Radio On plowed entirely new ground, with the versatile social realism and verisimilitude characteristic of British post-war cinema nowhere in evidence. Petit offers an entirely new form of British filmic expression, of narrative and perspective. One cannot view Radio On without calling to mind the alienation and aimless wanderlust of Paris, Texas (1984) and Kings of the Road (1975), landmark Wenders films and part of an important genre to which Radio On very much belongs. Petit’s protagonist makes his way through a bleak landscape in a brooding travelogue that unwinds amid hulking manifestations of Britain’s economic malaise. “Petit is less interested in narrative than in new and un-English ways of looking and seeing. He and Schafer are in love with the sensual delight of a camera moving forward through space” (Patterson 2004). Radio On introduced an entirely new narrative structure for British film, a radical departure from traditional forms of storytelling. Petit’s film is “a disillusioned portrayal of the environment…a search for new narrative forms - and the role of music in conjunction with the cinematic journey” (www.filmmuseum.at). A new, Anglo-German cinematic synthesis hovers over it all. Poised on the eve of the Thatcher/Kohl/Reagan era, “the drifters in these movies appear as prototypes of a post-Fordist lifestyle. Always keeping a certain distance, they bear witness to a crumbling 2 industry…the postmodern transformation of cityscapes, and a changing social order” (www.filmmuseum.at). Radio On anticipates a dissatisfaction with the traditional direct realist message that would come to typify British cinema in the 1980s. One may well argue that Radio On heralded the onset of an entirely new aesthetic in the British film canon. John Hill wrote that films such as Radio On introduced a fundamental shift in both technique and content. “Significant changes took place in the socially aware British cinema in the 1980s in terms of both aesthetic strategies and thematic concerns, which meant that it was no longer possible to describe it as ‘working-class realism’” (Ashby & Higson 2000, 275). Radio On marks a break both with linear storytelling and with the traditional concern for working-class culture and values, though one may well consider Radio On an “underclass” film, though one that breaks new ground in terms of technique and content. The extended, gloomy and foreboding opening shot through the the flat of R’s dead brother introduces us to something unmistakably new, announcing as it does a startlingly different narrative approach. Subsequent panoramic vistas provide a dark, running commentary. “Between them Petit and Schafer attempt to remake our understanding of British urban space, much as Godard discerned contemporary Paris’s futuristic foreignness in Alphaville” (Patterson 2004). Minimal dialogue imbues the film with an atmospheric vacuity, into which point-of-view has free rein to impose itself on the story. Petit and Schafer have left the convention of dense and layered story construction of traditional post-war British cinema behind, fading into the dim past like the crumbling edifices that B can see in the rear-view mirror of his car. 3 The film’s arresting visual texture that speaks to another departure from Britain’s cinematic legacy. As John Patterson noted, Radio On was a film that defied categorization, even description. If
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Toward a New Aesthetic: ‘Radio On’ and the Europeanisation of a British Film by (Name) Class Instructor Institution Date 1 Christopher Petit’s howl of existential angst represents much more than a stylistic and technical departure from the traditional British realist aesthetic…
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