January 16, 2007
In the 1990s, Allison Anders emerged as one of the most distinctive female filmmakers working in American independent cinema. Gas Food Lodging (1992) was the first film of hers that garnered significant attention both critically and commercially. For a brief spell, she hung out with contemporary American indie filmmakers Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino (whom she dated briefly) and Alexandre Rockwell. The result was the much-hyped failure Four Rooms (1995). Anders wisely returned to more substantial and personal projects like the underrated Grace of My Heart (1996) and Things Behind the Sun (2001). Border Radio (1987) was her feature film debut co-directed with fellow UCLA film students Dean Lent and Kurt Voss. It took four years to make and was hard to find on home video for years. This is no longer an issue thanks to the Criterion Collection who give it their customary deluxe treatment.
Jeff (Chris D) is a singer-songwriter who has stolen a book that identifies known drug users from a local nightclub and goes into hiding somewhere in Mexico when three thugs come after him. His wife, Luanna (Anders), is a rock journalist who decides to enlist two of her husband’s friends – Chris (Shearer) and Dean (Doe) – to track him down on a journey that takes them through southern California and into Mexico.
Chris is a roadie for Jeff’s band and is also having an affair with the headstrong Luanna, a character who prove to be the blueprint for future female protagonists in all of Anders’ subsequent films. She has to raise a child without the help of her husband who is missing in action and this has made her independent and cynical about love, much like the single moms in Gas Food Lodging and Grace of My Heart. Dean is a fellow musician whose clumsy advances Luanna rejects, much like Chris Mulkey’s slick lothario in Gas Food Lodging. She soon finds out that Chris and Dean had a hand in the theft of the club’s books and that they are immature boys who can’t be trusted. She confronts them in an effort to set the record straight so that Jeff can return home.
As she demonstrated with that film, Anders has a real knack for evoking the environment that her characters inhabit. Border Radio features many shots of desolate desert landscapes of southern California and the sandy beaches of Jeff’s Mexican refuge. More than any of her other efforts, this film has a loose, improvisational structure with an emphasis on character and the often tumultuous relationships between men and women. Anders’ films feature smart, beautiful women who navigate the treacherous waters of relationships that are filled with men that are irresponsible and cannot commit. Border Radio has all the affectations of a student film transitioning into a debut feature film. It lacks any kind of coherence and ambles along in search of an ending but it does hint at the command of craft that Anders would later develop on subsequent films.
There is an audio commentary by directors Allison Anders and Kurt Voss. They made the movie in the wake of the golden age of the punk rock scene in Los Angeles. They wanted to capture the transient nature of the scene at the time. Anders and Voss reminisce about the music scene and identify the musicians who appear in the movie. They go on to cite filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders as their primary cinematic influences at the time but they were actually inspired by the success of other American indies like Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Blood Simple (1985). The two filmmakers tell all kinds of filming anecdotes on this relaxed track done by two obviously close friends.
An additional commentary features actors Luanna Anders, Dave Alvin, Chris D, John Doe and Chris Shearer. Everyone talks about how they got involved in the film, how they met the filmmakers, etc. Anders and Shearer had already appeared in a few of their student films and were cast based on that work. Chris D and John Doe talk about the music scene at the time and all of the musicians they got to contribute to the soundtrack. You can tell that they are all still good friends from the way they talk to each other in this trip down memory lane for all concerned.
“The Making of Border Radio” features Anders, Lent and Voss talking about their humble film school days spent scrounging for money to get their movies made. Chris D and John Doe talk about how they got involved and recount some of their experiences making it. Everyone talks about the comradery of making a low-budget film.
Also included are nine deleted scenes with more footage of Jeff and his buddies stealing the books and making their getaway. Two scenes reunite Jeff and Luanna in Mexico. There is also a nice scene where Jeff talks about artistic integrity vs. commercial appeal. This is a good collection of footage and it’s too bad that there’s no explanation as to why it was cut.
There is also a theatrical trailer and a T.V. spot.
“Echo Park” is a collection of behind-the-scenes photographs taken by Dean Lent during the course of production.
Also included are mini-biographies for the main cast and crew.
Finally, there is a video for “The Wedding Dice” by the Flesh Eaters, an L.A. punk band which was fronted by Chris D. The video also features cult film actress Mary Woronov as a police coroner.