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Radio Days | Blu-ray Review

Radio Days Woody Allen Blu-rayNostalgia and the lingering sting of eras lost to the sands of time have cropped up in a number of Woody Allen’s lengthy list of features, but never with such heartfelt remembrance of his own childhood as he portrays so entertainingly in Radio Days. Constructed as a sort of anthology of aurally recalled memories centered around a middle class family in Rockaway Beach and the radio celebrities of the day, Allen’s Cannes preemed and Oscar nominated 1987 film (Best Original Screenplay & Art Direction) celebrates the golden age of radio with the sharp-witted auteur’s signature neuroticism, an unusual visual pizzazz and a surprisingly melancholic air that lingers long after the credits roll.

It’s said that smell is the sense most intensely tethered to memory, but Allen seems keen to argue that point by organizing the film around an outstanding set of songs and faux radio shows from the 30s and 40s that allow him, as the remembering narrator, Joe (played by a fledgling young actor named Seth Green), to cycle through childhood experiences seared into memory by aural association. Scenes such as Joe in his youth persistently professing his love for a classmate beneath a pier on the beach come rushing back when triggered by Tommy Dorsey’s 1941 hit ‘You and I’ hits the ol’ ear drums. Duke Ellington’s classic ‘Take the A Train’, on the other hand, conjures the glorious recollection of a day trip to the city with his Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), amongst the happiest of days recorded to memory for Allen’s young surrogate star. Just a few notes of any number of songs will send us all time travelling into a back-catalogue of radio hits and corresponding entertaining, heartrending, or heartwrenching experiences.

Each song is given its own memorial texture, but Allen doesn’t discount the monumental impact that radio made on the listening public as a whole. The first experiential form of mass media, it enabled families from coast to coast to listen in sync to their favorite radio dramas or live breaking news stories. At one point, Allen shows Joe’s family, in all their disarray, set aside their own troubles to empathize with the death of a young girl who fell down a cavernous hole. Not just nostalgic about the musical hits and dapper outfits of the radio golden age, Radio Days sets out to recognize the lasting impression the first form of true mass media has left on modern society with whimsical mirth. Allen is rarely this authentically sentimental, and his sappiness is balanced with style and wit that rank the film among the auteur’s finest.

Disc Review:

Twilight Time’s limited Blu-ray release of one of Woody Allen’s most elegantly designed films looks wonderful in HD. The transfer boasts a wealth of fine detail and a natural color palette that’s only infringed upon by the flutter of digital noise or chemical color fluctuation very rarely. Presented with a pair of DTS-HD master tracks, one with the original mix sounding quite clean and lovely, the other an isolated soundtrack and effects track that puts the spotlight on Allen’s superb set of classics. The disc comes packaged with that iconic Radio Days logo on the cover of a standard Blu-ray case.

Theatrical Trailer
Pushing the cast so far as to making it a singular over-reaching punchline, this is as simple in style as it gets. 1 min

This slim little inclusion features a few film stills and promotional artwork, as well as a poignantly reflective essay on the film by Julie Kirgo.

Final Thoughts:

Allen is always neurotic, often bitter, but rarely as sincerely nostalgic as with Radio Days. Each fragmentary vignette paints very honest feeling composition of scenes from his upbringing, with his family, out with friends, schmoozing girls or what have you. Within these bits of memory are sprinkles of the Hollywood he was groomed in, backtracked a few decades to retrofit the look and feel of old-school radio stardom, complete with sassy cigarette sales girls who work their way up to top billing on nothing but sure will and sex appeal. Allen’s film is both tribute and still relevant criticism, aching for times gone by while acknowledging that this medium of easy entertainment comes with a price.

Film: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc:    ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

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