Border Radio (1987)

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L.A. musician Jeff is hounded by some thugs and flees to Mexico, leaving his family behind and his wife alone to try to figure out just what the hell made him run off.

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Border Radio can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be. It’s sprinkled with little bits of noir, western, crime, mystery and documentary, but doesn’t do any of them particularly well. The documentary aspects in particular are interesting at first, but the film does little with them and in the end it comes off as a strange addition. Especially when one of the subtitles reads “2 or 6 Months Later.” Could…could you guys not pick one?

And thanks to it’s aimless and meandering plot the movie also feels a lot longer than it actually is. It’s not a good sign when you think you’re half way though a film and then glance at the clock and notice that only 20 minutes have passed.

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Part of the problem is that for most of the film the audience has no idea what’s going on. They’re given enough information to know Jeff is off in Mexico somewhere and that his wife is looking for him. But it isn’t until three-fourths of the way through the film that you find out why Jeff left and by then the film has been so slow in getting there that you really no longer care. At one point his wife states, “I just want someone to tell me what’s going on.” So did I, honey. So did I.

You’d think at least that Jeff’s life in Mexico would add some spice to the narrative, but alas. He spends most of his time drinking, talking to painted coconuts or burning his guitar.

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Jimi Hendrix you aint.

I get the feeling that he’s supposed to be going through a period of self-discovery, but most of the time it just comes off as him mucking around. Which is really a good description of what most of the other characters, save for Jeff’s wife, are doing in his absence.

Border Radio was filmed on a shoe-string budget over a period of about 4 years and had no fewer than 3 directors, which is most likely the cause of it’s often disjointed narrative. Most cast members consist of family, friends and musicians and it shows. For instance, Jeff’s daughter is played by one of the directors our daughters and ranges in age from 5-9 over the course of the film.

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I’ve read that the movie is supposed to be a representation of the 80’s Southern California Punk scene. Not being a fan of punk, I’ll have to take their word for it. All I know is that I was just happy to see it end and then shocked beyond belief that it got a Criterion release.

So if you like punk rock in any way perhaps you can enjoy this and explain to me what I missed. But it’s wandering narrative and slow pace just didn’t do it for me. I’ll give those that worked on the film props for finishing their project and adding the following line to the credits “Many curses on those who tried to thwart us”, but it’s just not my kind of film.

As far as I can tell, Border Radio isn’t currently streaming anywhere.

It has, however, received a DVD release as part of the Criterion Collection.

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Michi

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