Border Radio: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Jeff (Chris D.) is a musician who found some success on a cult level, but never on a larger scale. He has tried to remain true to his artistic visions, but over the years, he has allowed more compromise than he’d like to admit. Torn between his artistic integrity and the spoils that come with mainstream success, Jeff finds himself at a crossroads. At the end of his rope, he and his friend Dean (John Doe) decide to take things to the extreme. The duo takes aim on a nightclub, one they frequented and felt exploited by, so now is the time to settle up. So the friends rob the nightclub and head off with the cash, while some thugs employed by the club’s owner begin to track them down. As the thugs close in for the cash, Jeff makes a run for Mexico and Dean is left behind. The thugs catch up to Dean and dish out a brutal beating, then continue the search for the stolen loot. While he is off on the run, his wife Lu (Luanne Anders) is left to tend to their child, as well as deal with his enraged record label. When she learns the truth about the robbery, she rounds up Jeff’s friends and leads her own march into Mexico. If she is able to locate Jeff and bring him back, what will become of his conflicted existence?

This movie just didn’t click for me. I’ve seen other work from Allison Anders and I appreciate the punk rock angle, but Border Radio never won me over. The film was shot over the course of several years, with little to no budget involved and most of the material was improvised. This approach was more out of necessity than desire I’m sure and in some cases, similar productions have yielded competent results. But in this case, the movie just rambles and never finds stable ground, it comes off as too loose and random. I never found myself interested in the least, aside from making note of the punk rock figures as they appeared. Border Radio has very little depth and plays like a movie made by a bunch of friends, which is with good reason, as it was. But the film needed a more strict hand to rein things in at times, perhaps everyone was a little too close to the material to take that kind of stance. As I said, I enjoyed seeing the punk rockers involved and the film does have the renegade texture to match, but the craftsmanship to make it work just isn’t on hand. Border Radio tries to be a lot of different things, from road movie to faux documentary, but it can’t make anything click, so it just seems flat and ineffective. I was quite surprised to see this in The Criterion Collection, but I suppose the involvement of Allison Anders prompted the inclusion. I just can’t recommend Border Radio, perhaps to punk rock diehards, but to anyone else, there are countless other options that offer so much more.

Video: How does it look?

Border Radio is presented in full frame, as intended. This movie was shot on 16mm over a three year period with a small budget, not the ideal circumstances for a pristine transfer. Even so, Criterion broke out the serious guns and delivers this restored, high definition digital transfer, which offers a visual presentation that is sure to please. The print suffers from some woes, such as scratches and debris, but that is expected in this case. I saw a lot less debris than anticipated, so I think Criterion has worked wonders with this cleaned up edition. As far as detail, the source limits the visuals, but the image is sharp and looks quite good. I held this against a unique standard, based on the material involved, but even so, this is a solid transfer.

Audio: How does it sound?

This is as basic as a soundtrack can be. But considering the nature of the shoot, I’m surprised it all sounds as clean and clear as it does here. I heard very little harshness, which is good news, as movies of this kind often exhibit more than a little. That lack of harshness ensures that vocals are loud and clear, so all the dialogue is spot on here. The dialogue is the main focus of the track, with minimal background noise or other elements. As far as low rent mono is concerned, this is about as good as we could expect. This disc also includes optional English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

You can listen to directors Allison Anders and Kurt Voss on the first audio commentary track, then switch to John Doe, Chris D., and several other cast members on the second session. The first track is very technical, as the two talk about the production and share their thoughts on the characters and the punk rock movement. The second is more laid back, with a more candid and open vibe, more of a casual conversation. I found both tracks to be more than decent, but I doubt either one is good enough to warrant more than one spin. A fifteen minute featurette offers some moderate insight, but a lot of information is repeated from the two commentaries. This disc also includes a selection of still photos, some deleted scenes, The Wedding Dice music video from The Flesh Eaters, a radio spot, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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