Mediaeval kings had their court jesters with whom they traded familiarity in return for a dose of reality. Twenty-first century movie stars have Radioman, a serial movie extra who appears fleetingly in so many productions that he is on first-name terms with the likes of Tom Hanks, Merryl Streep and George Clooney, with whom he can joke and trade insults with impunity.
Radioman (real name Craig Castaldo) is a Robin Williams lookalike (think ‘The Fisher King’ with extra beard), who gets his nickname from the the boom box radio he wears around his neck. He is star struck, adores the movies and has had cameo parts and appearances in over 100 productions including Spiderman 3, The Bourne Supremacy, Godzilla and Shutter Island.
Radioman was born in Brooklyn in 1951 and endured an abusive father and bullying at school, eventually becoming both homeless and alcoholic on the streets of New York.
However a spell in Bellevue Hospital Centre, receiving two months treatment for alcoholism was so dreadful, he thought, ‘To hell with this, I’m clean.’ He has now been sober for 16 years.
Despite his often bad attitude, Radioman is obviously smitten by the glamour of Hollywood which seems to give his life meaning – as indeed it does, giving him a huge number of mostly superficial relationships with the stars, something to do most days, an income of sorts (he now has a scruffy apartment to live in), and considerable fame.
This energetic, articulate, likeable and appealing man appears quite happy with the way that life has treated him and asks for nothing more. There is no trace of self-pity or bitterness in his demeanour. He is comfortable with his image: ‘Wherever I go I’m radioman –I’m not radioman without that radio – without it I feel powerless.’
The stars that are interviewed in the film – a who’s who of Hollywood’s A-list, are a less likeable group, as their pettiness, irritability and vapidity show up – with a few notable exceptions (Tom Hanks and Robin Williams are such). They seem to be paying no more than lip service to the idea of friendship with Radioman, whatever he may think.
Our cheerful, but obviously dirty and smelly have-not, is a very touching sight, leaving his cockroach-infested apartment to fly to the Oscars Awards in California (he is refused entry). We then see him return to his lonely motel room to watch it on TV. He tells us engagingly about his favourite stars who have spoken to him recently – he has even recorded a conversation with Cher on the boombox round his neck.
This sensitive and beautifully made documentary has no voiceover; those who appear speak for themselves and in so doing, show their real selves perhaps more than they would have liked.
It may be the story of one man’s struggle to find meaning to his life but it is also an expose of fame and celebrity and what these do to people. It is a memorable and in many ways, a humbling experience.