Richard Dreyfuss in a X-rated Film!?
Favorite Dialogue: "It's sure good to know, your rope can still rise"
Every now and then, Hollywood releases a film that is too risque for a R rating. Some films as Midnight Cowboy(1969) and Last Tango in Paris(1973) were films that were meant to get a R rating but got an X rating when they were released to theaters. (Today, both films now have a R rating.) Others films as Caligula (1980) and Showgirls (1995) were deliberately made to get no rating or a X rating or a NC-17 rating. Most films as American Pie(1998) or Basic Instinct(1992) are shot first and then edited down to get a R rating. The R rated cut is played in the theaters and then the filmmakers release the unedited (or unrated) cut onto DVD. In all three cases, the outcome of what rating the film got isn't so important. What is important is the fact that the film didn't get a R rating initially. That fact alone guarantees the film a lot of controversy and attention.
But not in Inserts' case.
Inserts(1974) received an X rating upon its initial release. Today, it is re rated to receive a NC-17. Like Boogie Nights (1997), it is about making porno films though the film itself is not a pornographic film. The reasons behind the rating is a bit unclear. It has a lot of full frontal nudity and simulated sex, which is natural, given the subject matter. However, Boogie Nights has its share of nudity and simulated sex as well. My guess is because the film either contains more seconds or minutes of nudity then Boogie Nights has.
Inserts must have been a real hard sell for its distributors. The X rating alone would guarantee that certain papers would not advertise the film nor would certain theaters play it. Not to mention, certain audience members were sure to stay away from it. Leading man Richard Dreyfuss had not reached the peak of his stardom. (Jaws and Close Encounters would be a few years later.) The film takes entirely place in Dreyfuss' mansion and relies more on dialogue than action, which makes the film feel more like a play. While the film is about making a porn film and contains a lot of nudity, there isn't enough on screen to satisfy someone who just wants to watch a porn film and get off on it. Finally, the film received mostly negative reviews when it was released.
The film disappeared in obscurity until it was released on DVD. Today, a small cult exists among those who've seen the film. Amazon.Com mentions that Inserts is the fifth highest selling DVD of all the films that Richard Dreyfuss has made.
What is this film?
The film is about Boy Wonder(Dreyfuss) who was a legendary silent film director. In the 30s, he is a director that found himself unemployed when talkies took over Hollywood. He is now reduced to making porn films. He lounges around in his decaying mansion wearing his robe and pajamas. He never goes outside. He is also unshaven, alcoholic and impotent.
Beyond meeting Boy Wonder, we meet his two leads for the current porn he is shooting. His female lead Harlene(Veronica Cartwright) is a former silent star who also found herself unemployed when talkies replaced silent films. This is no surprise as she has a voice that sounds like nails scratching on a blackboard. She also has a huge heroin problem. The male lead Rex(Stephen Davies), who works in the funeral parlor business when he doesn't do films, is dumb as a block of wood and has illusions of being a huge movie star one day.
His film is financed by Big Mac(Bob Hoskins), who's also planning to open a chain of gas stations and hamburger stands on a LA Freeway. (I wonder if the hamburger stand idea is why his character is called Big Mac.) We meet Big Mac as he arrives to the shooting of Boy Wonder's latest film with his fiancee Cathy Cake(Jessica Harper).
The shooting of the film goes well for the most part. Then everyone takes a break. Harlene goes upstairs to get a heroin fix and dies as result of an drug overdose. Knowing that Rex works in the funeral business, Big Mac convinces Rex to dispose of Harlene's corpse at Rex's funeral parlor.
This leaves Cathy and Boy Wonder alone with each other. (Big Mac doesn't mind leaving his girl alone with Boy Wonder, because he knows that Boy Wonder is impotent.) Cathy realizes the film is unfinished and what hasn't been shot are the "inserts"-close ups of genitals as well as shots showing penetration. She also senses that Boy Wonder has talent and with the right direction could make her into a star. She begin to convince Boy Wonder to finish the film using her for the "inserts." She also realizes that Boy Wonder's impotency is perhaps curable and that she might be the woman to help cure him of his problem.
Like Boogie Nights(1997), not only is the film about making porn, but it is also about an era. In this case, it is about the former silent generation who found themselves lost and forgotten in the 30s when silent films were no longer in vogue. There is also dialogue sprinkled about famous figures from the 20s to the 30s as Erich Von Stroheim and Wallace Reid. Even Clark Gable is mentioned here. Gable in this film is a unknown actor whose looking for Boy Wonder, because he believes Boy Wonder's directorial skills could make him a star. Gable knocks on the door of Boy Wonder's mansion, but Wonder doesn't answer the door.
However, both Inserts and Boogie Nights have different themes. Boogie Nights' usage of the 70 era and porn films is about many things: the rise and fall of stars, the "family" environment among the cast and crew, etc. Inserts' usage of 30s era and the porn films is mainly about Boy Wonder. The film he shoots is a reflection of his current state. His downward spiral from directing Hollywood films to porn films reflect the downward spiral of the man himself as well as the mansion he lives in. The camera he uses to shoot the film has to be manually cranked before it goes into action and inevitably winds down, thus reflecting his impotence. And while, he has no delusions that the film he is shooting is great art, he is determined to make it the best film he can make thus showing that Boy Wonder hasn't completely lost his directorial talent or interest in directing movies.
The film is also about the power plays between director and star. This happens when Cathy Cake offers to use herself for the "inserts" of the film. As she convinces and seduces Boy Wonder to finish the film, she is "directing" him. Likewise, when Boy Wonder turns on the camera to film her, he is "directing" her. Finally, when it comes to the "penetration" shot, it is not a case of mutual love, but a case of 2 parties who are both using each other. (She is using him to get into the movies, he is using her for his virility.) The scenes between Cathy Cake and Boy Wonder work well mainly due to the excellent performances of Richard Dreyfuss and Jessica Harper. They also have a great chemistry together and manage to make their "penetration" scene very erotic.
Dreyfuss and Harper are not the only good ones here. Bob Hoskins's performance here shows why he went on to bigger things after this. Veronica Cartwright and Stephen Davies are also fine as well.
I did mention that the film feels stagy due to the fact that the whole story takes place in Boy Wonder's mansion. Yet, at the same time, by staying in the mansion, the viewer gets a sense of Boy Wonder's agoraphobia. Also by staying in the apartment the viewer is reminded that Boy Wonder is shooting his porn film not on a set but in his bedroom instead.
This was the writer-director John Byrum's debut. Despite the promising start here, Byrum has never made a film as good as "Inserts" since then. Byrum went on to write the Diana Ross vehicle Mahogany (1975). He wrote and direct Bill Murray's misstep as a serious actor in The Razor's Edge(1984). He is also the author of the Gwyneth Paltrow turkey Duets(2000).