By Chaz Lipp
Revisiting the 1987 Woody Allen film Radio Days, recently issued on Blu-ray by boutique label Twilight Time as a 3,000-copy limited edition, I was struck by the self-indulgence that permeates the film. Allen had just come off what was arguably the most fruitful period of his career, a run of inventive, heartfelt comedies (each with a healthy dose of drama) that culminated in 1986’s masterpiece Hannah and Her Sisters. Though Radio Days has its virtues, it seems as if Allen decided to revel in pure nostalgia rather than tell a meaningful story. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if there were more laughs sprinkled throughout, but Days – though it starts off quite funny – turns maudlin.
Part of the film’s problem is that Allen is heard throughout as a ubiquitous narrator, but his onscreen representation – a very young Seth Green – is seldom seen. Days is a mid-1940s period piece about the days prior to television, when radio broadcasts were what united the nation. And Joe is our guide. That’s fine for the homey, family-based recollections where we see young Joe interacting with his eccentric mother (Julie Kavner), father (Michael Tucker), and various relatives. But much of what’s depicted could’ve possibly have been part of this child’s experience.
There are moments of aching poignancy sprinkled throughout, set to tunes like “September Song” (the soundtrack, while typical in tone of most of his other films, is one of the best curated in his filmography). But the bits involving squeaky-voiced radio personality Sally White (Mia Farrow) and gangster Rocco (Danny Aiello) are less effective, seeming to come from another movie. It’s as if Allen wanted to “thank” all his recent regulars with part, even what essentially amount to walk-ons (like Diane Keaton and Jeff Daniels). These are the areas that don’t fit into Joe’s reminiscence.
There’s hardly a dull moment throughout Radio Days, yet there’s a peculiar lack of structure. Instead of building towards any kind of revelation, we’re presented with one anecdote after another. The funniest gags (a student bringing one of his parents’ used condoms to show-and-tell, young Joe and his friend using binoculars to spy on a woman they later see under truly unexpected circumstances) are far and few between. Allen gives us plenty of characters to take in, but fails to unify them in any meaningful way.
All that said, Woody Allen collectors will still be thrilled to have this Blu-ray upgrade. This is the third Allen film issued by Twilight Time and possibly the best-looking. The clarity and richness of detail on this Blu-ray makes the old DVD seem more like VHS. Well maybe not quite, but it’s a clear improvement in every way. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono offers the simplicity which is par for the course with most Allen films, but the lossless upgrade is also markedly preferential to the previous DVD edition.
No special features, also par for the course with Allen’s films, except for Twilight Time’s standard isolated music track. Film historian Julie Kirgo wrote a new essay for the booklet. Again, with only 3,000 copies issued, Woody Allen fans will want to head to Screen Archives to snatch up Radio Days before it sells out.