Radio On (1979) – Chris Petit

 

The recommendations from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book continue with the road movies following my screening of Easy Rider. This time out, we take on the British road movie with this black and white drama from 1979.

Robert (David Beames) is a radio announcer, who gets new tapes of cool bands from his brother on a regular basis, when he learns that his brother has killed himself (glimpsed ever so briefly in a wonderful opening credits sequence), Robert is shook up, but deals with it in typical stiff-upper-lip fashion.

He decides to head north to resolve his issues with his brother’s death, and perhaps try to make sense of it and his own life. Climbing into his car, he sets off, tunes blaring, something he loses himself in time and time again, (and he’s not above recommending better songs while he’s on air), and meets a series of odd folks on his way.

The thing I liked most about this film is the recognition that the music tends to be just as important as the scenery and story in a road movie, and this one makes great use of a number of tunes. Their importance is so well-recognized for this film, that as opposed to other films that will list all the music used during the end credits, these are right up front. Featuring tunes from Bowie, Devo and Kraftwerk, this is a fantastic end of the 70s soundtrack.

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He meets a soldier (Andrew Byatt) who is talking of desertion. He tells of the go-nowhere jobs he could have had, but then enlisted instead and did two tours in Ireland (this is during the Troubles) and it has left him scarred, and a little frightening.

My favorite is a guitar-wielding gas station attendant, played by a very young Sting. He gets to sing a song, look cool, and talk about how he and his band want to make it big. This is probably my favorite bit in the film.

On arrival in his brother’s town, he learns more about those around him, than he does his brother, or his life. He meets up with a young German woman, Ingrid (Lisa Kreuzer), and though they share a connection, he can’t seem to find a way to open himself up to let her in and welcome a romantic or sexual connection with her.

Instead, he ends up wandering alone, his music as company, as he tries to figure out where he’s going, and what it all means.

This was an interesting look at the road movie, I like seeing how different cultures interpret genres, it gives it a fresh face, and this one was really good, though, to be honest, the thing I’m going to remember most of all walking away from this one is the amazing soundtrack.

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