Radio On (1979)


Chris Petit directs David Beames, Lisa Kreuzer and Sting in this British road movie where a factory DJ drives from London to Bristol after his brother commits suicide. 

One of those films where nothing really happens and yet seems to be about so much more than self-consciously worthier “issues” movies. As Beames softly spoken, detached, beer loving bloke drives across counties, we meet broken people, cruise past industrial monstrosities and brutalist architecture, hear news reports about the Northern Ireland conflict, see graffiti about the Baader-Meinhof Group. Ireland and Germany… two countries on either side of the UK divided by 20th century politics. Is that the intended point? We do meet two people who lives have been damaged by such divisions. One is the beautiful Lisa Kreuzer, a German immigrant searching for her child. She could almost be playing the same character as her single mother cinema usher in Wim Wender’s monochrome road epic, Kings of the Road. The soundtrack is nostalgic yet modern – Dury warbling about Sweet Gene Vincent, Sting practicing his Eddie Cochran tribute, Bowie singing in German, Kraftwek prophecying in an analogue robot language. Maybe that’s what touched me so during my watching of it. 1979 West London of flyovers and factories… lost cinemas and recognisable tower blocks where friends and lovers lived. I was born into this world… a landscape that had just embraced Thatcherism, a cityscape where the electronic signage is now gone or seems utterly anachronistic. And that familiar drive out of London… the route to summer holidays and later many an out of town comedy gig. Sitting in a car, waiting for the sign for Fleet services to appear or a plane at Heathrow to land parallel to someone else’s car. Maybe Radio On only reflects a world that means so many somethings to me. But it did. And as a mood piece I found it utterly affecting and grimly sublime.


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