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July 26, 2016

Movie Review: Inserts (1975)

Directed by John Byrum

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

In a crumbling Hollywood mansion at the height of the Depression, “Boy Wonder” (Richard Dreyfuss, fresh from Jaws that same year) a faded silent movie director who fell by the wayside with the advent of sound is grinding out porno loops to make ends meet. Alcoholic, slovenly and impotent, Boy Wonder's social circle includes former silent movie star Harlene (Veronica Cartwright, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) with a taste for smack; Rex, the Wonder Dog (Stephen Davies) his stud-for-hire not above paying lip service to those who promise him a part in pictures; Big Mac (a very young and slender Bob Hoskins), his tyrannical producer, and Miss Cake (Jessica Harper, Suspiria) a fresh-faced college girl who knows far more than she lets on.

It's a disastrous morning. Harlene dies abruptly of a heroin overdose before Dreyfus can administer the hardcore footage needed for his opus (the “inserts” of the title). While Big Mac and Rex dispose of Harlene's body, Miss Cake entices Boy Wonder to “put her in the movies.” The second hour of this two-hour film is devoted exclusively to Dreyfus and Harper's bantering, with Harper breaking a world record for continuous nudity by a mainstream actress. Everything ends horribly, with Boy Wonder literally failing to answer the knock upon the door to revamp his career.

As this wholesome synopsis suggests, Inserts was never really intended to be a barn burner with the popular movie-going public. As Julie Kirgo points out in her liner notes for this Twilight Time Blu-Ray release, limited to 3,000 copies, Inserts belongs to the sub-genre of self-loathing Hollywood epics that include such titles as Sunset Boulevard, The Day of the Locust and The Last Tycoon. The motion picture industry, these films proclaim, take the stuff of dreams and turn them into nightmares that prey upon the naïve and innocent.

The motion picture itself – Inserts, suffered a fate that  only Hollywood could dish out. Completed in 1975, after Dreyfuss completed Jaws – he said that he did the film to distance himself from such a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, go figure – Inserts sat on the shelf for two years and was given a limited release, slapped with an “X” rating. The film retains an NC-17 rating today. Rest assured, there's nothing the slightest bit erotic about Inserts. The porno film within the film lies uncomfortably close to a “Snuff film,” with Harlene being manhandled and nearly strangled by Rex. The malaise is thick and palpable throughout. The stuff that fuels this film's narrative has very little to do with sex and erotic fulfillment, boiling down to a war between the sexes. Audiences who lined up to see a hopefully snarky bit of naughtiness set in the 1930's were soundly turned off.  Inserts' thin plot does pay off with a cathartic ending, but it's not possible to leave this film's cramped universe – a mammoth set constructed on British sound stages that plays out in real time, with a slap and the tickle.

Very few extras this time around, this Twilight Time release has English subtitles for the hard of hearing and the film's original theatrical trailer. Inserts remains an interesting curiosity, a grimly uncompromising project on the fragility of dreams and the high cost involved in recording them for the whir of the motion picture camera. 

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