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DVD Review: Radio On (1979)

Radio_on_sleeve A dark film about a dark era - but Chris Petit's Radio On is an incredibly striking movie, a fine period piece and arguably one of the finest road movies ever to come out of the UK.

It's a British movie, but with an undeniably German feel - hardly surprising with Wim Wenders pushing things along on the production side and Wenders collaborator Martin Schafer dealing with the monochrome photography. But it is a film very much about life in Britain, capturing the country at the dawn of Thatcherism - in the grip of economic and social decline.

The loose plot (with very sparse dialogue) follows Robert (David Beames), a London DJ who receives news of his brother's mysterious death. At a crossroads in both his personal and professional life, he takes to the road - heading for Bristol to find out the truth behind his death. On his way, he meets people as lost as himself - a squaddie on leave of duty from Northern Ireland, a wannabe rock star (played by Sting) and a German woman (Ingrid - Lisa Kreuzer) on the hunt for her child. All soundtracked by one of the finest selections of music ever compiled for as movie - including Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Devo, Robert Fripp and Wreckless Eric. Does he find out the truth behind his brother's death? Not really - but he does come to the end of the line as the plot jumps from whodunnit to a tale of a man (like many at the time) struggling to find direction in his life.


If that sounds a bit simplistic, it's because it is hard to describe Radio On simply in terms of plot - there's so much more to it. Visually, it's stunning. At times, you can lose yourself in the long, drawn-out black and white shots of decaying cities, rundown housing, seedy pubs, wide open country and extreme British weather. Even something as plain as a quarry or a seaside pier takes on a beauty all of its own in the hands of Martin Schafer. And a great soundtrack and it's irresistable. You can even throw in a bit of nostalgia for the modern viewer, as we watch a world very different to the one we live in today - even iff it's less than 30 years ago.

Panned by critics on its release, Radio On is now rightly seen as a classic of British arthouse cinema and deserving of this lavish BFI re-release. If post punk sounds, pre-Thatcher Britain and stunning cinematography float your boat (especially if you've ever driven aimlessly around the streets with Kraftwerk on the car stereo), I can't recommend Radio On enough. A lost gem finally getting the credit it deserves.

Extras on the DVD:
28-page booklet with essays on the film
Radio On Remix short film
Film trailer

Find out more about the DVD at


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