Thursday, January 3, 2013

Whoopi Goldberg in The Telephone (1988)

Some films are obscure for a reason. You're probably imagining the worst, but let me put your mind at ease. One of the myriad reasons a film can be obscure is miscategorization. This film is really more a victim of that than it is a poor film in and of itself (though it's not exactly a magnum opus either). Whoopi Goldberg plays Vashti Blue, an actress living in a cold water flat in a bad part of town (what town we're not quite sure). She's been left high and dry by her boyfriend and her sleazy agent (Elliott Gould), she's besieged by her hostile neighbor and she's hanging on by one thin thread in the form of her telephone. It serves as her lifeline, her link to the outside world and she uses it constantly. As the story unwinds we learn just how lost she is as she tries to make the best of a bad situation.
Wikipedia
This film - the directorial debut for Rip Torn - is one of those that you either love or hate. It's a brilliant showcase for Whoopi Goldberg's crazy characters and she has some nice moments in it. It was, however, neither a critical nor a commercial success and I think that was primarily because, as I said above, it was miscategorized. At the time it was released, Goldberg was becoming well known for her work as a comedian, and appearing in several big budget formula films like Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986) and Burgler (1987). This independent film was a departure in concept, but not in marketing. Like other flops, it was presented as a zany comedy, while it's really a psychological drama and a character study. Regardless of how you feel about the film, if it had been marketed more aptly and the timing of its release hadn't come when Goldberg was becoming known for more conventional fare, it might have been better received. Look for John Heard in a cameo toward the end.

The Telephone is available on VHS and DVD and can also be found in full on YouTube. The uploader has disabled embedding, so you'll have to go directly to the video here. Above is a clip from the film featuring several of Whoopi's characters uploaded by celestialboy80.

Obscurity factor: 8 (on DVD & YouTube, largely unknown)

9 comments:

  1. I remember very distinctly walking past this video in the store several times. The very cover alone leads you to expect some kind of HBO stand up special. Thanks for alleviating some of my curiosity (I always wondered: "What the heck is that?" Nice continued work on the blog, too.

    I'll have to check out the movie on Youtube.

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  3. I watched a lot of movies in the 80s, but I don't remember this one at all.

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  4. I see what people are saying. And I had to watch it twice because I fell asleep watching it the first time. But Even if it was a "horrible" movie, she did a great job keeping the secret to the end. I did not see it coming. But I am very surprised that this was made AFTER Jumping Jack Flash. The film did not live up to what you would expect her to be doing after such a successful film like Jumping Jack Flash. (and I think this was after the color purple too). I can see why she sued to not have it released, and it is amazing that this did not ruin her career.

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    1. You're RIGHT! Telephone DID come out after The Color Purple. I completely forgot about that. My theory is on that is bifurcated - 1) It's entirely possible that audiences only has interest in Ms. Goldberg's various comedic characters and had no desire to see her act in a poignant drama (The Color Purple), OR... 2) Audiences wanted to see The Color Purple to check out Oprah's acting chops.

      I'M here in an attempt to track down why Ms. Goldberg tried to prevent the release of Telephone _ Was it because it was panned by critics. or because it was ignored by viewing audiences? If you have any info or insight on this, I'd be interested in your reply.

      Cheers!

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  5. Hmm, I hadn't heard anything about the suit... that's interesting.

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  6. I love this film! I have no idea why Whoopi did not want it released. It was a very interesting and focused performance.

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    1. Because they edited it apart from her final cut! Same reason Louis CK didn't want Pootie Tang released or Wilde hated TMA. Not the same level work, but when someone edits something, they change it completely. That's movies 101. Even if they're still perfectly fine (as are all these examples), they will only see the flaws which made these films so reviled and how they could have improved them..."What might have been..."

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    2. Good insight. Another Wilde felt the same about The Importance of Being Earnest.

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