It's not much of a movie, but in the Duplass brothers'
Jeff takes the errant call in his temporary-bordering-on-forever lair, in his mother's basement, which he rarely leaves. In that regard the movie may as well be set in 1954, the year of
In the pre-cell era, a phone call meant atmosphere. It meant a character often stepped inside a phone booth, a private universe in a public place. Even outside of the box, the movies have given us an unusual number of memorable phone calls. The greats, most of them, took place when phones could be wielded like weaponry, and were solid pieces of furniture, like Philco radios.
No single telephonic conversation on screen can beat the one placed by
An aesthetic peak in the movies was reached early with the so-called "candlestick phone," the two-piece affair that bespeaks "Front Page" wisecracks and "Gimme rewrite." One of my favorite single shots in cinema is a wordless tracking shot from Howard Hawks'
Of course that film had actors, the best. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell knew how to fling and wave a candlestick phone as more than a mere prop. They became extensions of their characters' gift of gab — instruments of joy, torture, punctuation and provocation.
In the movies, then and now, the phone is the sentry bearing news, often very bad news. In Tom Ford's "A Single Man," the 2009 film for which Colin Firth should've won his first Oscar, Firth's character receives news via the phone that his lover has died in a car accident. The time is the early 1960s. The phone is stationary. Firth is stationary as well, planted in his reading chair. The grief sinks in. The conversation is achingly civil. We see the dawning impact of the news on Firth's face, hear it in his subtly cracking voice.
A phone, in the right actor's hands, is more than something to hold, more than an increasingly sleek and wimpy way to receive information. It's a device relaying an unseen human voice. And there is eternal mystery and power in such things.
Movies on the radio and online: Michael joins a three-way "Pillow Talk"-style party line with Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen on "Filmspotting," 11 p.m. Fri. and midnight Sat. on WBEZ-FM (91.5) and via podcast at filmspotting.net.