Wednesday, 20 October 2010

'Dear Phone' by Peter Greenaway 1977

'Dear Phone'toys with the concept of communication through narrative, visual language and idiosyncratic preoccupations of the red telephone box as an object.  Fourteen phone calls made by fourteen different men, each with the initials H.C. and each to a woman named Zelda, juxtaposes the repetitive lines of communication using multiples of the standardised object in its fourteen different locations.  The audio of the ringing telephone in the opening sequence and throughout the film is cleverly used to build suspense, to the point where you almost want to answer the call yourself regardless of the anonymous caller and the unfamiliar location.  Certain objects/ visual triggers and sounds initiate uncontrollable urges and responses in us that are inbuilt learned behaviour.  If a phone rings, we answer it.  However i find the functionality of the phone box as an object is merely the echo of the mass produced consumerist culture that stemmed from the industrial revolution, which as we all know, had its dark undercurrent of unemployment and a loss of the value placed on skill and trade on the production line of every-day objects.  The red telephone box is undeniably an iconic thing of beauty, but i think that seeing past the functionality is vital to understanding it as an object.  For example, in the film Henry uses the phone to retain the communication connection with his ex-wife Zelda as an alternate method of communication during a postal strike.  In this instance, the phone is not a phone it is a line for hope, emotional attachment and reassurance.  It is this reality that connects the tea cup with the telephone box. 
 The narrative of the film describes the idea that we could in fact live our lives through a phone without any true human interaction if we so wished.  Yet later describes Zelda's instance that Henry revert back to corresponding via the outdated but tried and tested methods of letter writing. Using illegibly written text as narrative throughout the film has a disconnected personal connection to documenting the telephone correspondences almost as letters as would have been the protocol prior to the invention of the telephone (or prior to the postal strike).  The narrative describes the scarcity of phones commenting on the advances in technology which set out to connect the world, but actually create barriers potentially discouraging people to communicate because of money or circumstance, and also via the written word which is now often seen as a far too time consuming task.  The ironic humour and emotion expressed through words be they written or spoken, uses the iconography of the phone box as a 'signifier' of communication and connection rather than the phone box itself being the 'signified'.

The designer of the red telephone box is Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed Battersea Power Station and Bankside Power Station (which has now been converted into the Tate Modern art gallery) but more importantly, known in Liverpool as 'Scotty the Bricky' Giles Gilbert Scott designed the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. It is this fact that gives me sense of nostalgia when i see a red telephone box which is quite a relevant connection drawing on my own experience of telephone relationships with my friends and family i have left behind in my home city.  Conversations which would have once been had over a cup of tea now travel down a telephone wire.

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