Nether Regions 03.01.11: 1-900
Posted by Chad Webb on 03.01.2011
This week we explore one of the many rarities from the late Theo van Gogh. 1-900 is about a relationship formed by phone sex...
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
Starring: Ariane Schluter and Ad Kempen Directed By: Theo van Gogh Written By: Johan Doesburg Running Time: 77 minutes Release Date: September 8, 1995 Missing Since: 2000 Existing Formats:VHS and Out of Print DVD Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Rare
Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker and writer, was the distant relative of famed painter Vincent van Gogh. He was a columnist with strong political views, particularly those critical of Islam. The last film he made was called Submission, which had messages against Islam. Because of this, Theo was assassinated on November 2nd, 2004. Theo was much more well known on foreign soil than he ever was in the United States. If people in America know his name, chances are it is because of his death. To make that tragic incident even worse, 95% of Theo's work is still not available in the US. Theo was a controversial figure who enjoyed voicing his political beliefs, and therefore had to be aware of the danger he put himself in on a daily basis.
This week, we'll examine one of his rare films, 1-900, which carries the tagline "Sex Without Hangups." It is one of the few Theo van Gogh films that did receive a DVD release, but it is now out of print. The screenplay was written by Johan Doesburg, which was based on his play, with additional dialogue provided by the two stars. It focuses on two people, Sarah who is 30, and Wilbert, who is 32. Sarah is a knowledgeable single woman with a fascination for art. She also has an affinity for phone sex, and places an ad inviting replies from men. Wilbert, a middle-aged architect, answers this and calls himself Thomas, and the two take a liking to each other. This leads to a "phone date" once a week. They are not to know details about each other's life, such as last names or addresses, but that doesn't quite go as planned. He pressures her for personal information, while she prefers to keep things on a fantasy basis. 1-900 follows their phone conversations as Sarah and Wilbert get to know each other better.
At this point, I will mention that anyone who did not discover Theo van Gogh because of his death, probably heard his name associated with the American remakes of two of his pictures. In 2007, Steve Buscemi wrote, directed, and starred in Theo's Interview with Sienna Miller from 2003, which also concentrated on two people. In 2009, Blind Date was released, which was co-written and directed by Stanley Tucci, who also starred with Patricia Clarkson. This was based on Theo's award-winning 1996 film of the same name. With 1-900, they form a kind of unconnected trilogy in that there are only two principle characters. The remakes were meant as opportunities for certain actors to direct a film and to honor Theo. 1-900 was slated for the remake treatment as well, and originally, John Turturro was going to stand at the helm, but he is only starring at this point, and the film carries the title Somewhere Tonight. It should see a release soon.
American audiences have not taken to these films, whether it be the original or the remake. If you tend to stick to mainstream efforts, you might watch 1-900 expecting the storyline to drift into standard thriller territory. That is not what happens here. These are best observed as character studies; analyzing how two people interact with one another, in this case over the phone. The tension definitely increases, but there is no shocking revelation, rather a cool twist. 1-900 is about how a relationship sprouts from a fetish, and goes onto look what it means to lie and tell the truth. This is actually the first Theo van Gogh film I've seen. Previously, I enjoyed the remakes of Interview and Blind Date, but the originals are extremely hard to find. Like 1-900, they are roughly 2 1/2 - 3 star films. Not great, but well worth seeing.
What makes 1-900 stand out is the bold, vulgar language. We are dealing with phone sex after all, so be prepared for lots of that sort of talk, along with plenty of masturbation. There is no nudity however, so don't expect an NC-17 type of event. This literally is just sporadic conversations, and could have worked almost just as well via audio, but van Gogh changes up the scenery with each phone call. His direction never gets overly fancy, but he does move the camera, mainly to accentuate what the character is saying. This about the dialogue, so van Gogh doesn't wish to draw attention to himself. He manages to elevate the suspense without displaying any graphic content, which is commendable. After Sarah and Wilbert (Thomas) become better acquainted, the plot really begins to get interesting. Take for instance when Sarah tells a story about having intimate contact with another woman, which Thomas considers being unfaithful, or when he learns of her last name inadvertently.
Ariane Schluter and Ad van Kempen give excellent performances that are grounded and honest. Ad van Kempen's smooth path from average architect to creep is absorbing, and Schluter is solid as a man who wants pleasure out of these exchanges above all else. Both are competent at conveying the characters as individuals as opposed to people we look down on because they like phone sex. Theo van Gogh also makes sure that the audience understands that these two have no idea what the other looks like, which affords the material with a sense of immediacy and occasional panic. I'm not sure if Mr. van Gogh was aiming to arouse the viewer with the erotic phone play, but if that was the goal, 1-900 is a failure. While I would not rave about it, I appreciated the character development more than the fury of the masturbation.
There are two problems that drag 1-900 down. One is the amount of actual "phone sex." Obviously this was the point of their relationship, but when the majority of the film and story progression consists of phone sex, it gets old. Some might consider those scenes outrageous or scandalous, but I got bored of them eventually. The bigger flaw is the ending which, while intriguing, cuts of the substance off when it really began to build momentum and heat up. Still, van Gogh is consistent with his approach, and 1-900 offers a fairly engrossing glimpse into a unique relationship.
Out of print DVDs of 1-900 are not hard to locate. Out of all the films on Theo van Gogh's resume, it is easier to find than you might expect. I doubt we will see future releases of the trilogy I mentioned above unless Criterion slaps them in an Eclipse Series box set. The remakes pretty much attract most of the audience they would have been aiming for, so whoever holds the rights might say "Why bother?" But who knows, weirder things have happened.
Final Rating = 6.5/10.0
Couldn't find the trailer or any clips from the original, so below is the trailer for the upcoming remake I mentioned, called Somewhere Tonight. It looks to be more of a comedy and only loosely keeps the same plot.
- The Oscars aired this past Sunday. Make sure to check out the Post-Oscar roundtable, which should be up tomorrow.
- I have been surging through TV shows lately. I'm fully caught up on Archer, a new favorite show of mine. I finished two season of Breaking Bad, and need to see the third one soon somehow. It has yet to be released on DVD. Since I have Justified on Blu-Ray, I have been slowly working my way through that, and now I am starting Mad Men. All the shows I mentioned are ones I found entertaining in various ways.
- I figured I would listen to Mumford & Sons since lots of people seem to be recommending them lately. They're good, but need to develop some versatility yet. I would urge people to listen to The Decemberists if they enjoy that group. I finally listened to Michael Jackson's post-humous Michael, and wow, he never would have approved that for release. Now, I don't get how people thought it wasn't his voice. It's him, but the tracks are incredibly generic, and/or sound like other hits he's had. The guests offer nothing, and I would only recommend the track "Monster", if anything. I also listened to PJ Harvey's new album Let England Shake, which was ok. Generally not a fan of hers, but this had its moments. Iron & Wine's new effort Kiss Each other Clean was quite solid all around as well. Next on my slate is the new Drive-By Truckers CD.
- I recently saw the Broadway production of La Cage aux Folles starring the writer himself Harvey Fierstein and Jeffrey Tambor. It was satisfactory overall. The songs really fit the story well, but Fierstein and Tambor can't sing a lick. Fierstein is famous in movies for his bit part as Robin Williams' brother in Mrs. Doubtfire. He has quite the raspy voice. There was a host in drag who was entertaining the crowd before the show by asking who was gay, who has an anniversary, etc. All in all, the cast was very dedicated it seemed.
- I also finally got around to looking at the "Weimar Cinema, 1919-1933: Daydreams and Nightmares" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. All the snow storms prevented me from getting there earlier and possibly catching a screening of a rare film, but oh well. The posters, lithographs, and various pictures were terrific to observe. Among the artwork of films featured were classics like Fritz Lang's M and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari just to name a few.