IMDb has message boards for every film and every filmmaker. I would strongly advise you to never read them, and in particular, don’t read them for any film you’ve worked on. You will walk away feeling a little worse about yourself and humanity.

But today, while looking up the name of an actor in Go, I ignored my own advice and clicked on one of the message board threads, which brought up an interesting point:

Did anyone else notice that even though the film was shot in 1999 and focused on young people that no mobile phones appeared in the film? Unless I missed something it seems like this was a deliberate decision by makers of the film. I like the choice.

The stripclub guy who Simon shot may have used a mobile phone to call the Riviera to find out which room Simon and his friends were staying in. I don’t recall, it may have been a carphone. It still doesn’t explain why no other characters in the movie use a mobile when they had the opportunity.

The answer, of course: the film came out in early 1999, and cellphones weren’t yet ubiquitous in Los Angeles. They existed, to be sure, but they were relatively expensive and rare. We hadn’t even settled on the lingo yet. Here’s how I describe one early in the script:

  • Adam’s friend ZACK is behind him in line, YABBERING into a cellular phone.
  • Even my mother wouldn’t call it a “cellular phone” today. Later, Simon uses the current term to refer to the Ferrari’s built-in phone:

  • It’s a cell phone. They can trace where we are even if we don’t answer.
  • (There’s still little consistency between cell phone, cell-phone and cellphone.)

    Whatever you call them, there are two such phones in the movie: Zack’s and Vic Jr.’s. Ronna uses a pager, which is as much as she could believably afford as a grocery store cashier with rent trouble.1

    Nearly ten years later, it seems natural to expect that every character in Go would have a cellphone. Their modern-day equivalents would. And the story would have had to change. Some examples:

    • Todd would have called Simon to check on Ronna before selling her anything.

    • Claire would have called Ronna, rather than paging her, while stuck at Todd’s apartment. Todd would have insisted on knowing why there was such a delay.

    • The conversation between Todd and Simon wouldn’t have necessarily happened in the hotel room.

    • Todd would have called Simon the moment he realized the pills were swapped.

    • As originally scripted, Ronna was conscious after being hit by the Miata. She could have called Claire, Manny, or 911 to get help.

    • After the shooting at the strip club, Simon and Marcus would have called Tiny and Singh, warning them to pack up.

    • Simon could have (but might not have) called Todd to warn him about the Vics.

    • Claire would have called Ronna after being ditched at the rave.

    • Ronna and Claire would have tried calling Mannie when looking for him.

    Looking at this list, I’m really glad there weren’t a lot of cellphones when making Go. None of these changes are horrible, but they demand extra work to explain why characters aren’t just picking up the phone. Getting people face-to-face in movies is crucial, and cellphones work against that.

    But cellphones are better than texting, which is what these characters would have been doing if the movie were made in 2008. Texting is not just uncinematic, it’s anti-cinematic: characters sitting still while twiddling their thumbs. I’ve yet to see it done effectively in movies or TV.

    1. I can’t find the link, but I recently read an article about how bad we are at remembering when technologies started. How long have fax machines been around? How about DVDs? When did television go color? If it happened during our lifetime, we can often match it up to a specific purchase; the first DVD I owned was Go. But my three-year old daughter will have no idea whether the fax came before the telephone. In fact, she may never really understand a fax. It’s been six months since we’ve sent one.