Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Expiration Watch: INSERTS

You'd never guess that Richard Dreyfuss' first project after shooting Jaws would have been an X-rated black comedy that takes place entirely on one set. But that's exactly what the film Inserts was when it briefly hit theaters in 1975. Also notable for giving Bob Hoskins his first film role, this daring little indiscretion (since downgraded to a more palatable NC-17) is a provocative timepiece that's Exhibit A for the types of extreme subject matter filmmakers and actors were game for in the first half of the 1970s.

The film itself takes place in the early 1930s, soon after sound has hit the movies and the resultant industry fallout is still being felt. One of the talkies' casualties is a young superstar director known only as Boy Wonder (Dreyfuss), an artiste of silent cinema who refused to compromise his vision for Hollywood's bean counters. Reduced to an impotent, disillusioned alcoholic afraid to leave his mansion--which itself will soon be paved over to make way for a freeway--the Boy Wonder now plies his trade shooting no-budget stag films financed by low-rent producer Big Mac (Hoskins). Aiding and abetting him are lead actress Harlene, a living kewpie doll played by a surprising (and surprisingly sexy) Veronica Cartwright, and a dense leading man referred to disparagingly as Rex, the Wonder Dog (Stephen Davies). Rounding out the quintet is Big Mac's "maybe fiancee," one Miss Cake, an aspiring actress (Jessica Harper) who may or may not be as clueless as she seems.

Angela Cartwright
Writer-director John Byrum has lots of fun exploiting this basic setup, showing the sometimes cartoon-like shenanigans behind the DIY making of a porn film involving a visionary director, his heroin-addicted leading lady, and their dimwit designated stud. The talk and situations are frank even by 1970s standards, and they get even franker when an overdose leads to Mac and Rex leaving to dispose of Harlene's body while the Boy Wonder and Miss Cake are left contemplating how far each is willing to go to complete the unfinished picture.

While stopping short of explicit sex, Inserts contains enough raunchy language and abundant nudity to offend the squeamish and delight the prurient. From today's perspective such rawness is hard to fathom given the rising profiles of actresses Veronica Cartwright--who would later appear in Alien and Invasion of the Body Snatchers--and Jessica Harper, the future star of Phantom of the Paradis, Suspiria, and Stardust Memories (among others). By virtue of its era, setting, and the sexual power games at hand, the film may appear blatantly misogynistic to some. But like the elusive Miss Cake, there's more here than meets the eye.

The Boy Wonder at work
Inserts isn't perfect. It suffers at times from the staginess that can beset this type of chamber piece (necessitated by the film's miniscule budget). And the dialogue--while mostly funny and sharp--doesn't always achieve the rhythms it's going for. But the performances go a long way toward selling it, especially Dreyfuss' (even if he's asked to take a few more dramatic swigs of liquor than needed). You might argue the story's resolution doesn't hit all its dramatic marks, but for sheer gusto and liveliness--not to mention basic novelty--Inserts is an entertaining trip to Hollywood's seamier side.

NOTE: This title expired on 5/1/13. If you're considering purchasing the DVD, please support this site by using the link below. Thanks.

No comments: