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Dear Phone
IMDB rating:
Peter Greenaway
Storyline: A narrator relates a variety of peculiar stories involving characters with the initials HC and their dealings with telephones. These are interspersed with artistic shots of telephone boxes in a variety of locations.
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Extremely boring "film"
"Dear Phone" is a British 1976 short film, so this one has its 40th anniversary this year. It runs for slightly under 17 minutes and the writer, director and narrator here is Peter Greenaway, who is pretty well-known today still. Judging from this one here, I cannot say I got particularly curious about his other works though. He tells some telephone-related stories about certain characters and people and that is somewhat bearable still, The film's biggest disaster, however, is the visual side. For almost the entire film, we see letter which probably include what Greenaway is reading. So it's good for people who are deaf I guess, but why would these watch a film about telephones anyway? Very strange film overall, maybe this just should have been an audio book. I cannot think of a real reason why I would recommend this one. 4 stars out of 10 is still very generous.
A nice little experiment from director Peter Greenaway
Dear Phone (1977) in one of the more iconic early experiments from director Peter Greenaway, one that could now be seen as a pre-production exercise for the similar-themed though ultimately more worthwhile Borgesian mock-documentary, The Falls (1980). With this film, we find the director playing with the same kind of narrative devices and idiosyncratic preoccupations that would feature so heavily in that particular work to follow. So, we have the ideas of formalism and numerology; with fourteen phone calls made by fourteen different men, each with the initials H.C. and each to a woman named Zelda. The text is presented in a matter-of-fact approach, both illegibly written and simultaneously narrated - in order to give a sense of character to this disconnected formal event - and often juxtaposed against the repeated use of iconography to create a somewhat ironic sense of humour.

However, unlike later productions, this is a very simple film that plays on the British tradition of an almost realistic approach to surrealism; with much of the narration delivered with a typically English, stiff-upper-lipped type series of announcements familiar from post war broadcasting. We also find many of the director's future trademarks beginning to take shape; however, with none of the bold storytelling devices or opulent cinematography and production design that would underline such films as The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover (1989), The Baby of Mâcon (1993) and the Pillow Book (1996) as such singular works of cinema.

This is a simply an experiment for the director, and thus, not really worth the effort of an audience unfamiliar with the broader aspects of Greenaway's career, instead being something that long-term fans might decide to seek out in order to give a great context to his later, aforementioned film, The Falls. It is still a film that you can have a great deal of fun with though; taking in the ridiculously pitched scenarios and arcane game playing alongside the continual appearances of the now largely defunct red-telephone boxes. As a side note, I saw this picture on a compilation tape that also featured Water Wrackets (1975) and A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist (1978) and this was the most outlandish and fun.
Offscreen Imaging
This is obviously a film schoolish experiment. It consists of alternating images of two types. The first is of many of those silly red British Telecom phone booths. (They seem silly to a non-Brit.) The second are views of ragged pages of the script that is being read.

The small readings are stories involving phone calls to women named Zelda from men named HC.

This film is not of high interest as a whole work.
An interesting and occasionally witty short that is worth seeing once
As a celebration of the British institution that is the red phone box, this film looks at many of them around the country as we are read stories off badly written pieces of paper that are barely legible and contain many amendments. Each story involves a character with the initials H.C. and their tale involves telephone calls in some way shape or form.

Not being the biggest Peter Greenaway fan in the world, I didn't rush to give this a watch but I generally will try any short film so it was on my list to watch. The film takes a semi-documentary look at stories that have involved phone calls while also filming various red boxes around the UK. The two aspects of the film don't totally match up but they are both interesting enough for different reasons. The red telephone boxes are mostly dead now and even public phones seem to be slowly disappearing as mobile phone use becomes more and more popular, so it is interesting to see so many of them shot back in 1976. Hardly worth watching the short for in their own right but it is interesting and some of them are reasonably well picked.

However the guts of the film is the story section. Narrated by Greenaway off notes that I assume we are meant to think were written by him (hence the amendments) or maybe were written by him, the stories are individually quite meaningless but also interesting as each has different qualities. They all seem so normal and detailed that they could easily be from real people; the writing of each story helps this feel of course and they are delivered with the type of wit that can often only come from real situations. These stories don't qualify as narrative but that's not the point – they are interesting and flow quickly with the film – the idea of showing the paper makes them more interesting as we are not distracted by images other than the words.

Overall this is not the type of short film I would generally go for but it is different enough to be interesting. For pedants there are shots of old red phone boxes while for those looking for something else, the stories read off scrawled notes are interesting and occasionally witty to the point that they are worth hearing even if they are fleeting and won't stick in your mind for very long.
I liked the phones, the stories...not so much
Dear Phone is an early experimental film from avant-garde film-maker Peter Greenaway. I guess it serves two purposes for the director. Firstly, it is a celebration of the red British phone box and the way it almost looks like an alien artifact the way it appears all over the landscape, in utterly contrasting locations. Secondly, it is a way of Greenaway making fun of narrative film - he has gone on record complaining that the vast majority of cinema is merely illustrated text, so here he literally films text as a way of mocking this tradition and he does so, of course, as part of a highly non-narrative film. Anyway, we see many shots of phone boxes from various locations, while accompanied by their ringing or engaged tones. In between this we hear a selection of phone-related stories, which are accompanied by their associated text, which is quite ineligible mostly and written on various types of paper.

I actually liked looking at the shots of the phone boxes a lot more than I did listening to the stories, which were typically undramatic and pointless for the most part. But the shots of the phones I liked. It hardly needs saying that this is pretty far from being a film for everyone but it does indicate again the oddness of Greenaway's approach to film-making. That's not a necessarily full blown recommendation but at the very least he consistently offers something different to the norm.
A surreal and witty celebration of a former English icon
What we have here is a dedication to that former English icon, the red telephone box. When I was growing up in this country, that particular object was ubiquitous. Nowadays they have been replaced. This short film shows us these phone boxes in various locations around England, including near the Houses of Parliament in London. While we view these phones, most of them are ringing, and we are shown a scribbled piece of almost illegible text, and the short verse is narrated to us. All of the characters in the verses have the initials HC. Greenaway's wit is never far away during these narrations. Later, on some of the phones, we can hear the famous speaking clock voice, "At the third stroke..." Another memory from days gone by here. Check this little gem out, especially if you're English.
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