M40, M42, Radio On

On the way up to Birmingham today, a strange thing happened. As the motorways melted into one another, the endless stream of lorries merged lanes and the fog descended, a film which I had seen a while ago bolted into my consciousness with a rarely experienced clarity and immediacy.

Chris Petit’s Radio On is an acknowledged cult classic, mythologized in a fantastic, yet little-known novel entitled The Director’s Cut by Nicholas Royle (Mum, that was a cracking Christmas present a few years back by the way) and re-released by the BFI in 2008.

It is a deeply odd, insidiously haunting road movie which follows an alienated DJ (David Beames) who travels from London to Bristol by car to investigate the mysterious yet devastatingly symbolic suicide of his brother.  Of course he discovers very little, other than a collection of eccentric characters who populate the film’s barren landscape like animated scarecrows. One of these characters, an enigmatic muso-gypsy, is played by a pre-twat Sting (clip here). It imbues the roads, highways and overpasses of the southwest of England with a mythic, monolithic quality, and has been read by many as a treatise on a country in stasis at the end of a decade.

Heavily influenced by the road movies of Wim Wenders (it was shot in appropriately stark monochrome by Wenders’ assistant cameraman Martin Schfer and starred Wenders’ then-partner Lisa Kreuzer), Radio On is also notable for it’s blisteringly strong soundtrack, which features David Bowie (‘Heroes’, the German version!), Kraftwerk, Ian Dury and Devo.  It also features, long before it was used in Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction, Wreckless Eric’s snarling-yet-toothless lovelorn anthem ‘Whole Wide World’ (vid below).

When I get back from Birmingham, Radio On is the first thing I’m going to watch. Orlroight moite? You should check it out, too.

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