So many precious memories go to waste. Not everyone is able to get their story told. Not everyone is interested in writing their memoirs. And though not everyone lives akin to the greats of history, these memories are precious nonetheless because when these people pass on, the worlds they lived in will pass on, too.
And the less information we have about the world before us, the less we will understand about the past. And the less we understand about the past, the less we will understand about ourselves.
“Radio Days,” one of Woody Allen’s lesser known and often forgotten work, is a slightly autobiographical film about the preciousness and fragility of memories. It’s unlike most of his other films in that it doesn’t revolve around the neurotic follies of romantic relationships. There’s no real story. It’s just the scrambled reminiscence of the narrator Joe (Allen) as he recounts his youth from the late 1930s to the mid-1940s.
Thus, it’s filled with innocence – but with the little wickedness that comes with being a child. We are introduced to his bickering but ultimately loving family, who speak to each other in Allen’s delicious misanthropic wit. It’s a wacky slice of life. It’s a depiction of a time and place that has forever disappeared.
A strange time when people weren’t glued to their LCD screens but received their entertainment through the radio and in each other’s company. It might be a little romanticized, as the narrator states, but he can’t help that. This is just how he remembers it.
It’s about the radio stories he heard in that time. The characters that crept in his imagination. Time scrambles our memories, so Joe isn’t entirely sure whether some radio stories ended this way or that; in one instance of the film, he even depicts several endings. Families would huddle amongst each other listening to the radio.
In the film’s most touching moments, they would even cry with each other when the radio entailed some particularly sad news. Now we are bombarded with sad news and we carry on anyway.
Things were so much simpler then. Not necessarily better but simpler. But just like the worlds before it, eventually it had to disappear. We can find remnants of this world in our museums and in history books, and as long as people who lived in those old worlds are still alive, we can hear about them.
But not many people who lived in those radio days are left. As the Masked Avenger (Wallace Shawn), the voice of a popular radio show says, “After enough time, everything passes. I don’t care how big we are or how important are our lives.” And as time passes, we wonder what it’s all about – if it was even about anything. And all of those voices, no matter how important they were to us, will grow dimmer and dimmer as more time passes.
But as long we have films like “Radio Days,” these voices live on. It might not be their actual voices and Allen’s memories might not be entirely accurate (by his own admission) but it’s the best we have.
And I’m sure that these forgotten ghosts of Radio Days will be delighted, knowing that the next generation and the generations after that, will remember them like this.