If you were at Sundance in 1993, then perhaps you had the opportunity to attend a screening of Michael Addis's short film The Phonemaster 9000 Call Returning Machine, a technological nightmare which pits Julie Larson's unsuspecting caller against the increasingly diabolical labyrinth of questions posed by the titular device (Addis himself), a Frankenstein creation which looks suspiciously like an amalgamation of a fax machine, TV antenna and a computer joystick. If not, then not to worry, as Addis has been a good enough sport to upload the short in its entirety to YouTube.
Addis's vision of clunky answerphone technology from the futuristic plains of hell is clearly of a different age, as is the film's rather disappointing punchline (in which Lesley finally pulls the plug on a prospective relationship with Bill not because he's a predatory creep but because of the implication that he's a bisexual predatory creep). The film never really makes good on the menace suggested by the ominous tones of its opening moments, yet it does succeed in maintaining an eerily uncomfortable vibe throughout, as Lesley's entirely banal efforts to initiate a relationship come back to bite her in the most coldly demeaning manner imaginable. Meanwhile, Addis brings just the right levels of frostiness to the impersonal tones of the automated device, as it whittles human relations down to a system of prompts apparently designed to move Lesley as quickly as possible into Bill's bed (after which, we suspect, she'd be pushed to a distance just as rapidly). As a concept it feels somewhat rough and underdeveloped (it was a student film, after all), but there's a certain degree of perverse pleasure to be had in its creation of a troublesome void where real human interaction should be. Besides, the Phonemaster itself is such a curious and quaint-looking device that it takes on an undeniable charm. I can only hope that the prop has since been stashed away safely in Addis's basement or somewhere; it would be a shame to think of a concoction this droll being wiped from all existence.