Inserts: Richard Dreyfuss Directs A Porno

Quick, name a Richard Dreyfuss movie from 1975.

If you said Inserts, you, sir or madam, are a liar! You said Jaws, and rightly so, because nobody has ever heard of Inserts, or at least I never had, and I’ve heard of a lot of movies, and even if you had heard of it, even if you’d seen it, you’d have suspected it came to you in a half-remembered, vaguely long and uncomfortable dream, and wasn’t a movie at all. Who makes a movie like Inserts?

inserts-movie-poster-1976-1020203293Despite my handicap of never having heard of Inserts, I rented it and watched it anyhow, and boy howdy, Inserts is a mighty peculiar movie very unlike Jaws. I liked Jaws better.

It begins in some ‘70s hep cat’s den with an old ‘30s black and white stag film being screened on 16mm, the viewers in shadow but we hear their voices, someone bought the movie on Hollywood Blvd., cracks are made about its dated absurdities, and at its abrupt ending they shout, “Where’s the come shot?” over and over again. There is no come shot. There is only an empty bed.

The empty bed fades from black and white to color, and we pull back, past the lights, past a very old camera, into the spacious living room of a large house, and yes, we’re in the ‘30s now, and a bedraggled Richard Dreyfuss, wearing a bathrobe and drinking liberally from a bottle of cognac, plays the piano. A subtle running joke is that no matter how often Dreyfuss drinks from the bottle, and he drinks from it constantly, it never runs dry.

The director and his star

The director and his star

About twenty minutes later, should you find yourself watching Inserts, you will ask, is the entire movie going to unfold in this one room? Yes, it is. It plays like a play. It plays so much like a play that you will next say, not ask, this movie was obviously adapted from a play. You will be wrong.

I find it strange that Inserts is an original screenplay, written and directed by John Byrum, perhaps best known for writing and directing Bill Murray’s early, unsuccessful attempt at seriousness, The Razor’s Edge (’84), a movie you have heard of, but haven’t seen, because no one has ever sat through all of The Razor’s Edge.

Inserts is Byrum’s first movie, and why he wrote it as a play I don’t know. Its being a play has nothing to do with the story. Maybe for purposes of cost? Shot in a single room with five actors, it must have been cheap.

Setting the scene

Setting the scene

How much like a play is Inserts? You could adapt it for the stage by doing nothing to it whatsoever. The screenplay is the script. You’d need five actors, a bed, some lights, a movie camera, a piano, and a bottle of cognac. Go.

It’s not a bad play, er, movie. Byrum has a knack for snappy, theatrical dialogue, and cinematically, a knack for staging. He never runs out of nicely arranged tableaux. His actors do fine work, especially Dreyfuss, as the washed up Boy Wonder, one-time important director of silent films, now reduced to making stag films in his living room.

The producer drops by

The producer drops by

His leading lady, Harlene (Veronica Cartwright, forever Alien’s ill-fated Lambert in my world), arrives and talks up a storm about the new kid at Pathe, this handsome fella named Clark Gable, who thinks Boy Wonder is a genius, and what’s he up to these days, anyhow? Harlene was nice enough to tell him Boy Wonder’s got a six picture deal he’s shooting at home. Isn’t that swell?

Boy Wonder doesn’t care about some punk named Clark Gable. He wants to get the camera rolling on his latest movie. Harlene, to prepare, shoots up some heroin. Soon her leading man arrives, Rex (Stephen Davies), an obnoxious twit who thinks a big producer wants him for a real movie.

They shoot the scene we watched in the opening. Boy Wonder is indeed a brilliant director, able as he is to get these two loons screwing. Secretly watching is the producer, Big Mac (a young Bob Hoskins) and his girlfriend, Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), an innocent fascinated by the movies, even the seedy ones. Especially the seedy ones.

What did you two do?

What did you two do?

Being a play, at this point you can guess who’s going to be helping Boy Wonder film the needed “inserts” to finish the movie, the close-ups, the fabled come shot, and you might likewise assume that, on the way, we’ll be in for a lot of emotional baring of souls. And baring of breasts. Inserts was rated X originally, and remains NC-17, what with the pubic hair on display. You could lose your mind looking at that sort of thing, you’re not careful.

Like many a talky play, it goes on much longer than you wish it did, eventually building to a climax—ahem—that isn’t quite as dramatically satisfying as one would hope.

What is it about the decadence of the ‘20s and the sadness of the ‘30s that attracted so many filmmakers in the ‘70s? In their own decadence did they already feel the sad hangover to come? Just between ’73 and ’76 we had Paper Moon, The Sting, Chinatown, The Great Gatsby, The Fortune, At Long Last Love, Bound For Glory, and Nickelodeon. Well, three of those are by Peter Bogdanovich, so maybe he’s to blame for the obsession with Hollywood’s past.

Inserts doesn’t do much to evoke the past. It’s more interested in sexing it up with its naked bodies, blue language, and drug abuse. Which is at least somewhat entertaining. If only there’d been a mechanical shark…

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.