Posted by Richard Harland Smith on December 29, 2006
Confession time: I have a wee fetish. It’s not so terrible, not shameful at all, really, but a fetish it is. I collect pictures of movie characters talking on the telephone. Specifically women. I don’t know how this obsession came over me, but once I obtained the software that allowed me to “grab” still frames from movies, I began to collect shots of film actresses on the phone. Rotary phones, cell phones, pay phones… it doesn’t matter. As the kids say nowadays, it’s all good.
It’s hard to explain the attraction. Maybe it all began with Sorry Wrong Number (1948), the film noir classic in which bedridden Barbara Stanwyck finds herself marked for murder via a crossed connection on her princess phone. There’s something about the telephone that compresses the physical world into a thin line between speaker and listener, charging the air, eroticizing the distance as a latticework of whispers and sighs, of gutteral monosyllables and declarative shouts. Telephone scenes, so often shot in extreme close-up, shorten the gap between movie subject and movie-goer, drawing us into the narrative, making us a part of the story. Remember Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil (1958), clad in virginal white lingerie and stuck in that Mexicali roachtrap, connected to esposo Charlton Heston only via the telephone, her calls growing more and more desperate and breathy? Remember that great scene in It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) where Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed get all hot for each other while on the phone with Sam Albertson? Hee-haw indeed!
For all that cellphones take away from suspense movies nowadays, either providing too neat a resolution or conspicuous in their absence, they do at least give actresses more time on the phone — which for someone with a fetish such as mine isn’t a terrible thing. I’ve recently learned that I’m not the only one obsessed by this kind of thing. There’s a whole website devoted to noted personalities, politicos and film and television characters gabbing away on the telephone… and if you don’t believe me, check out Celebrities With Phones sometime.
I no longer seriously pursue my collection. A hard drive crash on my last computer wiped out my stash and maybe that’s for the best. Onward and upward, as they say… but it doesn’t stop me from appreciating a good phone scene when I run across it. Or stop me from wondering how it all got started for me. Maybe it’s buried deep in my childhood, as these things tend to me. Maybe the truth could be, as in Citizen Kane (1940), reduced to a single image. Maybe it has something to do with my Mother. Which reminds me. I should call her.
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