Underground Film Journal

Posted In » Online Cinema

Short Film: Courtesy Call

By Mike Everleth ⋅ February 14, 2012

Are you prepared to die? Hey, it’s an honest question we should be asking ourselves everyday. So, why’s it so upsetting when a stranger randomly calls people to see if they’re prepared in Jim Haverkamp‘s wry short film Courtesy Call. An earnest man practices his delivery with each successive phone conversation while we get glimpses of the caller’s empty little world. Is he a madman? Or just a concerned citizen?

While the copyright listed at the end credits of this film say it was produced in 1997, still it feels much older as the visuals are stuffed with all kinds of anachronistic objects and products. The rotary phone he uses to make his calls. The Tab soda he drinks to whet his whistle. The old-fashioned alarm clock. The Yellow Pages.

Man dialing a rotary phone while drinking a Tab

It is through these objects that we develop our sense of the phone caller as they reveal much more than even the limited scenes of his face towards the end of the film. This is a man who has no use for a coaster, not caring about the water rings from his glass that will surely ruin his tabletop. The pile of Wrigley’s gum wrappers that are stuffed into his ashtray instead of the cigarettes he must have recently quit smoking. The sentimental bobbing-head duck toy and fisherman tableaux sculpture.

Has he just learned that his days are limited, hence the diet cola and chewing gum? Perhaps he is imparting the spiritual wisdom he only just acquired after learning his own tragic fate. He is a lonely man with nobody else to share his suffering with, so he’s resorted to calling random strangers from the phone book, not knowing if he’s going to get an abusive man, or a harried housewife, or a polite older woman on the other end.

If you want to see other films by Jim Haverkamp, check out his page on Vimeo. Also, in addition to making movies, Haverkamp runs the Strange Beauty Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.