Following New York’s greatest film fan from set to shoot, Mary Kerr’s documentary Radioman is a commentary on celebrity, obsession and the power of perseverance.
Mean Streets by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Craig Castaldo has a passion for film. And after 30 years of attending New York film sets, he’s by now a welcome guest, a lucky charm and a friend to the stars. Armed with an uncanny knack for knowing where a film shoot might spring up and a network of friends in all the right places, he’s able to charm his way onto many a closed set, and satiate an obsessive love of film and a devouring interest in the free food on offer. After a period of homelessness, he now lives in the Bronx in a flat so filled with cinema memorabilia and VHS tapes it’s infested with cockroaches. But building a life around a single purpose, Radioman is a tale of ambition and obsession pushed to their outer limits.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” So reads the motto on Manhattan’s James Farley Post Office where Craig started out sorting mail, but it’s perhaps just as relevant to his current career as a celebrity and film shoot aficionado. Radioman’s fascination with film began after he became unemployed, alcoholic and homeless. Then, as now, it’s an opportunity for free food, but also a warm hearth of waiting casts and crews bored and happy to talk. Although Radioman no longer sleeps on the streets, he squats with long-learned familiarity on Manhattan’s avenues and retains the trophies of his previous life – the plastic-bag laden bike and a radio chained tightly around his neck. And without them he’s not Radioman.
Indeed, brand Radioman is on the rise. A frequent extra on all manner of New York City films from Godzilla to The Departed, he’s a consummate professional and always on cue. But his ambitions aim higher, and Radioman has his eyes set beyond the silent bit-part of the extra, and on the hard earned glamour of the speaking part. He’s an institution for New York filmmakers, and “Marty” (as he’s known to his friends and Radioman) Scorsese insists on including him in his films – Radioman even trimmed his beard and hair for a role in Shutter Island, as the prominent and rather disturbing patient in the garden. Alongside a compilation of Radioman’s cameo roles, Mary Kerr’s also documentary focuses on a day spent waiting on set rehearsing for a speaking role in Remember Me with co-star Robert Pattinson, with Radioman anxiously learning his lines and uncovering the luxury of the actor’s trailer.
His ambitions aren’t restricted to acting and to an official role on the film set though. Radioman’s hankering after celebrities leaves him with a misplaced sense of belonging. Radioman may be a low-budget documentary, but it has one of the best cast lists in film history, featuring Hollywood A-listers such as Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp professing undying friendship to the little man. Yet it’s hard not to harbour the cynical misgiving of stardom on its best behaviour in front of the camera. Radioman even travels to the Oscars in LA, hiring a tuxedo and a bike from Venice Beach, intent on supporting his celebrity friends on the West Coast as well, albeit without the golden ticket that even his illustrious connections can’t sniff out.
It’s here that Mary Kerr’s documentary begins to come apart – his fish-out-of-water attempts to access Hollywood glamour almost as underwhelming as his recorded conversation with Cher. It’s heartening to have a film dedicated to the New York film industry’s most prolific cast member, but Radioman isn’t quite up to the task of uncovering the naked truth, and the inextinguishable doubt as to whether Radioman is little more than a celebrity stalker, star-dazed and confused lingers on. But as a testimony to man’s monumental ambition to rise up from nothing and build oneself a life, Radioman is one star-spangled American dream.
Radioman is released in the UK on 12th October 2012