director Christopher Petit
I discovered Christopher Petit’s 1979 British road movie, Radio On, from Time Out’s list of The 100 Best British Films. Before that, I’d never heard of it, but there were a number of films on the list with which I was unfamiliar. The soundtrack has more stars than the movie itself, featuring David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Ian Dury, Lene Lovich and Devo, a coolness factor for 1979 still hep today.
Petit borrowed more than the “road movie” idea from Wim Wenders, he borrowed his cameraman, Martin Schäfer, who brings to the picture its other real highlight, a crafty black-and-white aesthetic interpretation of London and the byways out toward Bristol in the dumps on the edge of Thatcher era of Britain.
Petit, though, locates a cipher in his lead, Robert (David Beames), a radio DJ, seeking a mystery of his brother’s suicide. Story is more of a red herring than a plot, and one could say the same for characters in the film as well. The most interesting is a German woman looking for her babydaddy and baby, or maybe Sting who shows up as an Eddie Cochran nut at the location of his deadly taxi crash (no, not interesting, but notable.)
Really, it fits in nicely with the films that Jim Jarmusch would go on to produce, or even those that Bruce McDonald would make in Canada, or however many other indie-like road movies featuring music and musicians, seeking the soul of their country in black and white. Petit doesn’t have the flair for humor or character that Jarmusch or McDonald do, nor the deeper sensibilities that Wenders could tease out.
The result is a somewhat disappointing thing. Kind of interesting. Kind of not. Maybe more interesting in context with other films of the genre.
My son didn’t care for it at all.