Twilight Time: Inserts (1975) - Reviewed

Before Academy Award winning actor Richard Dreyfuss achieved Blockbuster fame with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Brooklyn based actor took on the last role we’d ever expect of him: that of a down-on-his-luck, perpetually intoxicated pornographer.  In the writing-directing debut of British The Razor’s Edge director John Byrum, what ultimately became the X rated Inserts concerned a time when actors and directors from the silent era unable to transition to the sound era of Hollywood movies instead turned to making stag films.  Referring to the technique and mechanics of the hardcore, Inserts is a fascinating yet virtually unseen tragedy which now upon being re-rated NC-17 comes to blu ray through the limited edition releasing series Twilight Time.

Alongside Dreyfuss is a spellbinding squeaky voiced Veronica Cartwright as a former silent film starlet turned heroin addicted porn actress, Stephen Davies as a dimwitted yet rapey co-star, Bob Hoskins in his big screen debut as a shady drug dealing porn producer and wannabe actress Jessica Harper (Suspiria) at his side, Inserts takes on the minimalist form of a stage play with a greater emphasis on dialogue than carnality.  Unlike the colorful shenanigans of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Inserts is a strongly acted, bittersweet and thoroughly downbeat viewing experience that can’t help but elicit a modicum of sympathy for the fallen bodies of a bygone era of moviemaking. 

Made on a miniscule budget in real time on one closed set using only the aforementioned-five actors in the era of director-driven character studies before Heaven’s Gate sent production company United Artists belly up, Inserts sat on the shelf for two years before incidentally being released the same year John Schlesinger unleashed the equally if not more savage The Day of the Locust.  For whatever lofty notions the film industry had of itself in the 1930s, the filmmakers from the 70s set out to unmask the Golden Age of Hollywood for the morally bankrupt and depraved Pagan Rome it seemingly really was. 

It goes without saying this is most certainly an actor’s movie with much of the heavy lifting done by the five cast members.  Dreyfuss, who was reportedly high the whole shoot, looks truly pathetic and worn as the once great silent film auteur turned dwindling hermetic smut peddler and one of the only times I felt disgusted by the actor’s presence.  A shout out must be called for the two actresses, Cartwright and Harper, who go the whole distance and imbue their characters with sympathy, dimension and heart.  Cartwright in particular looks something like a strung out Karen Black (incidentally in The Day of the Locust) with the vocal chords of Jennifer Tilly.

Harper, whom I had only really seen in Suspiria and Pennies from Heaven up to this point, dares to bring the house down as a quiet spectator who gradually unveils her ambitions and passion to Dreyfuss over the course of the film.  Also solid are Hoskins and Davis, Hoskins providing some foreshadowing into the gruff gangster in The Long Good Friday and Davies making the violent nimrod something of a cowardly cuckold.   In lesser actors’ hands, Inserts could have simply been another stage play adapted to film but the cast here elevates the minimalism to curious cinematic heights with a fittingly poignant payoff.

Upon initial release, Inserts sadly fared poorly with the critics and the box office kiss of death in the form of an X rating didn’t help keep it from disappearing into obscurity.  That’s a shame because it offers up Dreyfuss and Cartwright in a light we haven’t seen before and is an inspired little minimalist gem with a quiet emotional power.  While not carrying the punch the like-minded The Day of the Locust did which still stings to this day, the film does manage to resonate and leave a lasting impression of melancholy, functioning as a requiem of sorts for former film industry giants who tragically fell to the wayside as the industry itself underwent drastic formative changes.  

- Andrew Kotwicki