| Dir: Woody Allen
“I compromised when I picked Martin. I wanted someone tall and handsome and rich – 3 out of 3 I gave up.”
I’d forgotten almost everything about Radio Days since I first watched in in 2011, except that it gave me an overriding feeling of warmth. This isn’t surprising, considering this admitted sprawling vanity project inspired by Allen’s upbringing is a slight and conventionally plotless film about not very much. But it’s a demonstration of the confidence in his craft that he can make a piece of art matching that description and it be such richly enjoyable, touching and sweet viewing.
“Forgive me if I tend to romanticize the past” appeals Allen, in a voice-over towards the beginning of his account of growing up during World War 2. Fans must accept this trope for any entry to his filmography, but it’s never been so directly applicable than in this “self exaggerated view of my childhood”. Almost a spiritual sequel to the childhood flashbacks in Annie Hall, it’s a similarly autobiographical coming-of-age tale to Fellini’s Amarcord. By essentially recreating his childhood, “or a facsimile of it”, this fairy tale captures the tone of the time so vividly for those who didn’t experience it. Carlo Di Palma imbues it to glow with nostalgia and glisten with a personalised remembrance. Pleasant little sketches and vignettes form memories of his upbringing and hearken back not only to that time, but to the exaggerated comedy of Woody Allen’s early funny films. There’s a classic joke about a pitcher with heart, lots of situational comedy and a sight gag of a lady freezing into a coma mid sip of tea.
The wistful moments we all have for our childhood are unavoidable. This is a nostalgic celebration of your own upbringing and a forever bygone time. It’s also a plea to your mind at not wanting to forget it all as the voices and qualities of your memories”grow dimmer and dimmer”, with new mediums and new experiences replacing the once glamorous world of radio (or TV, or disco, or SEGA, or iMacs, or smartphones, or who knows in the future) in society. It’s like Allen is passing onto us his fond memories, like a father to a child. Every film for Woody is personal, but through his lovingly handled reminiscence, this may be his most sentimental (and self indulgent) work.
But just as Allen shares amusing anecdotes about his favourite moments from the popular days of radio, he equally presents dark events that tragically demonstrate the other end of radios monopoly on society’s attention. Real news updates such as the death of Kathy Fiscus down a well – which features some terrific camerawork – or announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbour give the film an even stronger placement in the mood of its wartime. It shows the connection that the country has to the radio and how the radio can bring them all collectively together. Yet in unmistakable Woody fashion, these serious moments of pathos are still hung on a hilarious punchline (“Who’s Pearl Harbour?”).
Allen is perhaps most acclaimed for his writing, and this screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. But the selection and use of music within his work is just as important a pillar in shaping his artistic identity. Here is perhaps his most musically focused film, with 43 songs picking before writing the script to “make a memory for each important song in my childhood”. It’s all so evocative and emotive, giving the film a wonderfully melodic quality. This would probably be Terence Davies’ favourite Woody Allen film, for whatever that’s worth.
Woody moves from one ensemble to another, this one more dysfunctional but with characters no less alive than those so revered in the previous years Hannah and Her Sisters. The whole cast do a great job, particularly Dianne Wiest who’s a knockout at every turn. Whether she’s melancholy about her lack of a significant other to get her pregnant, or comically realising that she’s dating a homosexual. She returns for her third film in a row with Allen, but the film is also one of cameo returns. Shawn Wallace, Jeff Daniels, Tony Roberts (in his final Allen role), Danny Aiello and Diane Keaton, who appears for the first time since Manhattan to serenade us into 1944. It’s a lovely surprise. She’s certainly someone who would be nice to come home to, and it feels just like old times.
Part of Woody Wednesday. Second (and third) viewing.