This is another one of Woody Allen’s sentimental trips down memory lane, but this time it focuses on the golden age of radio. Allen shows how radio was woven into his childhood and helped to stitch together people’s lives in the United States. It brought people together across long distances and connected them through a communal event. Today we get our information and entertainment from many sources, but then people gathered around the radio listening to the same program and thus shared an experience without having to be together physically. People knew the story of the pitcher above who lost his leg and pitched a winning season. Lost his arm and pitched another winning season. Went blind and pitched another winning season. Finally, after getting run over he pitched another winning season in heaven. They knew it because there wasn’t much fragmentation like there is today.
This unity carries into WWII as the heroes who fought the communists on the radio became guardians against fascism. Allen looks at some of the personalities in radio who are often played by notable actors and sometimes as slight variations of characters from early Allen pictures like Jeff Daniels reprising his role from the Purple Rose Of Cairo. We also look at an ordinary family and watch how radio touched their lives. However, there really isn’t any plot and the characters aren’t fleshed out. It’s like Fellini’s Amarcord where it’s the memories of the time and place that make up the movie. They are like vignettes with radio being the glue that holds them together.
For me, the film didn’t capture me the way Amarcord or even The Tree Of Life did. Instead, at times it felt like A Christmas Story knock off and other times was simply too disconnected to compel me to watch. However, whether Allen did it intentionally or not, he manages to show us the genesis of a nationwide web. The shows and stories that we see are what you see on television and since this is a movie, it is shown even more so in that light. It got me thinking of modern times and how television is on it’s way out as the Internet takes over. The content hasn’t changed, it’s just grown and become more fragmented. I wonder if we will get a Television Days where a director will reminisce about appointment television.
At the end, we see the stars of radio gathered on a rooftop and a few wonder if anyone will remember them. Stars and shows have come and gone, but radio hasn’t gone anywhere. Radio still helps to bind the world together. It just does it behind the scenes rather than being the star.
As a walk down memory lane, the movie is ok, but standing in the revolution that is the Internet, the film helps you get a little perspective on what’s been built on, what’s been gained, and what others are trying to recreate. It’s a worth a look.