No Future for You: The Cinematic Image of 70s Britain

70s Britain Essay - O Lucky Man! Movie

With anxious discussion of “a new Winter of Discontent” on the horizon, it’s important to remember that neoliberal Britain is fueled by horror stories about the 1970s; its ruling class flinches at the very mention of the industrial unrest and military coup plots that attended the decade. The 70s are regarded among those who fashion the British national narrative as nothing more than a dark age, from which the country emerged into the blinding glare of the Thatcherite consensus and There Is No Alternative. Discussions of the 70s have a cautionary flavor; stagflation, three-day weeks and flying pickets are invoked like evil spirits banished to some subterranean realm, forever threatening to re-emerge for want of vigilance on the part of the nation’s stakeholders. The 70s became a cudgel with which to beat down any suggestion that the orthodoxies of the market are not the only solution.

The official story states that the fissures in the post-war welfare state began to become visible, whether from neglect, intransigence or managed decline. But how far does this picture reflect the reality? Andy Beckett points out in When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies that “Unemployment in the seventies, taken at the time to be a great symptom of political failure, and notorious as such ever since, was actually low by modern standards, even during the long economic boom of the Blair years,” while the New Economic Foundation’s 2004 effort to create a new index of economic, social and environmental wellbeing known as the Measure of Domestic Progress (MDP) concluded that Britain’s MDP peaked in 1976. Taking this into account, it’s difficult to pinpoint where the discrepancy arose between the past as it was lived and the past as it is remembered. From where did this perception of the 70s arise and solidify into historical dogma? Was Britain spooked by its own imperial shadow?

Cinema must bear some of the culpability, because the 70s were a tumultuous and often bleak decade for the British film industry, and this pessimism bled into its output. François Truffaut famously asserted that “There is no such thing as British cinema,” that the business “reflects a submissive way of life, where enthusiasm, zeal and impetus are quickly rooted out.” Surveying the territory of post-New Wave British cinema, Truffaut’s remarks are both true and unfair. The Rank Organization’s diversification away from production signaled the death of Britain’s de facto studio system. (Rank would limit itself to crowd-pleasing fare like the “Carry On” series and Norman Wisdom comedies). But freed from the attentions of its priggish patron, J. Arthur Rank, a new freedom began to emerge, a chaos of chance as independent producers sprang up to fill the void left by the likes of Rank, Alexander Korda and Michael Balcon.

Like much of British industry, however, the cinema chains that Rank and his ilk maintained fell into chronic disrepair; the opulent art deco picture palaces of the post-war boom years were turned into sites of social conflict akin to the turbulent football terraces of the period. What proliferated on the screen were bawdy sex comedies — from the likes of Stanley Long and David Sullivan, the masterminds behind such softcore “classics” as Eskimo Nell (1975) and Come Play with Me (1977) — cheap horror — mostly formulaic, but with some inspired moments from the likes of Pete Walker — and spinoffs of popular TV sitcoms. It was enough to make anybody slash their seat. Yet there was a genuine spirit of invention amidst the wreckage, a sense that nobody was keeping guard of their propriety anymore, and anything was permissible. There was hand wringing about cinema’s decline and its propensity to stir up the masses, but things had fallen into such disrepute that few though it worthy of being retrieved as a moral salve.

The stench of catastrophe that clung to British cinema ended up being its saving grace, a rejoinder to Truffaut’s brickbats. While the David Puttnams of this world may take credit for revitalizing its fortunes in the 80s — i.e., making it profitable and safe for middle-class audiences again — it was the diligence of those who endured the doldrums and took advantage of its license who really staved off its demise. Cinema once again became a vehicle for criticism in 70s Britain, not all of it constructive. It upended the striving spirit of the British New Wave to declare “no future for you.” It confronted the fear of decay and demise which stalked Britain’s self-perception. It was the canary in the coal mine for an upwardly mobile cinema which smothered old certainties under a heavy blanket of triumphalist spectacle. For 70s Britain to re-emerge in the full flush of its arrogance, the demolition squad had to be sent in. The dimensions of the excavation were only apparent after the fact; many did their bulldozing unwittingly. 

British Cinema Essay - Performance Movie

Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s Performance (1970) functions as a bridge between the exuberance of the 60s and the stark realities of 70s Britain. The film burrows into the deepest recesses of the underworld to excavate the depths of the animal spirits which drive ‘business and progress,” positing that British justice, industry and organized crime belong to the same hypocrisy. In search of a lost “demon,” James Fox’s gangland heavy and Mick Jagger’s reclusive musician merge their identities; they find themselves adrift in a Borgesian labyrinth where the certainties of selfhood disintegrate into a tryst which rends the flesh in reverence to its endless mutability; they experience a dual divergence which calls into question “what’s true and what’s not,” a loss of territorial integrity in which external possibility gives way to an internal search. Culture is no protection against this fracture; bandit or bohemian, everyone plays their role, wrapped in a mutually sustaining fiction. The camera is conceived as a weapon which traps what is fluid, solidifying the image on its passage to the next permutation. These incisions and slippages in the surface of consensus reality remained a fixture of Roeg’s and Cammell’s work — from Don’t Look Now (1973) to Demon Seed (1977). 

The bending of the crime genre into psychological territory continued apace; the familiar boundaries between crook and cop became further blurred as faith in institutions foundered. In Villain (1971), Richard Burton plays Vic Dakin, a gay crime boss who is besotted with a fellow hood, Wolfe (Ian McShane), but must sublimate his lust into acts of sadistic violence and increasingly audacious capers. What is ostensibly a by-the-numbers heist film — albeit a steadfastly British one; Jean-Pierre Melville meets Carol Reed and Graham Greene — is leant greater weight by the sly social commentary of writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. A strike disrupts the big score Dakin and his crew are planning, and the film’s milieu offers a twisted variant on the spirit of enterprise which would be unleashed by the Thatcher counter-revolution; there is a clear delineation between “stupid punters” and those with the guts to take what they want. Dakin derides the strait-laced police who “keep Britain clean for thirty quid a week”; he is a proto-Thatcherite, no longer bound by anything larger than his rational self-interest; he must dominate the object of his longing; his life can only be lived on the precipice of destruction. Dakin insinuates himself into a world of disillusioned bureaucrats and venal politicians, using his leverage against the wealthy and titled, all the while playing the dutiful son to his aging mother. But it is the punters who ultimately bring Dakin down, the witnesses from distant high-rise walkways who provide Dakin with the annihilation he subconsciously craves. In the form of Vic Dakin, Villain offers a metaphor for a nation racing towards ruin. 

Gumshoe (1971) is no less invested with symbolism. Stephen Frears’ directorial debut transplants the traditional private dick tropes into 70s Liverpool; a landscape of tattered Victorian grandeur where rows of terraced houses are in the process of being demolished, and grimy industrial structures look out onto the lost promise of the docks. Gumshoe centers on Eddie Ginley (Albert Finney), a “small-time bingo caller wanting to be a big somebody,” with a “psychiatric record” and delusions of being Sam Spade. With its snappy dialogue, histrionic score — courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Weber — and laconic narration, Gumshoe parodies the dramatic tenor of film noir. But as with Villain, the veneer of genre convention allows for deeper character analysis to take place concurrently. For Eddie, fiction serves as a faulty guide, a lapse into dramatic certainties as a bulwark against personal trauma. When the world refuses to sanction our self-understanding, we can always pretend to be something we are not. When Eddie comes up against the real, it is insufficient; thrust out of his fantasy realm, Dashiell Hammett cannot provide answers. Questions persist throughout Gumshoe as to the veracity of what unfolds; it remains unclear whether what viewers are witnessing is a projection of psychosis: Eddie concedes that “my moments of glory are all in my head,” and the clandestine meetings at the labor exchange have the feeling of a daydream. One can see in Eddie’s constructed world echoes of 70s Britain’s own struggle to come to terms with its diminished position on the world stage, just as the acts clinging to the lower rungs of show business who perform alongside Eddie at the Broadway Club amplify past glories in a bid to sustain their waning dreams of stardom.

British Cinema Essay - Gumshoe Movie

Sitting Target (1972) is one of the gritter crime thrillers of the period in 70s Britain; it is a sort of cuckold’s revenge story in which high security prisoner Harry Lomart (Oliver Reed) stages an escape in order to exact revenge on his wife, Pat (Jill St. John), who has informed him that she wants a divorce, and that she is pregnant with someone else’s child. When Harry procures a gun, it functions as a surrogate penis, soothing his wounded male ego, the vessel through which he articulates what would now be termed his toxic masculinity. There is more than a suggestion that Harry has become habituated to the exigencies of prison life: Harry’s fellow escapee, Birdy (Ian McShane), quips that Harry is “feeling a bit queer” when he refuses the advances of a woman, and reminds his partner in crime that “we’re doing everything together.” Yet for all its psychosexual potency, Sitting Target begins with quiet tension right out of A Man Escaped (1956), then explodes into intense set pieces which juxtapose the mundane backdrops with some genuinely perilous stunt work. It could equally be seen as a monster movie: thunder and lightning accompany Harry’s prison break, as if the monster the state has created is being let loose on the village. Reed is all sweaty intensity and murderous glares, a lumbering golem whose only motivation is the desire for violent redress. As with so many monster movies, viewers are asked to sympathize with the creature, to see its fundamental helplessness in the face of the forces arrayed against it. Prison is pitched as a microcosm for 70s Britain society, with the cruelties more discreetly veiled on the outside, while the police are “bigger thieves than those on the inside.”

A monster grows in stature according to its capacity to act as an antithesis, to bolster the majority view by virtue of its monstrosity. I, Monster (1971) ponders the nature of evil, and asks if monsters are born or made. Christopher Lee plays Charles Marlowe, a 19th century psychologist whose adoption of Freudian principles draws the ire of his lawyer, Frederick Utterson (Peter Cushing), who asserts that “the essence of civilization is the restriction of individual appetites.” Marlowe formulates a new drug which works as distilled id, freeing what is repressed. When taken by Marlowe, “Mr. Blake” is let loose, the beast that dwells just below the surface of Marlowe’s venerable veneer. Marlowe’s struggle to reconcile the competing facets of his mind could be said to mirror the discussion taking place in 70s Britain, particularly in conservative circles, about the degree to which society is guided by individual or collective needs. Replace the id and the ego with John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek and you have the crux of the debate: is there such a thing as society? Marlowe slackens the social reins and places himself in opposition to everyone else; Blake sees only adversaries, quarry, competitors; he is locked in a prison of competition and domination. Marlowe learns that one must be careful what they summon, because the monster that emerges can be seductive.

The beast is dreaded and desired in equal measure; it embodies the sex and death drives with equivalent ardor — 70s Britain had no shortage of charismatic monsters, insulated by power and profile, knowing that to defeat your adversary you must infect them, turn them into an adjunct of your will. Christopher Lee’s Dracula is just such a seductive scourge, and in Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) the Count is resurrected after a century of slumber, through the occult dabbling of King’s Road swingers in search of the latest “happening.” In 70s Britain, old symbols were discarded or degraded; a generation invited the danger into their homes by downgrading these symbols to consumer totems; the confusion between the spectacle and the real created space for disruption. But these symbols retain their historic power, and your trample on them at your peril. The Chelsea sybarites stumble into ancient antagonisms; these grievances refuse to die, reanimating the old through the young, and they require radical action to be definitively broken. The promise and pursuit of “undreamed of power” begs the question: who rules 70s Britain? In Asylum (1972), Robert Powell’s idealist young doctor is forced to determine whom amongst the patients of an “asylum for the incurably insane” is a doctor who has recently suffered a breakdown. In writer Robert Bloch’s cosmology, reality rests on increasingly shaky foundations, authority proceeds according to its own motives, institutions become sites of contention and the idyll of security is undone by the recognition of complexity. As Powell’s doctor navigates a classic Amicus portmanteau, the old finery becomes threadbare, delusions are left to solidify into concrete plans, and the uniform slips to reveal the monster.

70s Britain Essay - Asylum Movie

The 70s were a time of polarization; from politics to pop, clan affiliation was upheld through rigidly enforced codes, and the outsider risked the hostility of all sides. Jane Arden’s lyrical, enigmatic The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) traces “five thousand years of whips on our backs” with vitriolic vaudeville, intense allegory and verité intimacy. Arden plays the therapist who guides a group of women through a punishing course of treatment; there is farce and foreboding in their expunging of “all this pain, all this love” as they struggle to find their place in a world of disengagement. Arden lays bare the strategy of “multiply and divide,” drawing “an analogy between colonized people and women.” Her subjects exhibit the masochism of the oppressed, regurgitating violence as a sickness which serves to incumber “the night of the witch howl,” a defiant maladjustment to life “under the doctor.” They pass by derelict houses — watched from a broken window by a solitary family — Blakean mills belching smoke and observe from afar; they shrink from the critical eye of the mirror image which is taken for the object itself, knowing that the broken shards function just as well as weapons than a delightful multiplier, rending with the same precision, a restricted but no less illuminating view. The medium itself is oppressive, and must be undone. Arden’s work gathers from the febrile fringes, contesting the flickering myth of the cinematic ideal, just as it conflates weddings with funerals. The subject must be crucified to be reborn in a more conscious polity.

Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (1974) offers the dark inverse to Arden’s liberatory exertions. John Hurt plays Malcolm Scrawdyke, who upon being kicked out of art college decides to form his own political party, the Party of Dynamic Erection. The PDE proclaims itself “against the eunarchy, against the castrated wherever they are, against all those who want to reduce us to their level.” But the PDE seems more focused on revenge than social change. George Harrison’s first foray into production charts the curdling of revolutionary impetus into a nihilistic “final solution to the human question.” Derek Woodward’s adaptation of David Halliwell’s play brims with all the ideological cant and erudite verbosity of this down-at-heel yet cultivated milieu. It is a strikingly modern piece in its evocation of alienation, and the mutations it spawns (it is not difficult to draw a line from Malcolm’s belief in “cruelty for its own sake” and universal “frankness and honesty” to the incel movement, or the sound and fury over “PC culture”). Malcolm is a kind of proto-Travis Bickle; there is also something of Johnny from Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993) in his wounded grandiloquence. His inability to engage with women breeds violent designs; yet unlike Bickle, he is unable to cross the Rubicon into action. There is much about 70s Britain to exercise Malcolm’s outrage: the “decadence, apathy, cynicism and decay” of “a dying culture.” Yet Malcolm’s PDE cell sets out to dismantle the existing structures purely for the malicious joy of it; they seek power without accountability, leaving a grotesque vestige of political activity. This tear-it-all-down outlook presages a growing ennui as the decade wore on; it would reach its fullest expression with the first disaffected howls of punk.

Lindsay Anderson’s postmodern picaresque tale O Lucky Man! (1973) follows Malcom McDowell’s student insurrectionist from If… (1968) as he is catapulted into the world of responsibility, and finds it no less fraught with codes and rituals. McDowell is Michael Travis, a winsome traveler through a 70s Britain in open revolt against itself (O Lucky Man! was released in the year of the oil crisis, a time when foreign secretary James Callahan stated that “our place in the world is shrinking”). This is a 70s Britain which seems willing to accept its reduced standing, and is ready to embrace a new take on colonialism, where market efficiencies are brought to bear on the provision of punishment. Travis peddles a variety of nostrums to a tired and tarnished nation, whether hawking coffee beans to the hinterlands for Imperial Coffee or dropping a lethal chemical agent on rebel armies in emerging markets at the behest of rapacious businessman Sir James Burgess (Ralph Richardson). Actors recur in multiple roles (most controversially Arthur Lowe as an African despot), highlighting the degree to which we fit into a mould, fulfill a type. Travis adapts with every rise and fall in his fortunes, switching codes as the situation demands; espousing capitalism, then humanism. O Lucky Man! is a survey of national decline; it finds a people steeling themselves for a conflagration in 70s Britain, flexing their steadily atrophying muscles in the face of global headwinds. Anderson grasped that British perversity is indistinguishable from British discipline; that “the dividing line between the House of Lords and Pentonville Prison is very, very thin,” as Sir James tells his dinner guests with a chuckle. 

70s Britain Essay - O Lucky Man! Movie

Alan Price’s anthemic soundtrack is integral to the structure of O Lucky Man ! His interstitial performance pieces function as a kind of Brechtian moral guide, cautioning the audience against heralding Travis as the hero of his own 70s Britain story, that “teachers and preachers will just buy and sell ya’ despite your best efforts.” Travis asks Price if he’s rich, to which Price answers wearily: “my manager is.” It is a sentiment which underscores much of the decade’s music films, as artists got behind the glamour and confronted the reality of the industry. Even lovable glam popsters Slade took a turn for the introspective with Slade in Flame (1975). More Ken Loach than Richard Lester, the film charts with unexpected acerbity the downfall of a working-class band at the hands of a slick management agency (bassist Jim Lea’s remonstration that “I’m not a bloody fish finger!” sums up the film’s blend of earthiness and earnestness). The transformation of rock ‘n’ roll music from a shotgun wedding between blues and country to the most valuable asset of a lucrative youth market is shown most candidly and cogently in a pair of films which feature talent from contrasting vantages in the ascendancy of rock ‘n’ roll.

The 50s were all the rage in 70s Britain. There was a suspicion among many that the immediate post-war years represented a high-water mark of social cohesion, before the divisions of the 60s made demands on this delicate, selective consensus. Many believed that by emulating 50s styles and locutions, some of its spirit could be retrieved. But unlike the yearning for uncomplicated consumption and guilt-free mobility which spoke to disgruntled American audiences in American Graffiti (1973) or the Happy Days TV series, the version of the 50s which 70s Britain sought to reconstitute was of an altogether more ambiguous tenor. Reinvention is built into the American mythos, but the British rebel cannot outrun the weight of expectation. They don’t have the endless expanse that America affords its outcasts; they cannot put enough distance between themself and their guilt; if they keep running, they will be confronted by a horizon of possibility, and to reach beyond that is to invite the waves to take you. That’ll Be the Day (1973) and Stardust (1974) follow Jim MacLaine (David Essex) on his trajectory from schoolboy dreamer to pop megastar; it offers an equally bleak assessment of what is extracted physically and spiritually by the music industry as that proffered by Slade. The early pop confections which pepper That’ll Be the Day tell their own story: their infectious melodies obscure avowals of loss and despair, a prelude to deflation for their 70s Britain teenage listeners.

MacLaine sees the possibility of liberation in 70s Britain through self-expression, a way out of proletarian pain and obligation, a remedy for the mental austerity that persisted long after the war had ended.  MacLaine says “sod it” and straps in for “a rollercoaster ride in search of fish and chips and freedom.” Fame is the panacea for the existential itch brought on by visions of swivel-hipped idols. But That’ll Be the Day makes clear that there are casualties, casting rock aristocracy like Ringo Starr and Keith Moon alongside relics of the early 60s like Billy Fury (who came out of semi-retirement to play a faded holiday camp rocker). This is no prelapsarian idyll, and MacLaine’s time with the fair offers a primer in the business: the rootless are drawn in by the bright lights and the promise of excitement in 70s Britain, but the games are rigged, and everyone understands that it’s “one for you and one for them.” By Stardust, MacLaine has eclipsed his bandmates in the Stray Cats, group solidarity has given way to solo stasis, and MacLaine understands that to be idolized is to be isolated. As MacLaine settles into stardom, he comes to understand that capital always prevails, that everyone’s creative outpourings constitute little more than a tax write-off for the conglomerates who subsidize them in the hope that some of the showbiz lustre will rub off on their corporate profile. MacLaine is reminded by his new American manager, Porter Lee Austin (Larry Hagman), that the product has to justify the capital investment, to which MacLaine can only echo Jim Lea by stating indignantly that “I’m not a bloody commodity!” MacLaine begins to grasp that the branch will be bent until it breaks.

70s Britain Essay - That'll Be the Day Movie

Stardust unpicks the mythology of the 60s with merciless precision; it is the 60s as perceived from the rueful perspective of 70s Britain. MacLaine’s fixer/procurer, Mike (Adam Faith), avers that “there’s a lot of crap talked about rock ‘n’ roll.” MacLaine becomes the kind of bloated cliché that punk set out to overthrow; an insular, self-indulgent rock star penning overblown operatic fancies, then retreating into a chemically-sustained palace of memory in his Spanish castle. It is not hard to see some of 70s Britain’s greater malaise in MacLaine’s Syd Barrett-esque slide into psychosis: he replays his past victories, but is lost in inaction; he is fading into irrelevance and insolvency as he is surpassed by fresh novelties. As MacLaine succumbs to a drug overdose, he is reminded by Mike that “I own half of you,” the character’s voice tinged with the alarm of seeing money slip between his fingers. Writer Ray Connolly maps how the energies of the 50s were packaged in the 60s, and had dissolved into grim parody by the 70s. MacLaine’s arc is emblematic of the excesses which necessitated punk’s infusion of danger and disgrace, to revive “the spirit of international youth” in 70s Britain.

Punk’s minimal cinematic footprint in its first flash may be an expression of its determination to wipe the slate clean and eschew anything with the whiff of professionalism to it: no future for you, no posterity for you. The Clash’s Rude Boy (1980) is hardly a sympathetic portrait of the punk epoch (the Clash disowned the film after seeing a rough print); its central character (Ray Gange) is depicted as a dim-witted irritant who tests the band’s patience with his loutish behaviour and ignorant opinions (the film is notable mostly for the footage directors Jack Hazan and David Mingay capture of the band at their peak). Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (1978) is the most enduring document of punk in its infancy; though by the time it came out in 70s Britain, it felt more like an epitaph. The Sex Pistols has already made their infamous appearance on Today with Bill Grundy; all that remained was headlines and gestures, as regiments of mohawked youths stalked the streets of provincial 70s Britain and proclaimed their allegiance. Jubilee captures that brief moment when punk was still the preserve of a tight-knit network of misfits and outcasts. From his distance, Jarman paints the punks as doomed romantics, invoking the spirit of Dr. John Dee in their attempts to manifest new attitudes into being by sheer force of will, ultimately in the service of power. They defy a history in which “you can weave facts any way you like,” and set out to render the consolations of art obsolete by living as the fulfillment of their desires.

70s Britain Cinema Essay - Jubilee Movie

It is hard not to see the proto-punks as shock troops for a new libertarianism in 70s Britain, positioning the self at the center of “England’s glory,” transcending “misgovernment and idiocy” by taking the most toxic constituents and spitting them back in the face of a “civilization destroyed by resentment.” The bonfire of all restrictions, taboos and customs heralds the forging of the modern subject, who proclaims “Let’s liberate the zoo.” The revolutionary impetus was coming from the New Right. Jubilee’s dystopia shows the other side of the crisis; the ruins of the state become a playground, a frontier of rebirth; Mad (Toyah Willcox) gleefully points out that “it doesn’t take long to destroy” the old monuments, that “the people who made them will be utterly forgotten.” The “blank generation” was already congealing, falling into the hands of impresarios like Borgia Ginz (Jack Birkett), who “owns the media” and sees a fertile new market in “the generation who grew up and forgot to live their lives,” beguiled by Ginz’s “endless movie,” a pornography that is “better than the real thing.” Ginz owns the stage upon which British visions of hegemony are reduced to savage pantomime. The domain where “Britannia rules the waves” is slowly sinking into the sea. There are no more reliable guides. Communal ritual is twisted into violent release from diminished expectations and arbitrary power. In the hands of Ginz — who channels Malcolm McLaren’s sloganeering elan with his insistence that “as long as the music’s loud enough, we won’t hear the world falling apart” — punk is boiled down to a deftly executed marketing exercise, a means of reintegrating discontented kids into the cultural fold with fresh illusions which cater to their lassitude. “They all sign up in the end, one way or another” Ginz says with a giggle, from the comfort of his newly requisitioned country manor.  

If punk achieved one thing, it was to create a space for marginalized voices in 70s Britain, though there is a conspicuous racial uniformity to the films discussed here (Gumshoe in particular features some flagrant racism that is shocking to modern ears). With the demise of class politics, the development of identity politics and the rise of culture as a means of identification, the failure of the counterculture precipitated an inward turn on the left. Christopher Petit’s Radio On (1979) speaks to the new isolation of this social monad. Rendered in sleek monochrome which owes a debt to Robby Mūller, Radio On accompanies Robert (David Beames) on a road trip from London to Bristol. Radio On conceives of the car’s console as a precursor to the personal computer, allowing for full immersion in a personal realm. Music serves to stifle any genuine engagement with the few people Robert encounters, lonely dreamers lost in their memories and dashed hopes. Every encounter has finality built into it, lasting the duration of a song. Robert passes through a succession of liminal zones; these spartan spaces are largely unpopulated, and frequently viewed through windows, creating an almost Ballardian vision of solitary travelers locked in their private bubbles. When the music stops, Robert must interact with a flat, static plain — rendered almost lunar by Martin Schäfer’s photography — and try to draw life from it, discovering who the people closest to him really are. The distance from ‘69 to ‘79 feels immense — a piece of graffiti proclaims “Free Astrid Proll” (who was arrested in 1978 for her activities with the Red Army Faction) — and just as the New German Cinema sought to shatter the stultifying silence of post-war West Germany, Radio On attempts to find a new means of address for a 70s Britain edging towards a fresh precipice. As Robert abandons his car to the eerie strains of Kraftwerk’s “Ohm Sweet Ohm,” Robert learns that diversions only take you so far.

D.M. Palmer (@MrDMPalmer) is a writer based in Sheffield, UK. He has contributed to sites like HeyUGuys, The Shiznit, Sabotage Times, Roobla, Column F, The State of the Arts and Film Inquiry. He has a propensity to wax lyrical about Film Noir on the slightest provocation, which makes him a hit at parties. The detritus of his creative outpourings can be found at waxbarricades.wordpress.com.