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DCA Archive

Radio On

Artist's Choice

Where possible, we invite artists exhibiting in DCA galleries to select a film to screen in our Cinema. To coincide with her exhibition Places We Think We Know, Mary McIntyre has chosen Radio On.

"Radio On is not so well known, but it is an incredible record of its time, especially in relation to music. It is also very charged atmospherically with several interiors that influenced my use of space in my photography."

As one of the most insightful critics for Time Out in the mid-1970s, Chris Petit lamented British cinema’s unfortunate habit of trying to compete with Hollywood rather than drawing inspiration from European art films. He then put his money where his mouth was and wrote a script which drew the attention of the British Film Institute and maverick German filmmaker Wim Wenders, who agreed to co-produce it. The result was Radio On, the definitive post-punk movie and one of the best debut features you are ever likely to see. 

The film centres on a disc jockey who travels from London to Bristol to investigate the suspicious death of his brother. If this makes it sound like a riff on Get Carter (a rare British film Petit admired), don’t be fooled. Petit is far more interested in the journey than the destination. Radio On is a road movie, and despite its clear (and acknowledged) dept to Wenders’s own “Road Movie Trilogy” of the mid-70s, it is a very British one. 

The M4 might not be everyone’s idea of a mythic landscape, but in the hands of Petit and ace German cinematographer, Martin Schäfer, that’s what it becomes. Stunningly shot in black and white, Radio On takes its visual cues from film noir, Edward Hopper, the photographs of Bill Brandt, and the work of Michelangelo Antonioni. But it doesn’t just look great. Radio On also has one of the finest curated soundtracks imaginable, with songs by David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Ian Dury, Devo, and Wreckless Eric either acting as an ironic counterpoint to events or providing the feelings the emotionally withdrawn protagonist seems incapable of feeling. From the stunning opening shot (all five minutes of it) to its final haunting images, Radio On predicts the disillusionment of the Thatcher era. Throw in a delightful cameo from Sting as a mechanic obsessed by Eddie Cochran (who died on the A4) and you have a film like no other which demands a wider audience.