Calling Dirty Harry

It’s so funny, watching old films, where the cop or scamp, the young lover or schemer, pops into a phone booth and closes the folding glass door for privacy, to carry on a conversation with no third-party eavesdropping—except in rare cinematic moments when the movie audience is privy to personal secrets and private plots.
With the proliferation of cell phones it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone building a glass enclosure with a sliding door—a 3-D rectangle of silence—to contain such delicious private moments that require people to pause… stationary in time and place.
Instead, we hear it all. At least one-sided versions at Starbucks or Safeway, in doctor’s offices, restaurants, or airports. So, from a storytelling standpoint, you have to wonder about the loss of the Pivotal Phone-Booth Plot Point.
Superman spun booths for his quick-change act, and more than a few gangsters and secret paramours ducked inside to hatch nefarious plans or brainstorm brave rescues. Sure, Matt Damon runs, cell phone in hand, bullets flying or buildings exploding in “The Bourne Supremacy” and its sequel. Yet I can’t help but mourn the loss of scenes where unsuspecting protagonists glance up to see speeding cars bearing down on their would-be see-through coffin, only to escape at the last second by diving just beyond the scatter of shattered glass—a classic element of gritty film noir and 1970s’ Dirty Harry climactic moments.
The demise of the phone booth: A transient technology at best. Inefficient and inconvenient and insular.
Yet a character in itself—lonely, unforgiving, full of mystery and suspense.


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