Proud To Have Recently Aquired/Ashamed To Not Have Already: Radio On


Radio On (1979)

Review by Rob Munday

British cinema in the 1970s was a strange place. While America rode its new wave of Scorsese, Coppola, Altman etc, in Britain a few mavericks toiled away often ending up oversees to fund their grand visions. Chris Petit stayed at home to make his debut film Radio On and it deserves to be seen alongside the best of Roeg, Boorman and Hodges.

The film opens with the cold grandeur of David Bowie’s Heroes. We move though a house. As we come to the bathroom the singing switches from English to German and we discover a dead body no longer aware of the blaring radio.

Here is the catalyst for our lead character Robert B to embark upon a very British road trip across the concrete rainbow of London’s Westway and out into the abyss of motorways and time-warp B roads.



This is the 1970’s in inky black and white. The often stunning images show a world in limbo seen through the windscreen, a land of sparse landscapes dominated by the road.

Robert B is a blank faced biscuit factory DJ (what a job!) who uses music to accompany him on this solitary journey. From Stiff Record’s lo-fi wonders Ian Dury and Wreckless Eric to the pulsating futurism of Kraftwerk, the soundtrack propels this film and expresses the emotions that this man hides so deep.



A co-production with Wim Wenders company Road Movies Filmproduktion, Radio On also features German characters but is most notable in its European approach to the story with a similar contemplative beauty to Wenders own Alice in the Cities. There are other filmic touchstones in the dreamlike drive from Solaris and the epic jukeboxes of Chungking Express but Radio On stands alone.

As Petit has said, this film is in part an ode to a Modernism ignored by British cinema. It now represents a one-off, a missed opportunity for homegrown film to embrace the director, to delve inside, and to look out on the lights of a sleeping city and see a sky full of stars.




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