Posted at 2:09 PM on November 7, 2005
by Euan Kerr
As we wander around with our cell phones glued to the side of our heads, it's easy to forget that life was not always thus. "Phantom of the Operator" showing Tuesday evening at "Get Real" provides an intriguing antidote to our telephonic amnesia.
Using old training films, newsreels and industrial footage, director Caroline Martel created an elegy to the women who formed the backbone of the North American telephone system: the operators.
Working for the phone company offered a whole new world of opportunities to women in the early 20th century. Huge numbers of women signed on to work as operators where they connected calls from their communities to the rest of the globe. At one point there was concern there weren't enough women in the entire US to keep up with the demand for operators.
The various phone companies apparently delighted in making films too, and we get to see the early almost military precision of the phone company evolve through the jaunty excitement of the mid-century to the cool datedness of the how we used to think the computer would change our world.
Martel weaves these images with an ethereal commentary, made all the more mysterious because it's in French. It's presented as a voice speaking for operators across the decades.
She describes them as the pioneers of globalization, linking the world. She also mourns the passing of the age of operators as humans are replaced by computers and recordings.
This is a strange little film. Some might question whether it is even a documentary. Whatever it is, it's an intriguing way to spend an hour.
Nice to see someone posting about the Film Festival. My wife and I hit three days of the festival this weekend and sat next to another couple doing the same. Some really wonderful movies - wish I didn't have a job to get in the way of the weekday films.