It would be too simple to label Nelson Lyon’s THE TELEPHONE BOOK as a sexploitation comedy. It would also not fit comfortably in the category of art film though it has many of the attributes of such a film. Yet it manages to straddle both categories without seeming out of place in either. The story is a simplistic and tight yet idiosyncratic narrative that delves into asides and tangents with vigor while building on the main narrative without being distracting.
Alice (Sarah Kennedy) falls in love after receiving a telephone call from the world’s most talented obscene caller. “I’d like to talk to you about your beautiful tits” he begins and Alice starts on a quest through the Manhattan phone book to find Mr. John Smith (Norman Rose) that introduces her to a motley bunch of characters. During her adventure she crosses paths with an aging stag actor who goes by the name Har Poon (Barry Morse), a therapist with a change machine, a mugger in a phone booth and a lesbian with a baby stroller.
The encounter with the analyst is the most
humorous as he wants her to share her wildest escapades with him and she has no clue. He draws a crude image of a cock and balls and when asked what she sees she says the state of Maryland or a baby pig. When asked to say a dirty word she replies with sidewalk, her reasoning being that, “I think obscenity is all in the mind, don’t you?”
During this exchange Alice shares the story of a shut-in (William Hickey) who struggles with a permanent erection. While telling his story Alice and the analyst converse with each other and even Hickey in a fun way that breaks down the barrier of the framework story. Meanwhile the man ekes out nickels and dimes for Alice to make more phone calls in her continuing search for the right Mr. Smith. When he finally shows up at her home he wears a half mask that is a pig ironically enough. His face is never shown save for his mouth and chin and usually in extreme close-up.
The oddest thing in this weird flick has to be the last eight and a half minutes. The image switches from black and white to color and turns into a bawdy cartoon by Stars and Stripes Productions Forever that resembles an adult version of something seen in Sesame Street, The Electric Company or even Monty Python.
Intermittently throughout the film ex-obscene callers who are not as successful or talented as Mr. Smith tell their stories. Most notably among these are a man who thinks the world is about to end when Atlantis rises from the sea and a woman who would call men at work.
Long regarded as a classic of the New York underground film scene, Vinegar Syndrome has produced a Blu-ray and DVD edition mastered in hi-def sourced from a clean theatrical print. The high contrast black and white looks amazing in 1080p and the sound is clean and crisp allowing Rose’s baritone to sound rich and smooth. The Vinegar Syndrome BD and DVD are all regions and both include the special features. It is presented in widescreen 1.85:1. The features include an audio commentary with THE TELEPHONE BOOK producer Merv Bloch, the reissue trailer, the “original trailer”, a still gallery and radio spots.