Midnight Confessions #01: Not your everyday pervert – Night Caller (1976)

    I had to interrupt and stop this conversation
    Your voice across the line gives me a strange sensation
    I’d like to talk when I can show you my affection

    (The Nerves – Hanging on the Telephone)

„Sandy, when’s the last time you ever had your pussy eaten?“

Anthony Spinelli’s 1976 effort „Night Caller“ sure wastes no time in establishing a somber mood: Starting with what would normally be considered to be among the most functional opening credits to ever grace the silver screen they are yet transformed in an exclusively aural miniature radio play of brooding desire. Over white font on black backdrop we get accustomed to the sound of an ever ringing phone, Richard Silsby’s highly simplistic drones and the rambling, weirdly accented obscenities a young man, Robert (David Book), for the very first time – impressions that will stick around for the remainder of some of the most unsettling 75 minutes in golden age pornography. Over time slowly turning into mere variables, subtle variations of despair betraying the inner workings of man who has got what society deems necessary for each and every fulfilled existence – copious amounts of sex – and is yet curiously incapable of leading a „normal“ life.

A man that is not your everyday pervert – he can get it up alright, is perfectly able to achieve that certain enslaving hight point commanding the life stories of so many pornographic film characters‘ fleeting existences, the money shot… and nevertheless disturbed to the bone, in accordance with a modern saying: fucked and still oversexed. Trapped in a suburban city cleverly condensed into just his miniscule flat as well as the one next door, which houses a couple whose only caring interactions seem to be sexual in nature. Spinelli, normally more akin to what is nowadays referred to as „couple friendly“ shots omitting the dreaded gynecological insights of quite a few contemporaries, goes all the way here. Ken Scudder’s asshole, his jiggling balls fill the screen while his dick glides in and out of Monique Starr – mechanically, over and over again, intercut: David Book sweating buckets, absendmindedly gazing into the fleshy abyss, peeping out of his window right through theirs – just like we are. Set up a tad like the cover of Pink Floyd’s „Ummagumma“ (1969) recurring peepholes like these make it perfectly clear that they are just an extension of our own nifty gateway, be it silver or TV screen, to smut. Soon their little party is over while Robert’s just begins – fantasizing about a mental image of the greedily devoured proceedings he strokes himself to an intense climax, overlayed excerpts of the lovemaking – ripped out of their original, hardly passed context by a fiendish cutter – lampshading the process of watching and breaking the fourth wall again.

In this „Night Caller“, like many of Spinelli’s decidedly darker mid-seventies films, is always a reflection on pornography, it’s effects on the viewer itself and a rather bleak one at that. No matter how long the peeping tom feasts his eyes, he never achieves fulfillment – immediately post orgasm he eagerly indulges in that other hobby of his, the one from the opening credits that seemed to pave the path to darkness. Ringing up the woman he has just finished masturbating to he speaks his mind no holds barred until she slams the receiver down. Starting this very second the phone will rarely remain quiet again. On and on it rings, serving as a connector between random encounters of the horizontal kind that Robert pries into, sometimes listening, sometimes participating, always horny. A symbol of modern day loneliness that Spinelli analysed many times in very different circumstances with „Night Caller“ acting almost as a single topic preliminary study for his mind-bogglingly complex hard art masterpiece „SexWorld“ (1978) in which telephone sex serves as a single, more melancholic than outright depressed vignette among dozens of sad urbanite outlets. And even in his later genre convention bendingly upbeat neo-noir „Dixie Ray Hollywood Star“ (1983) these implications remain the same when John Leslie’s needy secretary beams herself out of her trite work via a more classic dial plate. Desperate sexual gratification through the ages.

Between two strapped legs sits another phone – the reddest one this side of Mario Bava’s „Sei donne per l’assassino“ (1964) and not unimportantly the exact same model as the one in the neighbour’s home – holding out the prospect of gratification and denying it all the same. It rings, is picked up, a fast cut revealing the called who is identified as Robert’s unusually husky voiced lady friend Helen by their conversation but as Vernon von Bergdorfe in drag by Kenneth Jackson’s all-seing camera eye. A disparity that her nightly caller seems to be curiously unaware of – they without a doubt know each others voices but not a thing more, act as long-distance portrayals, fantasies born out of the night’s feverish cravings. Helen’s fake moustached „boyfriend“ (Enjil von Bergdorfe) seems to confirm this just as their subsequent lovemaking Bobby begs to revel in does: Identities slowly shift, the fake stache gets removed, the male Bergdorfe’s member unzipped – a reflection in the mirrored ceiling melts the two bodies together until all that’s left is an androgynous statue with long blonde hair and multiple limbs. In the moment of highest physical union Helen’s trembling hand disrupts the line. Don’t come any closer! Robert is left behind, suffering a mental breakdown, his orgasm ruined for good. Too much emotional involvement destroys all make believe, an idea that Spinelli would explore time and time again, perfected in that heartbreaking centerpiece of the above mentioned „SexWorld“. Two people hook up via phone, he, evidently an experienced soul mate of Robert’s, calls her by the wrong name, reducing the uncommonly caring soul to tears and condemning both of them to a solitary night. Phone sex it seems can take every direction you want it to take – at a price. But even that ceases to matter once you’re distraught enough.  

And so Robert’s disintegration is not an enduring one and while the gritty shenanigans turn into a short-lived, twisted rom-com he actually asks his object of desire out – sure, employing some sneaky schemes to warp things your way does not exactly count as chivalrous behavior, but this is still indicative of the ambivalent observations on male self-perception and socially expected attitudes running rampant here. For a limited time the seedy pervert turns into a quite lively big hitter. Immediately after securing a second date he effortlessly get’s it on with two lesbian friends of his and this time there’s no doubt they’ve all been there before. A man of many surprises he is. Is this the literal translation of an old male fantasy or just this, an illusion? There’ll be no answer, but a telling cut from the slowly fading smile of complete gratisfaction on his face to a couple of hands examining the newest sex ads in a newspaper shows him back at his game again without any insinuation of either satisfaction or elapsed time to be found. Small gestures, overall body postures – this is all Spinelli needs to put the peculiar living conditions of mid-seventies suburbia within grasp of even later-born generations. Remaining in the horizontal seems to be the only palpable way to achieve a remote kind of happiness. Two almost identical shots can throw vastly different shades on a person: Robert in his bed, making a call, sitting erect like the content of his pants, lost in the Academy ratio’s copious headroom, the vast empty spaces to the left and right and that peculiar circle of darkness present in all four edges while all light strangely seems to gather around him in circular fashion, encapsulating the man in a small bubble – his comfort zone if you like. His only friends: A towering frigde, paper towels on the wall, his phone, all suspiciously cold in color. Few seconds later, after getting through, he gently glides back until he rests in supine, a position that lends a far more natural feel the unchanged surroundings. The camera’s slight movement while following to left forced the décor into less protruding locations or entirely out of frame, the light seems to flow more evenly, owing this sudden change in characteristic solely to parts of Robert’s upper and lower body now extending into the shadows instead of a more evenly spread illumination. But having read the previous paragraph concerning the nature of this conversation you know only to well that this state of relaxation can’t last. Again and yet again the city dwellers are coerced into a vertical stance, the pursuit of never lasting carnal delights by their existential loneliness.

„Night Caller“ is a pornographic film particularly heavy on sex scenes, there’s no question about that. They’re not the closing to some charming vignettes, but the vignettes themselves as well as the driving forces behind them, they sharpen our understanding of the characters, are not the enjoyable result of said sharpening through exposition. And they make the film come full circle in an intense finale that acts as if to withhold the goods only to sock you in the gut. David Book and Monique Starr finally share a confined space, her flat, all for themselves and it’s going great! They have a drink, share a laugh, he even teaches her Anthony Quinn’s sirtaki from „Zorba the Greek“ (1964) while really coming to life and seeming to be devoid of worries for the first time in his cinematic life. Dancing sure is dramatically different from fucking in this film, two people entwined in the vertical, becoming the center of their empty rooms rather than a disturbing element in composition. What follows is the ultimate demonstration of Spinelli’s tight grip on classical filmmaking techniques Not following any real incentive besides the suddenly intensifying cacophony on the soundtrack Robert casually walks over to her telephone, identifies it as the culprit behind all the anxities she trustingly confided to him, asks about the caller’s tone and nonchalantly speaks just three of the most disturbingly precise, unforgettable lines in all pornographic cinema before the scene is turned upside down:

„How did you say he talked? … Something like: What I really want to do is to suck your ass, to eat your pussy.“

A disturbing contrast, a total breach of Starr’s and the viewer’s trust alike. This is not the direction things seemed to be headed and yet the only logical terminal point of a curve that aimed for what ultimately could not be. Starr’s subsequent rape at the hands of her inconspicuous neighbor is a far cry from the feasting explicitness of similiar roughies, who in turn seldom succeeded in setting the stage in such a sublime way. Which is just the right way to describe the way it all ends, forming a pair of bookends with the opening credits: Suburbia has seemingly reverted to it’s usual state, a phone rings, in the light Spinelli has finished shedding not in the dark, suddenly new sounds destroys the audiovisual order, a knock on the door, the disembodied warnings of a policeman, slowly the camera approaches Book’s face, freezing as it closes in.
The voice of child lacking any sense of guilt, of a man subconsciously breaking apart in a distant world that cares neither for him nor his victim cries out.

„Can you wait just a minute, I’m on the phone!“

Night Caller – USA 1976 – 75 minutes – Direction: Sam „Anthony Spinelli“ Weston (as „Wes Brown“) – Production: Sam „Anthony Spinelli“ Weston (as „Wes Brown“) – Screenplay: Dean Rogers – Cinematography: Kenneth Jackson – Editing: ? – Music: Richard Silsby – Cast: David Book, Monique Starr, Vernon von Bergdorfe (as „Cary Corman“), Enjil von Bergdorfe (as „Laura Bond“), Ken Scudder (as „Stuart Hemple“) and many more

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Samstag, Juni 30th, 2018 in den Kategorien Ältere Texte, André Malberg, Blog, Blogautoren, English, Filmbesprechungen, Midnight Confessions, other languages veröffentlicht. Sie können alle Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag über den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können diesen Beitrag kommentieren, oder einen Trackback von ihrer eigenen Seite setzen.

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