Wandering aimlessly around her apartment in what seems like another unsatisfying day, Alice receives the world's most obscene phone call. Instead of being frightened or offended, the tantalizing words of this mysterious caller turns Alice on like never before. So much so that she has to find this person, who only identified himself as Mr. Smith. Alice believes Mr. Smith is the key to finding the satisfaction that she has been missing and in her attempt to find him, she will explore the seedy and sexy underbelly of the city.
Like any true red-blooded, sad, lonely…pathetic…man…I enjoy the sexploitation subgenre for what it is: a temporary distraction. And by temporary distraction, I mean…well, just that. In general the movies are rather bland and boring. If you've seen one then you've seen them all. For some of us, quiet literally. However I recently had the pleasure of watching Vinegar Syndrome's release of Nelson Lyon's 1971 movie, "The Telephone Book". An unexpected comedic and avant-garde take on the American sexploitation film that practically blew my mind.
And that's not a euphemism for anything.
Unless you want it to be.
A sex obsessed young woman by the name of Alice receives what can only be described as the world's most obscene phone call from a stranger, but…Alice liked it. She's never heard such words and vivid descriptions; it was poetic in its perversion. Alice finds herself so turned on by the words of this prank caller that she makes it her mission to find out who he is and hopefully find the sexual gratification that she so desperately needs. Her journey to find this 'Mr. Smith' takes her all across New York as she finds one deviant person after another who cannot bring her the same satisfaction that Mr. Smith has. And while she has no idea who he is, Mr. Smith seems to know who Alice is and where she is at, pulling her strings, guiding the young woman on her decadent journey through the sexuality of the 1970s.
"The Telephone Book" is something that I wish I had known about and had seen before I picked up Vinegar Syndrome's release. I certainly wish I would have know about it when Ronny and I made our "Sexploitation/Erotica List" because this movie would have been towards the top as one of the best. And that's an odd statement since "The Telephone Book" is more of a satire of both sexploitation and avant-garde films than anything else. Yet, it does both so well and makes for an amusing and tantalizing film that is making fun of these kind of movies.
I would dare to go so far as to say that "The Telephone Book" is the anti-sexploitation movie. It's a movie that can be seductive and alluring when it wants to be, but often does more to tease the audience. Much like what Matt Stone and Trey Parker did with their movie "Orgazmo" by having a man's bare ass fill the screen when there was impending female nudity. For "The Telephone Book", Alice's exploration of the sleazy cityscape (with the guiding hands of the mysterious Mr. Smith) often results in the young woman getting stuck in sexual predicaments. Often par-for-the-course in these kind of movies. Instead of steaming up the screen though, the situations have a tendency to turn into a more a comical direction that usually ends in frustration instead of release.
The audience ends up much like the manipulating psychiatrist who pays Alice in quarters to hear one of her lurid tales. However a jam in his change dispenser, leaves him coming up short of reaching a satisfying climax -- just when it feels like the scenes are about to get good, Nelson Lyon has an impeccable way of "jamming" up the scenes in the end. Yet it is done with such excellent comedic timing that it's no surprise that Mr. Lyon would go on to become a writer for the TV series "Saturday Night Live" in 1980.
What is surprising though is that "The Telephone Book" would fade away into obscurity for so many years. While most people want to watch filth without being mocked, "The Telephone Book" is so precise with its satire and seemingly effortless artistic flare, that it is genuinely better than the movies it's hilariously ribbing. I guess that's why the movie works as well as it does: it very easily could have been just another sleazy slice of exploitation cinema or a pretentious piece of 70s' avant-garde film. Instead it found the often absurdity of such movies and created an entertaining and hilarious film.