The Austin Chronicle

DVD Watch

Reviewed by Marrit Ingman, January 26, 2007, Screens

Border Radio

Criterion, $39.95

If you're thinking about making a movie, Kurt Voss has a message for you: "If you can't do it now, when?" When Voss and UCLA classmates Dean Lent and Allison Anders started making Border Radio in 1983, the cameras were stolen from school, the editing bays were illegally occupied, and the film stock was 16mm black-and-white reversal – because Lent didn't know the difference between reversal and negative. "I just grabbed film, put it in the camera, and shot," he says.

Anders handpicked Chris Desjardins of the Flesh Eaters for her hero, and he brought along John Doe of X. Four years of weekends and $82,000 later, Border Radio had evolved from a grainy punk noir about a Hollywood club heist to an ambling picaresque evocative of Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog. Though it was mostly noted for its cult performers and scenester ambience, the film's Criterion edition positions it firmly amid the commercial groundswell of independent cinema (alongside Stranger Than Paradise, She's Gotta Have It, and Blood Simple) historically and cinematically: its granular, static long takes; its semiprofessional cast and improvised script; and its mild, low-key satire. "You've gotta understand," deadpans Chris Shearer, the film's goofy best friend. "It's tough being a seminal L.A. rock artist."

Not everything works, of course – an interview conceit borrowed from Michael Apted and the French New Wave creates interesting moments but slows down the already minimal story, and the directors overindulge in blank landscape shots – but its meandering rhythm gives the movie a low-slung charm. The DVD's nine deleted scenes suggest wise decisions in the cutting room, and the much-vaunted Flesh Eaters' video for "The Wedding Dice" will be best appreciated by completists. The disc – with packaging designed by Austin's Marc English Design – also includes a photo essay by Lent of the Echo Park neighborhood, but you'll need a player with a remote to access it. However, the other bonus material amplifies the film and should please fans. On the first of the two commentary tracks, Anders and Voss dish about the film's local color, and Voss reveals that he lost his virginity to Anders. ("He was 17, and I was 26," she says. "I think I'd be in jail for that nowadays.") Meanwhile, Dave Alvin of the Blasters runs away with the cast commentary, which also features Dejardins, co-star Luana Anders, and Doe.

Also Out Now

Sherrybaby (Universal, $27.98): Helen Mirren got the Golden Globe, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is incandescent as an ex-con single mother in this unsentimental indie, which skipped Austin in its limited release.


Red Doors (Lightyear Video, $19.98): Georgia Lee's likable first feature about a multigenerational Chinese-American family snagged awards at the Tribeca Film Festival and L.A. Outfest.

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