By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 17, 2021)
Radio On (BFI; be advised that this Blu-ray is Region “B” locked)
This no-budget 1979 B&W offering from writer-director Christopher Petit is one of those films that I have become emotionally attached to. That said, it is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea; in fact, it may cause drowsiness for many after about 15 minutes. Yet, I am compelled to revisit it annually. Go figure.
A dour London DJ (David Beames), whose estranged brother has committed suicide, heads to Bristol to get affairs in order and glean what drove him to despair (while reminiscent of the setup for Get Carter, this is not a crime thriller…far from it). He encounters various characters, including a friendly German woman, an unbalanced British Army vet who served in Northern Ireland, and a rural gas-station attendant (Sting) who kills time singing Eddie Cochran songs.
As the protagonist journeys across an England full of bleak yet perversely beautiful industrial landscapes in his boxy sedan, accompanied by a moody electronic score (mostly Kraftwerk and David Bowie) the film becomes hypnotic. A textbook example of how cinema can capture the zeitgeist of an ephemeral moment (e.g. England on the cusp of the Thatcher era) like no other art form.
BFI’s reissue package is a dream come true for admirers of the film (I am a full-fledged cult member). The new 4K restoration was struck from the original camera negative, and it looks amazing. Audio quality is outstanding as well (especially important with that great music soundtrack). There are hours of extras; the most interesting one for me is a new 52-minute feature called “A Little bit Kitsch, But Ice Cold: Retro-futurism in Focus” an enlightening retrospective with director Petit and BFI Video Publishing’s Vic Pratt (a super-fan of the film).