Remember when phones had cords?

Over the last couple of weeks, I have watched a few movies, or portions thereof, that take place in the past, and one thing struck me in all of them—the telephones.

Telephones play a HUGE role in our everyday lives! How many of us feel completely helpless when we realize we have left our phone at home, or even worse, the battery dies.

OH NO! What if something happens? I can’t reach anyone for at least another ten minutes. I can’t check my Facebook or Twitter feed. I can’t check-in on Foursquare, or find a number or address on Google. I can’t look up an actor’s name on IMBD or find the lyrics to a song with Shazam. Someone call 911! Oh dear, we can’t!

Of all the technology we have in our lives, phones are perhaps the most constantly and quickly changing. A few years ago, nobody ever heard of a cell phone. Now most of us use them every day, and can’t remember how we got along without them. Phones are important.

In the 1954 movie Dial M for Murder, Ray Milland plots the murder of his wife around the particular way she answers the telephone. The device in question is a big, black, block of a phone with a cloth-corded receiver and a rotary dial. I have seen and handled such phones from the 1940’s and ‘50’s and I can tell you they are heavy. Just the handset could do some damage if so employed. The image of Grace Kelly being strangled across her desk, reaching out for the dangling phone receiver is so compelling; it is the feature of most of the movie posters of that film.

The next film we watched was Super 8. I loved the movie, and I definitely recommend it. It takes place in 1979, with a plot revolving around a group of 12 to 15 year-olds. I remember ’79 pretty well. I was in junior high school—about the same age as the kids in this movie. The sets, the costumes and the props used were right on. (Right On!) As I watched the movie, I thought to myself, “We had a phone like that!” The chunky plastic phone in the picture had a long spiraled cord with the requisite kinks.

For the holiday, we watched Independence Day. Released in 1996, this movie features mobile phones. Jeff Goldblum contacts his ex-wife and triangulates her location in the White House using her cellular phone signal. It is very high-tech. Her cell phone isn’t a flip style or a smart phone like the ones we see all over these days. Her phone is a huge plastic brick with a fat antennae protruding from one end. The only reason it’s called a “mobile” phone is that it isn’t anchored to the wall with a cord.

Why do I go on about phones in movies? It’s much more than a history in communication. My reason is that with a simple prop like a telephone, an image on screen instantly teleports our imagination to another time and place. When that prop is something so integral to our daily lives, it becomes that much more effective.

By taking an audience to that place in time, the director evokes the associated emotions and uses them to connect the viewers to his message. It works. Watch and see.

Let me know what other props take you back. I’d love to hear from you!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!

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