Here’s a sign of the times. I was watching Walter Hill’s 1978 heist film The Driver the other day; part of my ongoing fascination with Edgar Wright’s wonderful Baby Driver from this year. I was watching the film in bed on Saturday morning, and my four-year-old jumped into bed and started watching with me.
There’s a scene towards the end of the picture where Ryan O’Neal’s character steps into a phone-box in the train station to make a short call.
“Look – he’s getting into a lift,” Isobel said.
“No,” I said. “It’s a phone-box. He wants to call somebody.”
Thus began a short conversation around the wonders of modern technology, and the fact that in 1978 when you’re made arrangements with criminals, you couldn’t just call them on your Samsung Galaxy. She thought it was a lift / elevator simply because of its shape and the fact that he stepped inside it.
The simple phone-box has all but disappeared from our screens this century; it made a final death rattle in Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth from 2002. That film seemed like the last preposterous variation on the ‘peril within a space’ movie trope kicked off by 1987’s Die Hard (peril in a building), and copied by 1992’s Under Seige (peril on a boat), 1994’s Speed (peril on a bus) and countless others since.
Try and think of the last time a character in a film – set in the present day – made a call in a phone-box. It’s virtually impossible, simply because it just doesn’t happen anymore. But before the advent of cheap mobile phones around the turn of the century, it was commonplace.
The phone-box used to represent a form of safety. I’ll never forget the opening credits to television’s The Equalizer, when the panicked woman ran from an unseen antagonist into the illuminated security of a phone-box. And what would Bill & Ted have used as a time-travelling device if phone-boxes weren’t around? (We may find out the answer to that question if the long-rumoured third film ever gets made – perhaps it will be a smart-phone after all).
I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Bob James, but it saves me writing about those horrible photos of him inside the record’s gatefold cover.
Hidden Gem: The Steamin’ Feeling