Radio Days (1987)
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Mike Starr
Plot: A nostalgic look at radio's golden age focusing on one ordinary family and the various performers in the medium.
Awards: Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Rating: PG for some sexual references.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“I hope 1944 turns out well. They pass so quickly. Where do they all go?”
I rarely listen to the radio, except when I am about to sleep. But that was then... not anymore now. Back then there was this relaxing night music programme that I always listened to. Then one night, a news broadcast interrupted the airwaves – it was the night of September 11, 2001.
A plane has hit the World Trade Center tower in New York. I listened intently to the live reports, only to be informed that another plane has struck the other tower. I turned on the television... and soon the towers came tumbling down. Whenever I think of the radio, I remember that night. That most harrowing of nights.
Radio Days gave me a legitimate reason to look back at how radio had impacted me, just as how it had shaped the childhood of writer-director Woody Allen. Narrated by an enthusiastic Allen with a tinge of subdued playfulness, Radio Days works like a series of vignettes of life in the early 1940s, marked by the radio and its wonderful stories, real or otherwise.
A period piece that was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction, Allen's film evokes nostalgia in abundance, from the visual style to the use of (radio) songs. He reminisces the past, now only a memory, and perhaps a memory no more in the future.
Allen's script is tightly contained in the world of the radio, though it wanders about to capture both the lives of listeners and the imagined life of radio personalities. The result is a free-flowing and jazzy tone – like an Allen stand-up comedy told visually with songs accompaniment; it is not as side-splittingly funny as some of Allen's more slapstick works, but it does feel like it has that kind of vibe. It is not all out hilarious, but simply... comical.
The performances are decent, though there is no lead character to identify with. Instead we identify with the omnipresent narrator, even if Allen never once appears on screen. He ultimately finds the value of looking back into the past. Radio Days is not only about the medium, but also of the essence of childhood.
For Allen, the radio was synonymous with those (much better) bygone days. Yes, Pearl Harbour was bombed, and there were two wars raging in Europe and Asia. Yet there was a spirit of American solidarity, a collective understanding that the world would get better. The New Year was celebrated, a sense of normalcy resumed, another year passed in a blink. Radio moved on, but it would never be the same.
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