Dear Phone (1977)


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, most of them have been replaced. This short film shows us these telephone boxes in various locations around England, including near the Houses of Parliament in London. While we view these telephone boxes, most of the phones 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. Seek out this little gem, especially if you're English.

"Partly cunning pastiche, largely impromptu invention, this light-hearted expose of structuralist conventions yields itself to the filmmaker's more directly personal concerns." - Robert Brown, MFB

"Pure Greenaway: teasing, eccentric and delightfully surreal." - BFI

1. Hiro Candici phoned his nephew Serge Gallagher and asked him for the phone number of Joseph Morpetho, the manager of a local football club. Serge couldn't remember it and left the phone off the hook while he stepped outside to ask Gary Modler, who looked after a barrow on the corner of Fiddler Street. Modler was married to Morpetho's ex-wife, who used to be a telephonist before she went deaf after being knocked down by a barrow, a fact that hadn't affected her memory.

2. Hirous Canditi got Jerry Modler to phone Louis, his wife's cousin, to ask him if he knew Gary Sutler's phone number so that he could give him a piece of his mind. Jerry pretended to have no change so he said he'd ring later. Hirous told him to piss off and he ran into the bar demanding to use the phone. Harry Diego, the barman, pointed to the phone at the back of the serving hatch and asked Hirous to buy him a drink. Hirous claimed that he could make ten calls for the price of a beer.

3. Harry Contintino owned ten barrows in Fiddler Street and held another three off Gregory Square. He paid his barrow boys badly and expected them to keep him in small change for his phone calls; he was always on the phone. Louis, his wife's brother, ran the pub in Gregory Square and had banned Harry from using the phone behind the bar because he never paid for it. Harry broke a bottle and scratched the paintwork and vowed he would never drink in the bar again. The same evening he was back to phone Zelda. Louis allowed him to use the phone provided he bought every person in the bar a drink. There were five people in the bar. Harry said he could phone New York for the price of five beers.

4. Harrin Constanti insulted the operator every time he picked up the receiver. He never said please, always called the operator a deaf cow and belched every time she asked him to repeat a number.

5. Hiro Contenti got to calling his wife Zelda after a telephone operator who used to identify herself by saying "It's Melba" every time he rang his mother for money. It was a weak link but Hiro thought it was amusing. What also made Hiro laugh was the fact that this telephone operator never seemed to need a natural break. Hiro used to call her a deaf cow, yet he loved his wife. It didn't make much sense to the woman who came on Monday to clean the phone, who thought "Tender is the Night" the greatest movie she'd ever seen.

6. Harold Constance lived on the phone. He ate through it (he had a hot line to the supermarket) and he organized his sex-life on it. The phone in his office was always covered in crumbs and was sweaty from being held under his armpit while he masturbated.

7. Hirohito Condotieri was the youngest child of an Italian businessman, Paulo Condotieri, who lived for nine years under house arrest in Taiwan. Paulo's only pleasure had been to use the phone. He phoned people like other people blink their eyelids; it was a reflex action. Arrested for forgery, he wasn't jailed outright because his financial contribution to the state through his use of the telephone was immense. The telephone company at their own expense had installed a phone in practically every room in Paulo's house. Paulo died at the age of eighty-three, over a telephone arrangement he had with a nightclub manager whose girls contrived to give Paulo excitement over the phone. The giving of pleasure had apparently been reciprocal, for Paulo's favorite girl had born a son some nine months after Paulo's death, and it was this child, Hirohito Condotieri, who had given his father's house to the nation as a communications museum.

8. Hirt Constantino spoke of the telephone with exceptional reverence. Thanks to it, he'd escaped from Europe, met his wife, and set up his own business. He hoped to order the rest of his life as successfully through the telephone. He taught his children to use it when they were very young, and educated his Estonian grandmother to treat it with admiration and affection. When the telephone company was having difficult relations with its employees, Hirt went sick, complained of being deaf, and shouted at his children to have more respect. When the telephone company employees went on strike in a harsh winter that blew down telephone wires all over the country, Hirt took to his bedroom. His grandmother tried to interest him in letter writing and his wife bought him a two-way radio, but Hirt's allegiance to the phone was unshaken. He had a photograph of William Bell hung above his bed and had his telephone directories bound in black Moroccan leather with metal corner pieces and a silver clasp.

9. Henry Clement's ex-wife, Zelda Moroni, lived in a small village not too far outside Olaf-St. Simeon. The only telephone available among twenty-seven people was in the general store at the end of the main street. Henry continued to correspond with his wife after their divorce and he wrote to her on the first Saturday in every month. One summer there was a postal strike, and feeling it necessary to continue to communicate with Zelda, Henry phoned the general store and left a message there for Zelda to phone him in Zurich at noon on the first Monday in each month. For the length of the postal strike, Zelda phoned Henry from the general store. But when the strike ended and the letter postal service was resumed, Zelda insisted on returning to corresponding by letter. Henry was reluctant to do that and suggested he might pay for a phone to be fitted in Zelda's house. To do this a cable had to be laid from Olaf-St. Simeon and would cost a great deal, probably as much as it would cost Zelda to move and buy a house in Olaf-St. Simeon itself. With no hesitation, Henry offered to provide the money for Zelda to move, and she agreed. But she double-crossed him, for with the money he gave her she bought out the general store, closed down the postal service and destroyed the telephone.

10. Harry Contence was a telephone operator who got his job much against his wife's wishes. Zelda Contence thought that a telephone operator ought to be female; so for that matter did the telephone service, but they employed Harry because they were seriously understaffed. The other women working on the exchange had mixed reactions. Some were amused when the management had to provide a separate cloakroom for him, but later on seeing Harry enjoying so much space privately whilst they had to share a cloakroom, they were soon demanding better conditions. Some of the women mothered Harry, and five of them in their different ways began to make passes at him. When Harry worked nights he had a bed put up in his spacious private cloakroom, and on Tuesdays and Fridays he entertained lady telephonists in there. His wife found out at the same time that the more militant of the telephonists were organizing a demonstration for better conditions, and jealousy amongst Harry's suitors was beginning to impair the efficiency of the exchange. Zelda phoned the manager and demanded that Harry be sacked. The management consulted the telephonists' union to see if Harry could be transferred. Harry realized the problems he was causing and to find a way to resolve everyone's difficulties he went deaf and resigned.

11. Harry Contento phoned his wife Zelda from the quayside so that she could hear the sea. Harry propped the door of the telephone kiosk open with a piece of driftwood. Flora Gallagher, who had taught Zelda to swim, was always around when Zelda picked up the phone, and said she could always tell from Zelda's face whether the tide was in or not. Harry's brother Philip always wondered why Harry didn't fix something up like a tape recorder, instead of having to travel twenty-odd miles to the sea each day, but Horace Muldowney said that Harry once told him that he liked travelling and enjoyed making phone calls from beside the sea. He liked the way the phone box was being eroded by salt spray. He could imagine the way the sea, if given time, would corrode the phone itself, and how eventually the corrosion would pass along the line to Zelda's ear.

12. Howard Contentin was a student of hygiene. His particular scruple in the summer months was the telephone. He believed the use of the public telephone, being in such intimate contact with the mouth spread infection, and he conducted a private campaign. Equipped with disinfectant, he spent his evenings in telephone booths, scrubbing the mouthpiece of every telephone he could find. A summons for loitering only seemed to encourage him. He was eventually arrested for causing corrosive burning to the face of a forty-three year-old public health inspector who was phoning his wife Zelda.

13. Henry Constantin phoned his wife Zelda every morning from his office. He always announced himself the same way, "Hello Darling, this is your mid-morning call." After his mother died, Henry Constantin began to lose control of his wits. Being a creature of deeply ingrained habits he never failed to call his wife, but his sense of timing began to go astray. His calls to his wife grew later and later in the day, until his wife received his "Hello Darling, this is your mid-morning call" late in the afternoon. Zelda was distressed at this well meaning but poorly executed demonstration of affection so she took to phoning him around about half-past ten every morning to remind him that it was time he should ring her.

14. H.C. spent a long time composing his letters. He rewrote them many times, especially those to his mother and to his ex-wife Z. When he had finished them to his satisfaction he phoned them through. He fixed the phone to a music stand, measured a step and a half back on the floor and made a chalk mark. Then he came forward, dialed the number and waited 'til he could hear the receiver being picked up at the other end. Then he stepped back, cleared his throat noisily and began to read, "Dear Mother," or "Dear Z.," or whatever it might be: "Dear Sir," or "Dear Construction Company," or "Dear Insurance Broker." He felt that he had developed telephoning to a fine art. Over the years H.C. refined his style, concentrated on form until the content of his calls atrophied and he reduced his conversations to "Dear Phone," and continued with a list of names and addresses read from the telephone directory. The only people who did listen to him with rapt amazement were his mother and the very rare wrong numbers H.C. sometimes dialed.




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