1 December 2008

'RADIO ON' (Dir. Christopher Petit, 1979, UK) - The British Road Movie

Christopher Petit's 1979 striking debut, 'Radio On', is one of the strangest mysteries of British cinema. Financed as a co-production between the German film maker, Wim Wenders, and the British Film Institute, Petit's film offers a fusion between the European road movie sensibilities of films like 'Kings of the Road' and British traditions of social realism. The influence of Wenders is evident throughout especially in the distinctive monochrome visual imagery and the episodic nature of a narrative journey that follows a London DJ (David Beames) who travels to Bristol to investigate the death of his brother. Petit's acknowledgment of European influences seems to contradict the references of many film makers of the time who were quick to point out the value of the nouvelle vague. 'Radio On' draws on the fatalistic, downbeat and experimental directorial style of the New German Cinema of the 1970s and the debt owed to German culture is even more noticeable in Petit's unique and extraordinarily original use of a new wave Electronic soundtrack by artists and pioneers like Kraftwerk, David Bowie and Robert Fripp.

The road movie continues to be an American genre tradition especially as it has become intrinsically linked to the mythical status of the country's past, and though this is a genre that seems to have become virtually absent from recent UK cinema, Petit's stunning documentation of an emerging urban landscape that had started to change under Thatcher's reign is both depressingly alienating and wonderfully juxtaposed to the discontinuous beats of 'Radioactivity' by the iconic German band, Kraftwerk. An unmistakable influence on films like the recent 'Control', Petit's film suggests that now and again, it is possible to creep in a distinctively meaningful 'art' film under the radar of a hideously conformist mode of mainstream film making. A film way ahead of its time.


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