September 15th, 2011 / 12:11 pm

Phone Quicky

In Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), Larry Lipton (Woody Allen) struggles to keep the telephone cord away from his face as his wife Carol Lipton (Diane Keaton) goes over the details of a recent neighbor’s death. The still does little to fully convey Larry’s frustration, but I found the best moment I could. I thought about how this humorous scene would not be possible now, as Carol would either be on her cell phone, or wireless landline — which sounds almost as ponderous as landmine. It seems so primitive to be tethered, as technology has convinced us we are free. Our cellular voices are sent to space and back, as if edited or revised by aliens. 1993 is hence immortalized, like “I will always love you,” “Creep,” and “Everybody Hurts,” which all came out the same year. I feel nostalgic towards technology quickly disgraced with time. The best moment in an early-90s movie is when someone picks up a phone the size of a toaster and puts it next to their face. HELLO? they always seem to say. In a convertible, they always seem to be driving. It isn’t his best movie, but this post is less about Woody Allen than the cultural traces we inadvertently leave behind. The way we talk. The way we sleep. Carol goes on to ask if Larry still finds her attractive, and he defensively mentions something about sex once a week, as an excuse. Some things are timeless.

We’re in Larry’s office (he’s an editor!) where he and writer Marcia Fox (Anjelica Houston) discuss her recent manuscript which Larry compliments by saying makes Finnegans Wake seem like airplane reading. (Woody Allen’s jokes are often implicit; the joke is on everyone who doesn’t understand the high-browy reference — which both annoys me yet makes me feel accepted. I guess the joke’s on me.) He gets a critical call from Carol re: the neighbor’s death-now-murder and the camera pans to Marcia, who calmly stares at Larry with self repose, in between restrained drags of her cigarette. This now is impossible: 99.8% of the time when I “have to” take a call, or attend to a text on my phone, the other who is in my company will casually, yet immediately, pick up her phone and begin interfacing with it. It is almost rude not to — though it feels kind of pathetic to just sit there like a dumbfuck staring at the other person who obviously has such a more complicated, enthralling, and captivating life, one which incurs the logistical severity of “sorry, I need to get this.” When I hear that, I always just smile and look at my friend’s face, the way Marcia Fox would have, and enjoy the pensive strained countenance of someone who knows they are being rude. Of standard excuses “work,” “family,” “crazy ex,” “cat has a tumor,” “roommate situation,” “you don’t wanna know,” I would rather she simply lean in and ask why I didn’t check for facebook notifications, to which I would have answered, “oh, such mild good news dims in comparison to you.” And I would see the outline of her jaw supporting a smile, in a dark bar lit by her phone below, that rare extended moment of blueish light before it goes to sleep.


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  1. Merwou

      It’s like watching people be flippant about theirs jobs in ‘she-devil’. Great post chen

  2. M. Kitchell

      Anjelica Houston’s countenance has inspired me to, from this point on, simply stare at people when they take a call in my presence.

  3. DJ Berndt

      I saw that Manhattan Murder Mystery was on Netflix the other day, now I’m going to have to re-watch it. this is like the fourth of fifth time I’ve read a Jimmy Chen article and had an urge to re-watch a Woody Allen film.

  4. Leapsloth14

      Any Woody Allen romantic comedy destroys the rubbish of today. 

  5. Werdfert

      In Annie Hall, Tony Roberts’ character is constantly making pay phone calls updating people on where he will be next. It made me wonder how people survived before cell phones.

  6. Anonymous
  7. zhutou3