09 January 2008

Radio On

Last night, I went to watch this classic 1979 road movie with a few friends. With a highly detached plot and unsympathetic characters, the starkness and sparseness, was accentuated by the deliberate choice of black and white film. However, this Chris Petit effort seemed to lack a certain something that will propel it to the ranks of a great.

There were symbols abound, possibly carefully placed. The initial message tagged on a wall, the opening of a package from the protagonist's brother containing three cassettes consisting of Kraftwerk's 'The Man Machine', 'Autobahn' and 'Trans Europe Express' albums which, perhaps, inadvertently signified the plot and progress of the entire film. The beginning which had the man and his automobile and had 'The Man Machine' album as a marker and the 'Uranium' and 'Radioactivity' played. The journey was symbolised by the quintessential automobile and road journey album 'Autobahn'. Lastly, the end journey where the protagonist took the train was symbolised by the Kraftwerk train journey album 'Trans Europe Express'. The end soundtrack was, of course, 'Ohm Sweet Ohm' by Kraftwerk, which was a technological 'pun' on 'Home Sweet Home' where the presumably, the protragonist took a train home. Perhaps, I was reading too much into this, perhaps, I wasn't.

The choice of these three cassettes could not have been randomly made, likewise the choice of having three Kraftwerk tracks in the soundtrack.

This film had featured a soundtrack with Kraftwerk's 'Uranium', 'Ohm Sweet Ohm' and 'Radioactivity' and David Bowie's 'Heroes' and a few more.
It also featured Sting, grinning like an idiot with a guitar in one of the scenes.
What fascinated me was the visuals of British physical landscape of 1979, which in my opinion had not changed much in many ways, the political landscape, which was heard in the protagonist's car radio, and the depiction of the people.

'Radio On' was an experience.

I said 'hello' to JF when I saw him at the theatre last night. He left almost at once when the film ended. I also met another aquaintance from the film society.


drifand said...

I'm firmly of the opinion that arthouse films are an excellent antidote to the regular dose of box office opiates, hormones and adrenaline.

While I wouldn't want to watch Radio On again, it had a few moments of sharp humour and charm that lifted it above the totally draining affairs of Wim Wenders' highly acclaimed efforts. Perhaps the choice of a fictional approach helped in this case.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

As you said, it is a splendid counterpoint to the banality of commercial films which often had endings decided by focus-groups to maximise ticket sales, thereby compromising whatever integrity was left. I guess sometimes good arthouse films can be a reminder of the human condition and a stimulation of the senses and more. On hindsight, 'Radio On' has quite a bit to offer. More than merely the social landscape and the decay of the cities. It was, of course, as you noted a reflection of the 1979, the period where Joy Division were poised to break in. The post-punk era. The beginning of the New Romantics. The dressing of the people reflected as much. I think 'Radio On' can be seen from many levels but sadly, it was difficult after a long day at work.