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27 July 2017: Radio On


Radio On
Chris Petit
1979 | 102 min | B/W | 35mm

Chris Petit's cult classic is one of the most striking feature debuts in British cinema – a haunting blend of edgy mystery story and existential road movie, crammed with eerie evocations of English landscape and weather. 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.

"With its strong debt to European art cinema, Radio On projected a rapprochement between British and European film that never happened – a rapprochement anticipated in the 1970s art pop (Kraftwerk, Bowie) used so prominently in that film. Petit imagined a British cinema that, like that music, could assert its Europeanness not by rejecting America, but by confidently absorbing American influences. Yet this future never arrived. Radio On, Petit said in a recent interview, "ended with a car "stalled on the edge of the future", which we didn’t know then would be Thatcherism." Ahead lay a bizarre yet banal mix of the unprecedented and the archaic. Instead of accelerating down Kraftwerk’s autobahn, we found ourselves, as Petit puts it in Content, "reversing into a tomorrow based on a non-existent past", as the popular modernism Radio On was part of found itself eclipsed by a toxic-addictive confection of consumer-driven populism, heritage kitsch, xenophobia and US corporate culture." – Mark Fisher

Part of our On the Road season