I remember writing a paper back in graduate school about the introduction of sound in motion pictures and how it forever changed the industry. Most rightfully point to the beginning of sound as the greatest advent to ever hit the medium. However not many people realize how it sent an endless amount of artists out the door career-wise. From actors whose voices couldn’t project, to writers who didn’t have a knack for dialogue, to directors who simply didn’t know how to capture the essence of images and meld it with sound, those who were unable to adapt to what were known as “talkies” were quickly and unceremoniously shown the door. It is for them that the tragic, yet compelling Inserts exists.
Inserts takes place in the decaying mansion of a director known simply as the “boy wonder” (Richard Dreyfuss). Once considered one of cinema’s top filmmakers, the boy wonder has seen his career all but vanish with the introduction of talkies, which have rendered him and many other of his peers as irrelevant in the new Hollywood of the 1930s. Reduced to shooting cheap porn films in his living room featuring the drug-addicted Harlene (Veronica Cartwright), the Hollywood hopeful Rex (Stephen Davies), and funded by the larger than life Big Mac (Bob Hoskins), the film follows the boy wonder as he reflects on the events that led him to his present state.
As a Hollywood film, Inserts fits perfectly alongside other tales featuring industry sob stories full of people who were once somebody, but who have since lost their former glory. All of this is accentuated perfectly by the boy wonder’s sad state with regard to what he’s lost. From the beginning, the film’s sweet, melancholic music and run-down mansion setting set the tone for what kind of dark experience Inserts will be. This is a story about both lost dreams and lively demons. It is also about the lengths people will go to in order to be in the movies. That notion proves to be as old as time itself, especially in the desperation and shameless way of thinking attached to it. There’s plenty of name dropping going on here with Mary Pickford and Clark Gable being mentioned on more than one occasion, giving the audience a true feel for the film’s time and place. At the heart of Inserts, however, is an extremely tragic tale about the human and emotional toll the movie business takes on those who crave it more than life.
Inserts is another example of the far-reaching exploration of ’70s cinematic storytelling and just how bold and innovative it had become, going beyond most limitations and boundaries. The film is notable for being one of the first major titles which went from initially receiving an X rating to an NC-17 one. While the film would have been given a “hard R” today, it’s wildly upfront depiction of sex and drug usage still proves shocking. Beyond that, Inserts is a great example of an intimate, character-driven film. Because of the film’s content, Insert’s budget was certainly meager, which may account for it being shot in real time, but is definitely in keeping with the decade’s free-flowing feel, which it maintains throughout. There’s an undeniable play-like sense to Inserts as well, which features numerous stretches with characters exchanging large amounts of well-written dialogue, such as when the boy wonder describes the state of his current life and career by stating, “The trick is not to look at it at all, but simply limp to the edge of patience and let yourself fall.”
Dreyfuss (who was reportedly high during the entire making of the film) brings his usual winning abilities to his role, once again showing how he was one of the decade’s most versatile and compulsively watchable actors. Cartwright meanwhile proves she’s one of the greatest character actresses of all time. Her carefree portrayal of Harlene is as devastating as they come in what is her greatest screen performance. Davies and Jessica Harper (as Big Mac’s curious girlfriend) do great work in their complex roles, while Hoskins, in his film debut, is expectedly fantastic.
At times, Inserts almost feels like the delinquent nephew of Sunset Boulevard, with faded careers and lost dreams of fame scattered throughout its plot. The blending of raw ’70s filmmaking mixed with the old Hollywood background ensures that Inserts is never anything but dynamic, if not emotionally painful. Watching the two separate and distinct eras of Hollywood at play here makes for an unforgettable story about how it changes those who enter into that world and what becomes of them after tinsel town has forgotten they exist.
Inserts is now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.