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Plexifilm presents
Radio On (1979)

"Nothing can drive them away
We can beat them
just for one day."

- David Bowie, Heroes

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: April 03, 2007

Stars: David Beames
Other Stars: Andrew Byatt, Sting
Director: Christopher Petit

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations)
Run Time: 01h:44m:17s
Release Date: April 03, 2007
UPC: 082354002923
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B-B-C C-

DVD Review

Any movie that opens with a David Bowie song is already on my good side. Director Chris Petit chose the Thin White Duke's Heroes to kick off his 1979 post-punk classic, Radio On, and it sets the proper tone. It's a mixed bag, overall, but this wonderful depiction of a dreary time in the UK, coupled with an incredible soundtrack make it worth exploring.

Robert (David Beames) is a DJ who tends to ignore the requests he receives so he can play whatever suits his own eclectic taste. It's the news of his brother's mysterious death that snaps Robert out of a banal existence and sends him on a road trip. At first, he is seeking answers about his brother's demise, but it isn't long before Robert's journey becomes an entirely existential one.

As a music connoisseur, I was drawn to the film mainly by the soundtrack. Unfortunately, for those who don't dig edgy music, there might not be much for you in the story itself. This is an extremely slow-moving, meandering journey by one man who seemingly wants nothing more than to listen to music. His mission is a noble one that any good person would undertake for a family member. His self-discovery is compelling, but Petit's abstract way of portraying it might leave many viewers behind.

There's little question that the director does have a nice visual touch, which along with the soundtrack is the movie's saving grace. Robert is on-screen virtually the entire time, and Beames does a solid job expressing banality and sluggishness in this intentionally drab character. The rest of the cast is rather lifeless as well, with the exception of Sting, who plays a strange character named Just Like Eddie. This is one of his early acting roles, but it's memorable, albeit brief, concluding with a beautiful ballad and some nifty subdued guitar work.

I had never heard the song Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric, yet in the past month that same tune has popped up in two different movies, here and in Stranger Than Fiction. In this film, it's almost its own character. Many of the songs are just as poignant, with Lene Lovich's Lucky Number, Ian Dury's Sweet Gene Vincent, and Robert Fripp's Urban Landscape among them. Other memorable tunes are Devo's cover of Satisfaction,, and Ohm Sweet Ohm by Kraftwerk, which fits a scene near the end of the film amazingly well.

Surprisingly, I found myself flashing back to Vincent Gallo's infamous film, The Brown Bunny. Both movies spend quite a bit of time focused a man driving a car, but where Gallo's is the ultimate in polarizing cinema, Petit has quite a bit more to say. If you're not usually into slow-paced existential films, then think of this as a long music video that's slightly ahead of its time. Those that buy into the deep themes will see Petit's project as a resounding success that works on multiple levels. For the rest, at its least, this is a rare musical treat.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The images are generally crisp and clear. Stark black-and-white cinematography captures the bleak outlook of the times wonderfully, while the grays are pretty impressive. There is the occasional vertical line popping up and quite a bit of dirt and grain, but, given the source material and the film's themes, such blemishes are surprisingly endearing.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is front-centric, but does reproduce these awesome songs nicely. There isn't any bass or channel separation, but the overall mix is clean, with easily decipherable dialogue throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extra is Radio On Remix, which is 24 minutes of footage from 1998, when director Chris Petit and editor Emma Matthews returned to the film's locations.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A long and challenging road trip, Christopher Petit's Radio On finally lands on DVD sporting one of the better soundtracks you'll come across. You can't go wrong with tunes by David Bowie, Kraftwerk, and Devo, who contribute some of their most memorable tunes. Plexifilm's DVD isn't packed with extras, but the audio and video aren't too shabby given the film's age.


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