Radio Days (Blu-ray)
(Twilight Time, 7.8.2014)
Expanding upon the sensibilities of Annie Hall’s childhood scenes, Radio Days offers a fragmented look at life in and around the title gadget during the 1930s. Often dismissed as one of the least substantial efforts of Woody Allen’s ’70s/’80s prime, this film is distinguished by a meandering focus and a preference for fleeting episodes, rather than an engrossing, overarching narrative. (Knowing Allen’s passion for the films of Federico Fellini, the obvious point of comparison is Amarcord.) Watched a little more closely, however, Radio Days reveals itself to be a carefully constructed family drama that casually reveals the complexities of its relationships through moments that may seem throwaway at first glance. The episodic structure allows Allen to move at a rapid pace, jumping from one amusing setpiece to another, but the real triumph is his ability to pull these disparate pieces together, forming a larger whole that has clarity and emotional impact.
As always with Twilight Time, this Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies, available exclusively through Screen Archives and the TCM store. Consistent with the company’s previous Woody Allen releases (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Broadway Danny Rose), this disc includes a strong transfer that improves upon the DVD by a significant margin. Previously celebrated for his work with Michelangelo Antonioni (Red Dessert, Blow-Up), cinematographer Carlo Di Palma was in the early stages of his 12-film collaboration with Woody Allen when they made Radio Days -- and his elegant lighting is central to the film’s appeal.
Extras are limited to the Twilight Time staples: an isolated score, liner notes by Julie Kirgo, and the theatrical trailer. A more traditional trailer can be found on YouTube, but the teaser included here holds a lot back -- the camera simply zooms out of a radio as announcer Dan Pardo runs down the cast list -- putting viewers in the position of radio listeners. This is a minor bonus, but the film itself is well worth the investment, as its abundance of lively incident proves ideal for multiple and/or partial viewings. -- Jonathan Doyle