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DVD Offers Cell Phone Mini-Docu Special Feature

March 1, 2005

I rented the Larry Cohen-cowritten film Cellular over the weekend (released 2004). I will avoid reviewing it here, other than to say that it was an enjoyable (i.e., entertaining) 'twist' on the writer's previous conceptual and gimmicky 2003 phone film, Phone Booth.

The purpose of this posting, however, is to directionally point to one of the featurettes that accompanies the DVD as a special feature.

Rather than focus on a behind-the-scenes making-of-the-movie (there is another featurette for that), Celling Out is a 20-minute mini-documentary that traces the history of cell phones, from the handheld "brick" in the 1970s to the contemporary cell phones that weigh a mere few ounces. It looks at AT&T's initial development of a portable phone back in the '40s, and it addresses why they are actually called "cell" phones. It seems the type of documentary that would appear on The History Channel or Discovery.

Most of the interviews are with telecommunications engineers, who address various aspects of the cell phone treatise--historic, social, environmental, (a bit) bureaucratic.

Particularly funny (and especially interesting if one considers the further applied implication) is the consideration of conversations we now have but would otherwise not have if without the presence of cells phones. Often they are absurdly trivial: "Yeah, I just paid and am leaving the grocery store now; I am walking out the sliding door; I'm now in the parking lot; I am getting in my car; I will talk to you later."

One interviewee discusses how the cell phone has evolved (or devolved) from a device for communication to a catalystic form of/for entertainment, and how the cell phone in the future will absorb all other (communication) devices: laptop, palm pilot, even TV remote, etc.

The final few minutes of the documentary, however, begin making a hypothetical claim that I think is slightly extreme and outlandish: Sometime in the near future, cell phone technology will be embedded (cell phones literally embedded) under the skin behind the ear. Savvy? Hmm. I am skeptical.


All right, I'll succomb. Indulge me briefly as I discuss the feature film itself. Whereas Phone Booth, penned by the same screenwriter, was a thriller about a psychopath who threatens a high-class P.R. wannabe with death if he leaves a Manhattan phone booth, Cellular has a twenty-something beach boy desperately racing around Los Angeles as he tries to stay on his cell phone with a woman stranger who says she's been kidnapped.

What's particularly interesting, and also noted by critic Roger Ebert, is the number of ways in which cell phones were used in this thriller for functions other than making calls: ways the video and still camera functions preserved evidence; the phone maintained callback history; functioned as an emergency alarm system; conveyed unintended information; or even betrayed themselves.

And for plot's sake, how being put on hold, loss of battery power, or losing service in a stairwell, can all be a matter of life and death.

Also, as the phone played a central plot device in the thriller feature, I feel inclined to note that the phone used throughout is a Nokia 6600, which is even used for the end credits/title sequence--a significant product placement for Nokia.

While enjoyment of the feature film depends on personal taste, I'd not be suprised if the 20-minute mini-documentary featurette is of interest to anyone who visits this Web site.



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