Radio On Reviews
In a movie absolutely dripping with insecurity, it seems fitting... better, poetic, that the soundtrack is the true star of the show. Bowie, Devo, Robert Fripp, The Clash, Ian Dury, Kraftwerk, and my favorite Wreckless Eric song. There's an unpolished gemstone in the form of STING playing acoustic guitar while having a conversation about nothing. With a sigh and a mustache, one of the characters says "Fuck all else to do where I come from. No jobs, no prospects." And if that's the true underlying villian of the film - listlessness- then the real hero of the film (as in life) is music. Uplifting, exciting, emotional, ceremonial, dangerous, music. It's almost a film in contradiction with itself, but that's the real beauty of it... It doesn't know what it wants to be. The film shares the plight of it's very humble narrator.
Radio On is a rare and exacting slice of life from a certain place at a certain time. It can't be recreated. It can't be revived, nor would anyone want it to be. It can only be preserved and identified with. A minor museum piece with a killer soundtrack.
"Radio On" has a fine period soundtrack (David Bowie, Robert Fripp, Kraftwerk, Devo, Lene Lovich, Wreckless Eric though, oddly, no Modern Lovers) and mostly serves as a mood piece. It's also a time-capsule look at a dour, depressed England. If this quintessential road movie's lack of story doesn't make you bail out in frustration, you'll finish in a satisfying, reflective state of mind. The film is also mandatory for Jim Jarmusch fans -- and bear in mind that it was released five years before "Stranger Than Paradise."
"Last resort...? (silence) It's never as good as they think it will be..."
Saw this last evening at the local arts cinema in Newcastle. And what a magnificent British art film this is; ex-Time Out film critic Christopher Petit, spurred by the twin influences of the road movies of Wim Wenders (co-producer) and the incipient post-punk scene. There are scenes, glimmers and furrows which sometimes only later come through to haunt the mind; the whole stands as a brilliantly paced and sustained aesthetic reflection of decay and despondency. The Britain of 1979 is often simultaneously beguiling and deadening; great symbolic tower-blocks on the way out of London, desolate countryside heading west... so much that you feel could give root to extensive, restlessly ruminative Iain Sinclair or Paul Morley annotation.
This film is indeed about more than 'plot', though it hangs on the path of a man who is shown going about his typical, elliptical life in London, where he seems to be a holed-up DJ for some obscure station. His 'show' is jarringly shown playing in an industrial work setting; presumably to those who cannot hear - is this use of music perhaps not so far from the choric Alan Price in "O Lucky Man!"? After a time, he begins a car journey to Bristol in search of 'answers' regarding the unexplained death of his brother; which is possibly, though never definitively, linked with a pornographic movie racket - reported in radio news bulletins - in the West Country. I could make few spoilers that would seem significant, though points do jab out at you; particularly in the sense that expected explanation or fruition occasionally seem on the cards. But, hauntingly, we are left to puzzle things out ourselves; which may well be a pointless task if one is to think in usual, lateral patterns...
The main actor does a wonderfully minimal job, as is best with this sort of project; a face that moves only a certain amount, and when needed; above all, a face that reveals itself as the blank canvas mask that we alone can choose or otherwise to feel the emotions through. He is a guide, but rightfully not one we are encouraged to easily identify with; though at times, I certainly can. The landscape, the lyrically still, gently moving camera, the haunting, 'dehumanized' pop strains of Bowie, Lovich, Kraftwerk; these phenomena bring out our responses... Or rather the cumulative effect does. It is only perhaps broken by the unnecessary interlude with Sting, which shows the man with a good deal of smugness, even back then and within this film. This is unfortunate considering it follows relatively soon after the slow jukebox tableau, the camera tapering around the pub for the whole duration of a Wreckless Eric song on the jukebox. So little happens that the mere act of one figure hitherto seated getting up and leaving the establishment takes on implausibly moving dimensions.
Surely it was not just me who was moved impossibly by the sudden move to a hauntingly wistful bucolic scene? This fairly brief shot is lit and framed magisterially, contrasting with the previous Beckettian Suicide-comedy on the cliff-top, with Kraftwerk's "Ohm Sweet Ohm" spiralling on to heights of tinpot-music box melancholia. This film marks out an approach that sadly was not taken up in British film-making more widely; it takes its time to get precisely nowhere, and yet everywhere, in comparison with so many things we call 'films'.
Just when I thought my feeling of desolation had been solidified, Sting shows up as the ghost of Eddie Cochran.