From the MGM stable
RADIO DAYS (1987)
CAST : MIA FARROW, DIANE KEATON, DIANNE WIEST, JULIE KAVNER, SETH GREEN, JEFF DANIELS.
DIRECTION : WOODY ALLEN.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON 19TH MARCH, 2014.
For me, a filmmaker is also a consummate author capable of fusing his very personal vision with a new, reinvigorated language of storytelling he and his team is responsible for. She/he then becomes what we reckon an ‘auteur’ , in the sense that a blighted entity called compromise hardly drives a wedge between him and his coterie of artistic minds . Dedication and vision are then poured into creating the most honest approximation of reality and life on the big/ small screen shines with rare, hard earned honesty.
Kathryn Bigelow, for me, is an auteur for giving an internalized heft, intelligent unraveling and thrilling core to the war/ procedural genre ; her efforts become seamless in the sense that her singular vision drives the conspiracy theories and personal corridor at the heart of her narratives. Both a documentary approach and first person voice plus the POV( points of view) are distinct styles that added to the geographic/ political roil of ZERO DARK THIRTY and THE HURT LOCKER.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is an auteur too in how he brings an operatic sweep and grandeur to his frames but all that is complemented by his emotional tug and musical expertise, classical and timeless in a sense and his recent work GUZAARISH had this classic film era aesthetics which I loved owing to its innate innocence.
When a filmmaker leaves constraints of merely genre filmmaking vis a vis certain preordained conventions then an auteur spirit melds with one of individuality. A stamp of her vision is palpable which only lends itself greatly to the realistic identification with people and places being recreated.
Woody Allen is that auteur for me, owing to his observant eye, witticisms, love for New York and a respect for the little moments in life from which protrude veins of memory – making montages. It’s just that his style of expressing the fallible and endearing aspects of humanity is his very own and he brings that Midas Touch to his paean to radio days of yore in the film I talk about here. He telegraphs his own growing up years and tales of universal fellowship with the medium and kindred to curate a recreation of our bittersweet longings and ties of togetherness. I had to write about all this as I felt that the nucleus of originality here was one of an auteur as in his other works and acknowledgements had to be extended.
Allen celebrates the wistfulness, idiosyncrasies, whims and loveable frisson of an euphoric event called LIFE in RADIO DAYS. Hence, the medium of the radio attests to all that is endearing in the human spirit. What I love is how incidentally , omnipresently and naturally he has placed the central conceit of ‘radio days’ without making it obvious as merely a plot point. It’s in the background , accompanying interactions and facilitating community among people while also foregrounding their ambitions and dreams. Communication in every way is the message of the medium here. So rest assured, his storytelling is filled with warmth, oddities of personalities and an immaculate, healthy comic flair that has defined his profile.
A love letter really to the glory years of radio programming set during and in the wake of horrors of the Second World War, RADIO DAYS, narrated by Allen, is almost autobiographical and gets us up, close and personal with some well rounded people (as I hate to use this term ‘character’, as if cinema presents aliens clothed in human raiments). Inside workings and contributions of people who lend their voices to the content on the radio also finds pride of place here, quite like the work I wrote about earlier, that is TUNE IN TOMORROW. A holistic thread binds them to this medium of radio.
As usual, Allen shuns the comfortable cocoon of standard tics and his assembly line of favoured stars reap rich dividends on a prosperous minefield of originality and merry ideas.
Circa 1943, the pallid cloud of war envelops a nation and society so to speak and so it’s left to some ordinary individuals passing through the motions of the day and age to find seeds of self evaluation. This extended family unit in the case of the young child ( Seth Green) is a distillation of Allen’s own younger years of wonder. His school life and circle of friends make us all go back in time to savour those truly priceless milestones in the everyday. So the ordinary pleasures of life are upheld here against this sweeping social churning of wartime scenario. Life goes on for civilians. Oodles of smiles and good cheer buck them up- a perfect alternative to complications of the country and the world at large. They are rooted in their own realities and those of the outside realm.
So there’s the young boy and his humble family occupying a cramped apartment, opening their hearts to others and setting an impressionable precedent for him, his aunt played by Dianne Wiest trying her luck in love, Mia Farrow as a fledgling young lady overcoming speech defects to turn around her fortunes and Diane Keaton making a charmed cameo as a singer and you have a collage of myriad emotions. They light up the screen.
Fear, desperation, cowering in the dark behind enclosed windows during bombings, political rhetoric and personal adjustments collide in the intervening months of 1943-’44, making way for a New Year of possibilities in the climax. Remember this is a good one year before the war reached its concluding theater of chaos and an era of reconstruction dawned so the precedent set in the script is welcome. Something like winning a lottery for young people and Jeff Daniels’ charm as part of the ensemble cast become such integral parts of this whole. Radio airwaves guide the symphony of these lives. A particular oral bit – a radio coverage about a girl trapped in an underground lair – stands out and resurrects memories of India’s very own Prince who met a similarly harrowing fate, the only difference being that the light of life blessed him at the end of his ordeal.
RADIO DAYS was lauded for its original screenplay – a hallmark of Allen’s repertoire. A tad less known than his other canonical films, it’s a bittersweet treat and should not be missed. Hopefully with my writing here, someone or a lot of you will revisit this celluloid summation of the term ‘ LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL’.