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Radio On (1979)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

A flat at night. Its windows look out over a road. In the bathroom, a radio is on, playing David Bowie's 'Heroes', and in the bath is a corpse.

Robert B turns off a radio playing the same song in his car, and opens a package which contains three Kraftwerk tapes and a note from his brother wishing him a happy birthday. He plays one of the tapes and drives to his flat, where his girlfriend is watching a television news programme about internment in Northern Ireland. They discuss the end of their relationship.

Working as a late-night DJ, he responds to a request from a listener by playing Ian Dury's 'Sweet Gene Vincent' instead of the requested song. When his show is over, he goes to an amusement arcade and plays a video game. Back at his flat he gets a phone call from his mother telling him that his brother in Bristol is dead. He takes a bath and sleeps, while his girlfriend leaves with a suitcase. In the evening, he wakes and listens to news of a soldier shot in Belfast, and the arrest of pornographers in Bristol.

Robert drives from London towards Bristol on a motorway, listening to Kraftwerk's 'Radioactivity'. In a pub a jukebox plays Wreckless Eric's 'Whole Wide World', and Robert gives a lift to a soldier. Driving on quieter roads, Robert asks him how he joined the army. When Robert asks about Northern Ireland, the soldier describes how he saw a fellow soldier die, and reveals that he is a deserter. He demands that Robert pull over to the side of the road so that he can urinate. Robert throws his belongings out of the car and drives off.

After stopping again, the car's starter motor fails, and a mechanic helps Robert restart the car. Stopping for petrol at a deserted garage, Robert takes a note from the till. Hearing music at the back of the garage, he finds a guitarist in a caravan. They discuss the fact that Eddie Cochran died nearby, and sing 'Three Steps to Heaven' together. The guitarist fills Robert's car with petrol and Robert pays him with the purloined note.

Arriving at his brother's address, he slips the lock and looks around the flat. A woman arrives and tells him that the flat is hers. She is reluctant to tell him about finding his brother's body or about the police investigation.

At a hot dog stand, Robert asks a boy where he can find music to listen to. The boy directs him to a nearby club, but he is refused entry. Two German women who have been to the club accept his offer of a lift to their hotel. One of them, Ingrid, shows him a picture of her daughter, whose father, also German, has custody of her and won't allow Ingrid to see her. At the Bristol flat, Robert looks at a set of slides which include hardcore pornography and talks again to the flat's owner about the circumstances of his brother's death.

Robert drives Ingrid to see her ex-husband's aunt in Weston-super-Mare. The aunt berates Ingrid for her irresponsibility towards her own child. Robert and Ingrid walk on a pier and he reads from a German phrase book. She tells him she thought they would sleep together but now knows they won't. In a deserted car showroom, he looks at large American cars. He sits in one and she tells him it doesn't suit him. She drives him back to the Bristol flat, where he sleeps

In a bar, with Lene Lovich's 'Lucky Number' playing, Robert drinks and spoils a woman's pool shot: she kicks him off his stool. He sits in his car in a car wash, listening to Devo's cover of 'Satisfaction'. Still drinking beer, he drives the car around a quarry, and then parks it at the lip of the pit. The car fails to restart, and he abandons it, leaving Kraftwerk's 'Ohm Sweet Ohm' playing in the cassette deck. He walks until he finds a train station, and waits for a train, which takes him away.