Inserts (1975) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
In reviewing all the DVD releases each week, I have
had the privilege of rewatching many of the classics from the late
sixties and early seventies, and I have been also able to watch some
of the forgotten films of that era for the first time. It has been
an edifying process, because I have finally been able to see those films
with my eyes liberated from the cultural blinders of those times,
have realized that the films of the early 1970s are not often good.
In fact, they are almost all failures. Many films which I loved back
then now seem clumsy or pretentious. Many others seem to be
prisoners of the 70s zeitgeist and the fashionable counter-cultural
ethos, and almost all of them seem quaint and naive and totally one-dimensional. It often embarrasses me to think how much I once loved
those films, just as it sometimes embarrasses me to think about some
of the things I believed and did in those reckless, free-thinking
And yet, although I have concluded that the films of the 1970s were nowhere near as good as I remembered them, I have also come to realize that I miss the era even more than I ever dreamed. Looking back from today's more Puritanical climate, it is refreshing to see the sexual and conceptual freedom in those films. Looking back from today's era of cookie-cutter films designed by marketing committees, it gives me the ultimate nostalgic pleasure to go back and wallow in an era when no popular films had a number in the title. In fact, the spirit of individuality was embedded so deeply into the consciousness of that era that it is almost impossible to picture the era's signature films having sequels. Harold and Maude II? Easy Rider 2? The lionization of individuality in those years really represented an oasis of original, personal filmmaking in between two cinema deserts: the last gasp of the studio system in the early sixties, and the onset of the blockbuster mentality in the late seventies. Those movies from 1967 to 1975 may not often have been good, but they were often passionate and inventive. Their most appealing characteristic was that they were not corporate. Many of the films of that era expressed the feelings and bared the creative souls of the auteurs. They were made to please their creators, as opposed to the films of the most recent era, which seem to be made entirely to please popcorn-oriented audiences. Yes, the films of that era were often failures tainted by closed-mindedness, amateurishness and pretension, but they were truly noble failures. As opposed to most of today's popular films, they at least aspired to be something: statements, or artistic achievements, or just quirky personal expressions. They were daring, they were provocative, and they were unique. Though they were not so very good, I miss them.
Which brings us to Inserts, which may be a perfect symbol for that entire age. Its star, Richard Dreyfuss, has two 1975 films on his IMDb resume, and the difference between them truly represents the passing of eras. In turns quirky, erotic, poetic, sleazy and articulate, Inserts represents the ultimate in provocative, non-commercial early seventies fare - a film in which mainstream female stars not only refer to their "cunts", but actually expose them on camera. The other film Dreyfuss made that year is one with which we are all familiar, because Jaws is considered the grandfather of the summer blockbuster, the very symbol of corporate filmmaking, the film which not only dominated the 1975 box office with a total which was then a record, but did so in convincing fashion, taking in more than the 1974 and 1976 winners added together! Jaws was not just a movie, but a cultural phenomenon which spawned amusement park exhibitions and several sequels. Inserts, on the other hand, inspired no sequels and was barely released. And I'll guaran-damn-tee you there ain't gonna be no Inserts exhibition at the Universal Studios Theme Park.
Inserts is basically a two act play which takes place entirely on a single set - the "home studio" of a once successful silent film director who fell upon hard times when he was unable to adapt to the industry's shift to sound films. This is not an original premise, but this film is definitely not "Singin' in the Rain," as you will quickly determine during the opening credits when you see a naked Veronica Cartwright spreading her legs on camera. Yes, this is the same Veronica Cartwright who once played Ethel Kennedy, and the same Cartwright you saw in The Right Stuff and Aliens, except you didn't see quite as much of her there as you are going to see here, because this is a movie which takes place inside the early world of porno films. The director (Richard Dreyfuss playing a character called "Boy Wonder") is now an impotent, agoraphobic, and alcoholic stumblebum using the last vestiges of his brilliance to make silent porno reels for the mob. Cartwright plays a former silent film starlet who was unable to cross over to talkies, and has now joined her former mentor in the porn world. The male star is simply called Rex the Wonder Horse, an aspiring actor like just about everyone else in Hollywood, but currently paying the bills as a porn star by day, a gravedigger by night.
The first act of the film basically consists of Dreyfuss's attempts to get his porn film made despite his junkie female star, his unmotivated and simple-minded male star, and the sudden appearance of the mob boss (Bob Hoskins in his early 30s, near the beginning of his career), who is accompanied by his ostensibly virginal girlfriend. The act basically ends with the death of the female star from an overdose, after which the gravedigger and the mob boss disappear to dispose of the body, leaving the washed-up alkie porn director with the virginal Midwestern girlfriend (Jessica Harper).
The second act is virtually a self-contained play on its own, as the two remaining characters, comparably manipulative and intelligent people, banter and engage in verbal foreplay, then decide that the two of them could finish the porn film despite the fact that the leading lady has died, simply by virtue of the fact that the girl from Chicago has a similar body to the deceased star, and can therefore supply body parts for close-ups. (These are the "inserts" of the title.) The great dramatic challenge is for the impotent Dreyfuss to somehow supply the "cum shot."
The truly astounding element of the film is that the all of the explicit action is shot directly, showing just about everything on camera except erections and penetration. The characters talk dirty, Rex the Wonder Dog flashes his manhood, Veronica Cartwright flashes her womanhood wide open, and Jessica Harper is undressed for just about the last hour of the film (although she never does show the "cunt" she talks about so often.) The film was rated X in its day, and the DVD is rated NC-17. R-rated versions have also been available on VHS from time to time. Beware of those. The full running time is 115 minutes. The R-rated version is 20-30 minutes shorter. I have not seen the expurgated version, but it could not be any good, because the dialogue continues during the sex scenes. Without the sex scenes, the true value of the film would be lost because the words spoken at mid-thrust provide an important element of the character development, the wit, and the offbeat eroticism of the film.
The dialogue is written entirely in the appropriate slang from the early 1930s, although the Boy Wonder is obviously a self-styled intellectual who uses plenty of poetic phrases and fancy vocabulary. The banter is witty, and the characters exit and enter dramatically, as if the film really were a 1930s stage play rather than a 1970s film. The cast handles the stylized dialogue admirably and, despite the single set, the entire film has a lot of energy and exhibits a lot of intelligence. It plays out as if Eugene O'Neill had written an erotic play about the people who make porno reels. The final mutual seduction between Dreyfuss and Harper builds and builds to a ... well, I guess the word is "climax," in more senses than one ...
... all of which made me wonder who the film was made for, until I realized that I am now thinking like a person from the year 2005. Back in 1975, films were not made "for" anyone - they were made "by" someone who was true to his vision and hoped there was a large enough audience of like-minded individuals. As it turns out, there was no audience for Inserts. Except me. Yes, I admit that not many people will want to see Richard Dreyfuss in an X-rated film with aspirations to be an Oscar Wilde play but, dammit, it worked for me. I found the film very funny at times, and both intelligent and erotic. You may feel the same way.
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