Following a young London DJ (David Beames) on the road to Bristol to investigate the mysterious death of his brother, Radio On offers a unique, compelling and even mythic vision of a late 1970s England, stalled between failed hopes of cultural and social change and the imminent upheavals of Thatcherism.
Stunningly photographed in monochrome by Wim Wenders’ assistant cameraman Martin Schäfer, Radio On is driven by a startling new wave soundtrack featuring David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Lene Lovich, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Robert Fripp and Devo, and reveals an early screen performance by Sting.
While working as editor of the film section of the London listings magazine Time Out in the mid-1970s, Chris Petit interested Wim Wenders in backing his first feature, Radio On (1979). In spite – or perhaps because – of having no previous film-making experience, Petit pulled off an extraordinary debut, a highly ‘European’ road movie which, greatly aided by the cinematography of Wenders regular Martin Schafer, presented the British landscape, both rural and urban, in a manner quite unparalleled before or since. Moody and angst-ridden, it announced a singular talent – but also one that was clearly not destined to find a niche easily; as Geoffrey Nowell-Smith aptly put it, Radio On was “a film without a cinema”.
Nevertheless, Petit managed to make three more impressive features: a dark, stylised adaptation of P.D. James’ An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1981) and, in Germany, the Fassbinder-ish thrillers Flight to Berlin (1983) and Chinese Boxes (1984). The last two displayed Petit’s… read more