Hotline Tony Shaff
Published Apr 25, 2014In an age where texting has become the norm, it's easy to forget how therapeutic it can be to hear a voice on the other end of the phone, even — and in some cases, especially — if it belongs to a stranger. Tony Shaff's surprisingly lyrical and elegiac documentary Hotline examines this phenomenon by speaking with those who help the lonely and desperate people reaching out for some kind of human contact.
There are soothsayers like the famous face of the old Psychic Readers network infomercials, Miss Cleo, who dishes on the producer's insistence that she exaggerate her trademark Caribbean accent and concludes that all her calls come down to the same fundamental concerns we all have. We're also introduced to phone sex operators who discuss developing deep connections with clients, crisis workers who detail the gratifying but stressful sides of the job and even the kind folks that assist kids in completing their homework.
It may rely heavily on talking heads, but that's probably inevitable considering the subject matter. However, this does lead to the exploration eventually becoming fairly redundant despite the attempts to include as many different types of hotlines as possible. They all present variations on the same ideas, while never being able to really articulate the specifics of the bonds that are created while on the line with someone. It also might have been nice to hear more from people who were greatly affected by making rather than taking the calls.
Regardless, there's still something touching and universal about how a lonely guy named Jeff taped a flyer with his phone number on it to a pole and is still struggling now to handle the overwhelming response.