to tell you, we were all living in the same hotel. So it was a lot of fun. We all came together, but what they were trying to do and to say is that little town was going to be exploited in the story, right? The little town wasn’t going to let that happen. There was power in that, but that community came together. By the way, that had to happen. You really had an authentic feel and the movie just made it up, but it didn’t. It felt real, and it felt real to me when I saw it with Robert and did the commentary. The core of that town really was wonderful.”

I know you’re a film advocate. You like that special quality that comes from physical film. I’m not a filmmaker, but I have a strong appreciation for physical media. Do you like that there are special physical releases of The Godfather, Rocky and now Rad? The distribution company Kino Lorber is even putting out Old Boyfriends in August. You get all these special features. But then you have digital releases that have their own exclusive content, like with Rad.

“Honestly, I love movies. I’m a movie buff. I love movies. I’ve seen The Red Shoes way past 500 times. I love movies. I love the physical releases because then I can watch them in slow motion, which I do.”

“Now on the other side, when you’re a movie producer and you bust your buns, you feel responsible for all these young people and writers. But then the movie opens and closes, your heart is, well, you know. Rad didn’t do as well as we wanted when it released in theaters. You have no idea the despair was around here in this household.”

“So yes, I am thrilled that movies can be rediscovered again. I think it’s wonderful that there is an opportunity to have them. Can you imagine not seeing Buster Keaton’s work? What a chance because when you think about movies, it hasn’t been around that long. We’re a very young art form.”

“I happen to love the movie theater. Robert had a whole plan for Rad. It was going to be in movie theaters. It was going to have that opportunity, but we are all being very mindful – and I hope you are, too. So we will have to pretend we’re in a movie theater and watch Rad again.”

While we await news of Rad making its way into a theatrical setting again, rent it this weekend through Altavod, featuring original bonus footage and an exclusive Q&A with the cast (moderated by The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone). A percentage of the rental proceeds will benefit the charity CYCLE Kids. It will be available to rent through Altavod until July 24 – after which Rad will be available on all digital platforms. Visit altavod.com.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.