Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Radio On, Slight Return

Ach, if you read my post on Saturday (here) you'll know that I wanted to like this one.

After all, when you read in the Radio Times that a film from 1979 is about to receive it's network television debut a staggering 34 years later, your interest is piqued right?

Radio On, a first feature written and directed by former film critic Chris Petit, tells the story of a DJ travelling from London to Bristol in his battered Rover to try and find the truth about his brother's suicide. 

The film seems to set out to debunk one myth; that Britain cannot produce a mythical road movie, whilst proving another; that we're not so dissimilar to our German counterparts. In getting acclaimed German director and master of the austere slow drip film making Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, The American Friend...all films I really like) he largely succeeds in bridging that international gap, but his desire to make a road movie basically offers the audience some interesting time capsule glimpses of the 1979 motorways and landscapes of Britain, all set to an array of 'new wave' music including David Bowie, Wreckless Eric and Kraftwerk, and in that sense Radio On feels like one long music video. 

It's a feeling that isn't help by the fact that the narrative and the film's characters are so deliberately obscure and unengaging. There are moments when it feels like we're about to witness a post punk Get Carter (the lead character's discovery of a film canister full of amateur porno is eerily similar to the same discovery Michael Caine makes in that landmark film) but Petit is leading us on a journey that, to him, is far more important than the ultimate destinations or the staring points.  It's the characters we meet along the way who Petit is really interested in - a traumatised and menacing army deserter with one too many tours of N Ireland under his belt, a German woman in search of her child, and an Eddie Cochran fan and wannabe musician who ekes out a lonely existence working a petrol station just off the A4 where Cochrane was tragically killed (This last role is played, irritatingly, by professional lute botherer and tantric Greenie hypocrite Sting -  so y'know, you have been warned!) - and the crippling inability to communicate effectively each character has, and I imagine Petit believes we all have.

It's a bleak and desolate exploration of the immediate post punk hinterland, the winter of discontent biting through the cold and gloomy, grainy black and white cinematography. Existential, portentious, ponderous...perhaps I'm too old for this shit now?

Radio On was just running on empty for me.

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