In the 1960s, Bell placed a phone booth in the Mojave Desert, at the intersection of two dirt roads, in order to serve nearby miners and other residents of the sparsely-populated area. In 1997, the phone became something of a phenomenon after its number appeared online, drawing regular callers and wandering pilgrims from around the world. Pacific Bell removed the phone in 2000. More detailed information may be found elsewhere.
In 2006, an independent film appeared that uses the Mojave Phone Booth to bring together four overlapping tales involving strained relationships, technological interfaces with human life, high-end prostitution, contemporary alienation, and alien contactees. It won numerous awards at film festivals, but received mixed mainstream reviews and limited distribution. A lot of the potential audience were left wondering if it was worth making the call.
Certainly, writer/director John Putch has crafted something a little different from typical Hollywood fare, though familiar to fans of indie cinema and readers of short fiction. The remote phone booth and other technological artifacts become motifs in four connected stories. Beth tries to resolve her relationship dilemma while solving a mysterious recurrent crime. Mary desperately needs money and sees a possible solution when she makes a surprising discovery. Richard finds the booth while dealing with desperate circumstances. Alex fears for her relationship when her partner, Glory, becomes convinced extra-terrestrials have made contact. All characters, meanwhile, have encounters with the mysterious "Greta," a frequent Mojave caller.
Mojave Phone Booth does an excellent job of portraying intimacy issues and alienation while remaining watchable. It reflects on how technology shapes our life and both serves and enables our personal problems. These characters use the deserted phone booth like so many use the ‘Net. The booth itself, most often seen against the desert night sky, cactus nearby, a worn car parked roadside, gives us a better icon of loneliness than the computer can. The film makes similar uses of fading technology, such as magnetic tape.
The stories vary in their quality. Alex and Glory's seems the most fleshed out. Beth's quest to solve the crime for which she feels targeted got my attention, but I suspect I'm not unique in having seen the twist coming early on. Richard's is barely a story at all, but does tie the others together.
The film suffers from some uneven writing, at turns brilliant and banal. The characters feel and talk too much alike each other; strong performances make some amends. Some viewers may roll their eyes at the occasionally ponderous reflections of the character, but in the end, I spent more time thinking about this film than most others I've watched this year.
Directed by John Putch.
Written by John Putch and Jerry Rapp
Annabeth Gish as Beth
Steve Guttenberg as Barry
Christine Elise as Alex
Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots as Mary
Joy Gohring as Glory
Jacleen Haber as Rachel
David DeLuise as Michael
Robert Romanus as Richard
Missi Pyle as Sarah
Kevin Rahm as Tim
Larry Poindexter as Darrell
Lee Wilkof as Supervisor Marv
Carl Mazzocone as Bartender Dan
Shani Wallis as Greta