8 June 2007
Don't call us, we'll call you
Around 1960, PacTel installed a phone booth in the middle of the Mojave Desert, about 70 miles from Las Vegas, not particularly close to Zzyzx Road. In 1997, the booth gained a measure of Net notoriety when a Web site devoted to it sprang up. The site, and then the booth, picked up traffic; in 2000 the booth was taken down at the request of the National Park Service, citing environmental concerns stemming from that traffic. The site, however, lived on, and eventually filmmaker John Putch dropped by:
I was in Vegas I don't know, must have been 2000, or right when the booth was removed or something and I read an article in the Sun-Times, or whatever the Vegas paper is. It was the first I'd ever heard of it. I thought the article was really interesting. Typically, the booth is gone now, and I didn't get a chance to see it or look at it or call it or anything. So I got home and I started looking it up on the web and I found [the] site and everybody else's, the blogs or whatever and I just read a whole mess of shit on it. I guess what interested me were the same things that interested other people, and that was just this wonder aspect of it, that people actually connect, strangers so far away, and the best part is that you're in a weird, surreal setting, you know?
And so it came to pass that John Putch, on a budget of $38,469.49, brought forth Mojave Phone Booth, the movie, which played tonight at deadCENTER. And this is exactly the point he wanted to make: that people, strangers so far away, actually do connect in that weird, surreal setting. I've always thought that communication was far easier once you detach yourself as much as possible from the everyday, and Mojave Phone Booth is an object lesson in that detachment: the characters who would never discuss matters with the people closest to them will willingly talk to Greta, whoever she may be altruist? therapist? the voice of God? at the other end of the line.
The script, by Putch and Jerry Rapp, pulls off the difficult task of getting inside these characters without making them into caricatures. In the wrong hands, this could have been the sort of overwrought melodrama that gives away all its secrets in the trailer. Instead, the details accumulate, slowly but surely, the complexities unfolding, the stories unexpectedly intertwining. And this version of Las Vegas, the city these people flee to find a voice in the desert, is decidedly blue-collar and downscale: that fabled nightlife is a job, nothing more.
That reference to the budget, incidentally, isn't an apologia: it's a boast. Mojave Phone Booth is beautifully shot, its desert scenes balanced on the edge between compelling and disturbing, its Vegas scenes appropriately glitz-free. And the thread of hope which connects its characters proves, ultimately, to be far stronger than it seems.Posted at 11:47 PM to Almost Yogurt