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Radio Days

(1987) *** 1/2 Pg
88 min. MGM. Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Mia Farrow, Seth Green, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker, Dianne Wiest, Josh Mostel, Jeff Daniels.

/content/films/4706/1.jpgAn evocative segment of Annie Hall recalls Alvy Singer's 1940s childhood and, by implication, that of the man who created and played the character, Woody Allen. On his way to revisiting his "crazy" parents, Alvy narrates, "My analyst says I exaggerate my childhood memories, but I swear: I was brought up underneath the roller coaster in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn....I have a hyperactive imagination. My mind tends to jump around a little, and I have some trouble between fantasy and reality." Exactly ten years later, writer-director Allen would return to this territory at (feature) length, with his ridiculously entertaining nostalgia exercise Radio Days.

Narrated by Allen, the 1940s-set Radio Days splits its time between a working-class family of radio lovers in Rockaway Beach, NY—young Joe (a pint-sized Seth Green), his Mother (Julie "Marge Simpson" Kavner) and Father (Michael Tucker of L.A. Law), and live-in relatives Uncle Abe and Aunt Ceil (Josh Mostel and Renée Lippin), and Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest, between winning two Oscars for other Allen films)—and a series of gossipy tall tales from the world of radio and radio celebrities, most prominently the heroic Masked Avenger (ironically embodied at the mic by petite Wallace Shawn) and late-blooming Sally White (Mia Farrow), who develops from dim-witted, submissive, Brooklyn-accented waitress to self-possessed, plummy-toned radio star. While only rarely drawing direct attention to the theme, Radio Days strongly contrasts the everyday lives of common Americans to the rarified but perhaps just as troubled lives of the hoi polloi, the two worlds that would be entirely remote from one another were they not connected by radio waves.

Radio Days
emerged from a highly fertile period for Allen, and the film bubbles with creativity and Allen hallmarks. There are magical moments of memory (Diane Keaton in chanteuse mode, a New Year's gala both lived and overheard by radio, a child's first glimpse of live nudity—of a teacher, no less!) and others of quintessential, self-reflexive Allen introspection ("I wonder if future generations will ever even hear about us," muses the Masked Avenger. "It's not likely. After enough time, everything passes. I don't care how big we are or how important are our lives"). There are quality short-story-style vignettes, like the terrific game-show-themed sketch that opens the picture, and a wealth of sharp one-liners (Mother: "What a world. It could be so wonderful if it wasn't for certain people"). The picture is never less than charming, and sometimes conspicuously so, as in a short but sweet family lip-sync to Carmen Miranda's "South American Way" or the literal tip of the hat that ends the film.

I have saved the obvious for last: as in any Allen picture, music plays a key role. With the exception of the musical Everyone Says I Love You (and possibly Manhattan with its Gershwin), Radio Days is the Allen film that most relies upon music for effect, and in an organic way that makes the music essential stuff of the narrative and of the lives it describes. Allen has his trusty musical supervisor Dick Hyman on hand, and the music produced for the film blends nicely with the wealth of old-school tracks, like "Body and Soul," "You and I," "If I Didn't Care" and "That Old Feeling." Nostalgia is a funny thing. It's evident for that we've lived through, but we can also get it second-hand—nostalgia for times we never lived through but experienced through the art that endures from those times. As long as people still care to listen, and watch, and share with those "future generations," radio days and Radio Days will not pass into forgotten history.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0

Street date: 7/8/2014

Distributor: Twilight Time

California-based Twilight Time makes available classic films in editions strictly limited to 3,000 units (distributed exclusively by Screen Archives Entertainment). Overseen in large part by star archivists Nick Redman and Mike Matessino, these releases all feature fresh hi-def treatment that includes isolated score tracks and six-page color booklets with original publicity shots, poster art, and excellent liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo. Twilight Time selects neglected titles and makes the studio's home entertainment divisions offers they can't refuse: let Twilight Time handle the releases and cater to an audience of devoted film collectors. So far the strategy seems to be working out nicely: as the titles move toward selling out, they become hotter and hotter collectibles.

As usual for Twilight Time, the transfer here is a beaut, and the audio quality second-to-none. MGM has provided strong source material for Radio Days, which looks its age in all the right ways. This is a filmic, warm-looking transfer that looks exactly as the film did on the big screen, except with considerably less dust and scratches customary to abused film prints. Deep black level and true color are hallmarks of the picture quality here. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track soundtrack stays true to the original theatrical presentation, as well, and it's a definitive presentation backed up by Twilight Time's customary Isolated Score and Effects Track, which comes in generous DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.

The other extras, per Allen's own custom, are slim: the nifty "Theatrical Trailer" (1:28, SD), the "MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer" (2:06, HD), and the six-page liner-notes booklet containing film stills, poster art, and Kirgo’s essay.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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