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Film: Cell Phones and the Cinema

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES online July 2014

Cell phones and Cinema

“There’s nothing worse for plots than cell phones” - this from a novelist, among others, who were queried about the effects of cyberspace on their writing (New York Times 11/13.) You can see how this works. The ubiquity of cell phones can’t be ignored in modern novels, certainly not in detective and mystery stories, romance triangles and the like. If everyone of your characters packs a cell phone, well they’re going to use them and there goes your story. And, of course, this sort of thing is going to show up in the cinema. Now telephones had always played a small roles in movies- criminals found them useful in conducting business as kidnapping and general threatening, teenagers were often shown gossiping on phones and even a ringing but unanswered phone could serve in building tension. Still for the most part it is the actors and their motivations that lead the story and not the telephone company. Yet I notice that this pervasive presence of the cell phone contemporary life is subtly infiltrating the traditional priorities of movie making. In short cell phone have begun to assume dramatic dominance. The first clue to what was going on I found in the cable series “The Killing.” Filmed in Seattle it seems that it never stops raining there and I thought perhaps that was the reason the residents spoke only in short, staccato sentences and always on cell phones. The ringing of these phones did soften the constant patter of dripping rain. Conditioned by earlier film viewing I was accustomed to believe that actors reaching suddenly beneath clothing would pull out a gun- you know the rest. But no, in Seattle all this gesture brings up is a cell phone, which is pretty disappointing, I can tell you. It doesn’t end here though for I next came up against the 2012 “If I were You,” an amusing film nicely acted by Marcia Gay Harden. Here is a story of infidelity, mistaken identity, betrayal, double-crosses, lies, deceits galore and none of these activities are possible without the omnipresent cell phone. Why the absurdity of the plot is justified by this devilish device. In a cunning irony the movie ends with an amateur theater company performing Shakespeare’s King Lear to demonstrate just how slow, pretentious and unrewarding is face-to-face social communication without cell phones. We will see more of this in our films- you can bet on that.

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