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Radio Days is easily one of Allen's most ambitious films. It is also one of the most nostalgic films ever made (regardless of filmmaker). The entire film's story is one that some might consider 'plot-less' in the sense that the main goal of the story is to follow around people experiencing their lives with radio as a central connecting element. It's the way that the interweaving stories unfold in relation to sitting around and listening to radio and being magically transported by the sounds of the tunes emanating from said radio that keeps the excitement and nostalgia trip going along smoothly (running along with good mileage to boot) throughout the golden age of radio broadcasting in the 1930's.
While at first glance the film might seem to be a simple effort, the way in which the characters in the film are explored allows for the genius and depth of the film to become much more apparent. The film is sprawling and focuses on one of the largest ensembles in any production by its gifted filmmaker. Featuring a huge array of characters (and actors), Radio Days features many beloved actors who have often had reoccurring roles in Allen's films and the cast delivers some of the best work ever seen in filmmaking to date.
The ensemble includes a huge assortment of talented actors in a variety of roles, including Danny Aiello, Leah Carrey, Larry David, Jeff Daniels, Sydney Blake, Gina DeAngelis, Denise Dumont, Todd Field, Paul Hermann, Diane Keaton, Wallace Shawn, Dianne Wiest and and many others. These are many of Allen's go to players and each are playing out their respective characters in a series of beautiful vignette style scenes that interweave back and forth with one another in one of the richest tapestries in storytelling that exists from Allen: the quality and flow of these scenes (which play out like memory filled poems) is that impressive from beginning to end.
Woody Allen has the part of the narrator of the film (an older version of the character named Joe), and a young Seth Green plays the part of the young Joe (who is constantly getting into an array of little mischief - in one part, he attempts to collect money for a important cause that is supported by his Rabbi, only to use it on a decoder ring that was affiliated with a favorite radio program). Joe seems to be the main characte as so many parts of the film are connected through him and his relations with his ever-extending family. This is partly a coming of age tale and that makes the journey all the more compelling. The film's heart is cemented by the parents of Joe. Father (Michael Tucker) and Mother (Julie Kavner) are so radiant in the echoes to this long-past time. Then there's the aspiring radio star Sally White (Mia Farrow, in another stunning performance following her work in Hannah and Her Sisters), who works as a cigarette girl and who is trying to find a way into the business but who has a lot of vocal training to do before she finds recognition and work. The sheer optimism and belief in the radio seems to flow through each scene. It is the journey the audience takes with the characters that makes the movie memorable and that's a huge reason why the film's story remains so fascinating and beloved to this day.
On an aside, I never grew up being a frequent listener of the radio. The radio was something that I would sometimes appreciate, but I can't say it was something I ever experienced the same way the characters of Woody Allen's magnificent Radio Days did. I would hear occasional tunes or specials on NPR and programs like Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion were in rotation frequently enough that I enjoyed getting to listen to the radio at times, but it wasn't ever something akin to what Allen and his characters remember in this film. The era of the radio's prominence had already passed me by.While even today many can and do enjoy in listening to radio broadcasts (thank goodness for that), the time when radio served as the primary source of entertainment, news, music, and more for American families is something that already disappeared before my time. Yet the powerful sentiments and the storytelling within is still wonderful.
Radio Days is incredibly important: both as a work of art that has stood the test of time and as something directly moving to myself. This was one of the first Allen films I ever saw growing up. I became a huge fan of the filmmaker from an early age and in part because of the magic of this movie (not that I didn't love other Allen films as well). Sometimes, one can't help but wish for the time and spirit of this film to come alive again: the moments of connectivity through the radio and the imagination the radio imbued is awe-inspiring. Films don't usually get any better than this effort: the incredible writing blends seamlessly with the direction, the performances amaze at each turn, and the production elements are astounding. The set production designs that were done by Santo Loquasto, one of Allen's longtime collaborators, are remarkable here and show a huge mark of quality filmmaking. Costume designs are also effective for the time period being fondly rekindled, and designer Jeffrey Kurland (another longtime collaborator to Woody Allen) triumphantly manages to evoke the feelings of the 1940's through these artistic contributions and embellishments.
Radio Days is one of the greatest masterpieces in Allen's filmography. This ode to simple times remains as essential film for fans of cinema from every generation. It doesn't ultimately matter if one experienced the cool heyday of radio broadcasts reigning supreme: Radio Days is an enchanting and enriching remembrance of a beautiful time worth more than the price of admission. The story and superb filmmaking will light a candle in any viewer's thoughts on a golden age of something special to one's own life, and there is real magic in that.
Radio Days arrives on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with an impressive MPEG-4 1080p High Definition presentation that is without any doubt the best the film has ever looked on home media. The transfer is quite impressive with good clarity, depth, and detail throughout. There isn't any annoying video alterations either, like DNR (digital noise reduction) added. This presentation allows the film to shine with a beautiful fine layer of film grain which enhances experiencing the film in High Definition for the first time. The Colors are good and close ups capably present solid detail from this transfer (which is accompanied by a strong encoding). Viewers will notice a few minor moments of specks of dirt or minor print damage (this is generally most noticeable during the darkly-lit opening scene), but these minor issues are comparatively small and hardly take away from this generally quite impressive release.
The film is presented with a lossless 24 bit DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono audio presentation. This accurately preserves the original theatrical audio presentation quality as intended by Allen. The film's obviously a simplistic sound design by its mono limits, but dialogue is clean and is easy to understand while the music accompanying the film often sounds quite lovely (if also sometimes limited in dynamics due to whatever source material was utilized).
English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are provided.
The supplements on this release include an Isolated Music and Effects Track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the Original Theatrical Trailer for Radio Days.
Radio Days is one of the best Woody Allen films. It is a sentimental nostalgia trip to a time when radio was the most prominent form of entertainment that Americans enjoyed. It's a beautiful and mesmerizing film with a lot of joyful moments and a bittersweet ending that feels partly surreal while summing up the emotions of the film's journey.
Twilight Time has done an excellent job with great PQ/AQ for the release. While the release is short on extras (which is common for any Woody Allen film), the great presentation makes it worth picking up this Blu-ray Limited Edition of 3,000 units for fans of the film.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.