Release Date(s)1975 (June 14, 2016)
Studio(s)United Artists (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C-
So much has been written and said about the New Hollywood movies of the late 1960s and 70s that it’s easy to feel like there are no discoveries from that era left to make. It’s generally accepted as truth that this was a golden era of smart, tough, uncompromising movies that challenged audiences and elevated filmmaking. These movies have been praised so much, you’d think a backlash would have kicked in by now. Surely some jaded, cynical troll out there thinks Chinatown and Taxi Driver aren’t really THAT great. Instead, they just keep looking for new superlatives to describe how perfect they are.
However, there was a handful of movies released back then that proved to be too much even for adventurous 70s moviegoers. Sometimes it was the content, sometimes it was the style and sometimes, as in the case of Inserts, it was a combination of everything. Written and directed by John Byrum, Inserts is an almost aggressively odd and off-putting movie that both critics and audiences roundly rejected at the time. But it’s far too singular a vision to dismiss out of hand.
Richard Dreyfuss stars as a fallen wunderkind filmmaker known only as Boy Wonder, hailed as a genius for his work in silent pictures but now disgraced and rejected for reasons that we’re never told. He lives like a hermit in his Hollywood mansion, drinking cognac by the gallon and shooting pornographic stag films financed by would-be tycoon Big Mac (Bob Hoskins). His stars include a drug-addicted former silent film star (Veronica Cartwright) and a lunkheaded wannabe with “star potential” called Rex, the Wonder Dog (Stephen Davies). The latest arrival to this insane asylum is Big Mac’s fiancée Miss Cake (Jessica Harper), another acting hopeful who isn’t as naïve and innocent as she seems.
Originally rated X (later revised to an NC-17), Inserts was hardly the first or only movie of the 70s to push the envelope of explicit sexuality on screen. It features full frontal male and female nudity and the sexual content is frequently violent and disturbing but it’s hardly unique in that respect, either. But the sexuality in Inserts feels more raw and intimate than in many other movies, in large part because the movie itself feels more theatrical than cinematic. The entire film takes place in real time on a single set. It’s hard to believe Inserts didn’t start life as a stage play before being filmed. The photographed-stage-production feel gives the movie a claustrophobic quality that in this case is thoroughly appropriate. You feel just as trapped in this house as any of the characters.
Inserts is a difficult movie to warm up to because it doesn’t play by any of the familiar “rules” of filmmaking. It feels like a play, not a movie. The rhythm of the dialogue is stilted and highly theatrical. Even its depiction of 1930s Hollywood is off, with lots of strangely inaccurate references and details. It’s tempting to try to view Boy Wonder as a surrogate for an actual filmmaker but that’s not the right approach. There really aren’t any that line up with these details. It’s better to view Inserts as taking place in an alternate universe Hollywood, one that transports the cynical, jaded and corrupted mores of the 70s back to the 30s. And even then, Inserts remains a bitter film that is not going to be to every taste.
The appreciative audience for Inserts is pretty small even by cult movie standards, making it an ideal candidate for release by Twilight Time. The movie looks quite good for the most part. There are a few black-and-white sequences intentionally made to look scratchier and more beat up than the rest of the film and the disc presents these little visual tricks nicely. There isn’t much to the mono audio track but it’s fine for what it is. Extra features are the usual fare provided by Twilight Time: an isolated music/effects track (kind of useless in this case, since the movie has precious little of either), the original trailer, a trailer for the 90th Anniversary of MGM celebrating all the movies MGM likes well enough to keep for themselves and a booklet with liner notes by TT’s Julie Kirgo, who is clearly not a fan of this movie.
Even those who dislike the movie have to concede that Inserts is far too well-made to be a complete failure. The performances by all five actors are outstanding, brave and thoroughly committed. The detailed production and costume design beautifully evokes the period on a relatively small budget. And John Byrum’s direction and Denys N. Coop’s cinematography never allow this to feel stage-bound or static. If you can find your way into its dark worldview and strange rhythms, you too may find Inserts to be one of the last great undiscovered movies of the 1970s.
- Bill Hunt