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Radio On
Friday, March 26, 2010

Just watched two excellent movies by Chris Petit, Radio On and Content set apart by more than 20 years but conveying the same mood of eerily tranquil movement through a landscape going nowhere in particular. Essays on the state of the nation and, certainly in RO's case, the state of the British film industry, they are beautiful, puzzling and transporting. I can't believe I have never heard of this artist until now - is this my own ignorance? Both have wonderful sound tracks too and an obssession with the German which I love - like CP I spent time as a forces child in Germany when missiles pointed east. He conveys this pointless paranoia and maybe he also is able to tap in to the British suspicion of and fascination for German - the language, the people. Germans are sexy, intellectual, sinister. RO reminds me of my own fascination with the Baader Meinhof gang and those frighteningly cool women with political attitudes that made my feminist badges and reclaiming of the night look paltry.

The German narrator (one of several) in Content is older: an inhabitant of "the flat featureless plains of late middle age". His slow accented voice blends with the world seen through car or computer screen, gliding past us with minimum involvement on our part. We are passive viewers of a passively observed universe. It's soothing - or deadening, pointless - depending on your point of view. The soundtrack is the cool electronica with German overtones that would work well in a euthanasia ward. The images are of urban landscapes and deserts, postcards from nowhere. But the commentary, by CP, is both universal and very English. I feel akin to this persona as if he were my brother, comrade: his lack of fixity, his no-place attachments (the car, the service station), his dour humour and self-mockery, his acceptance that anticipation thins like hair on an ageing head.

Watching the movies in reverse order was probably not ideal but it doesn't matter - as I will be watching both of them again many times. As a poet, these are the films I want to both see and make. I'm surrounded by both of them, the way you are after a really powerful dream. I put them with my Patrick Keillor movies and My Winnipeg as films that you really need to see. So glad I found them - by chance - as a recommendation from one of my very dearest fellow travellers.

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