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Telephone Book, The

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Release Date: 
Vinegar Syndrome
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Directed by: 
Nelson Lyon
Sarah Kennedy
Norman Rose
James Harder
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Before DEEP THROAT came out in 1972 and set the public perception of every adult film that came after it (even until this day, arguably), there were lots of other films that tried to vie for the public’s attention, back when adult film was more…experimental.  From stag loops, medium core to documentary “white coaters”, the early seventies were an unrivaled time in adult film where everything (and I do mean absolutely everything) was tried.  One style of “naughty picture” that all but almost went the way of the dinosaur with the advent of more hardcore visuals was the adult sex comedy.  It looked good on paper; give the audience a wacky, feel good story about attractive adults in hedonistic sexual good times of a carnal nature.  Good times for all….at least theoretically. Let us dial up THE TELEPHONE BOOK and see if it is ambitiously entertaining as it sounds, or if it merely “phones it in.”

THE TELEPHONE BOOK is the story of Alice, a pretty young moll with a hippie sensibility who falls in love with the world’s greatest obscene phone caller. She engages on a surreal quest across New York city trying to track him down through a series of clues and phone booth rendezvous that seem to take her no closer to him, at least until he calls her up somehow, somewhere and leads her on to the next clue.  As all movies about a quest by an earnest, innocent soul seeking adventure, this movie relies heavily on the group of wackos she encounters along the way of her quest; a litany of screw headed folks all who seek to subvert and distract every bit for their own as much as they ultimately aid her in her quest. All of the usual predatory characters from a mountain of sexploitation films are represented here as the only residents of her world; There is the porno director, the lesbian housewife and the deranged psychiatrist who likes taking a “hands on” approach with his clients. Poor Alice, will she ever get to assign a voice to the face?  Or should of she just stayed home? 

I should say something right now and that is despite, the X rating of this, there is nothing even remotely approaching soft-core sex in this film as far as the live action sequences go.  Whenever things get hot and heavy in this film, the intimate scenes involving Alice all seem to take place in a symbolic fashion (Picture that famous stock footage sequence of a train going into to tunnels and you pretty much have the gist of what happens during every scene of “intimacy”). The “adult” rating for this film is undoubtedly due to the fact that during its final sequence it engages in a long, crude display of poorly animated pornographic vignettes which, aside from their complete filthy nature, honestly, reminds me of the stuff I used to watch as a kid on ELECTRIC COMPANY.  The rest of the film had such a cute, understated quality to it that this seemed like the most desperate attempt for a film to earn an x rating in the final act that I had ever seen.

Still, this film is critically valid, not for what it doesn’t do, but for what it actually did. Not only is this movie considered a source of inspiration for Bernardo Bertolucci's LAST TANGO IN PARIS, but there is a scene involving an outburst in a diner that I feel may have inspired the only moment anyone remembers from WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.  If they would have ended this film ten minutes earlier and skipped all of the completely unnecessary cartoon coitus that passed as sexual surrealism in the final act of this, it could have actually been a sweet little film.

Spoiler Alert: The final color scene (most of the film is in black & white) where Alice her and her lover “express orgasmic togetherness” in a pair of adjacent phone booths (without actually touching themselves each other) is a really cute ending, and is the perfect mix of intimacy and peculiar isolationism that these complicated characters. Yet, for obvious reasons I can see why it is failed as an adult film…and was largely forgotten in the aftermath of the XXX hardcore porn revolution which was less than a year away at the time of its release date.

Extras in this already exhaustive Blu-Ray/DVD release include Audio Commentary, Theatrical Trailers, A Still Gallery, and some radio spots.

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