Impressions on THE PHANTOM by professors, filmmakers, and film buffs
“Caroline Martel's illuminating brilliant work, Phantom of the Operator, is that rare and shimmering example, that instantly classic film which manages to be both a history of the medium and a vibrant consideration of the role of women in telecommunications. It bridges time with flair and flare.
From thousands of possible worlds, it samples several hundreds, and takes the art of compilation to new levels. It is a re-imagined switchboard interchange of rigor, creativity and metasocial meaning.”
International editor POV magazine
“A lovely film. An excellent compilation doc - in the spirit of Emile de Antonio, of Vertov too… Very accomplished, well constructed and argued - and only 10 years of work too !”
– over email !
It is a wonderful film. It is beautifully made, leads me into reverie, is filled with moments that rank among the best film moments I have ever had. I see and feel all of the energy and intensity you've put into it, the desire to put everything into a film (as Godard once said), and the desire to make sense at once of 1. archives 2. feminism 3. labor 4. history 5. future 6. technology 7. sound/image and much more.
I think the achievement in sound is quite as great as the achievement in the image, too.
I think I know why telephones fascinate you so much, or pretend to think I know, since they fascinate me as well. I think you chose them because they were rich and because they could serve as a vehicle to transport you to an early stage of what is nothing less than an investigation of the entire world, or a kind of film that opens to reveal the entire world. Or perhaps I'm imagining all this -- I hope not, though.
Archivist and head of Prelinger Archives
Panorama Ephemera (2004)
“…intellectually stimulating and a beautiful proof that many stories can be told without talking heads. Our aim as filmmakers should be to make the unspeakable visible. Phantom of the Operator did.”
Lyrical Nitrate (1991), The Forbidden Quest (1993), Go West, Young Man ! (2003)
“Caroline Martel's exquisite compilation documentary, The Phantom of the Operator, beautifully weaves together archival images to visualize a time when an invisible "voice with a smile" ensured women a place in the workforce. With the help of a velvet-voiced narrator and the eerie musical sounds of the ondes Martenot, Martel hauntingly evokes the ghostly legacy of early 20th century phone operators while raising difficult questions about the future: "How could we ever imagine that in designing the world as a network, we could inhabit that network as a world?" her phantom operator asks. How indeed! Martel's remarkable work ultimately questions the diminishing role of human beings in a techno-driven world; it is must-viewing for anyone with an interest in communications, media studies, gender studies, sociology, and the future.”
Graduate Media Studies Program
New School University
"Martel's excavation of Bell System film footage highlights the proper performance of femininity as perennially pleasant, ever accommodating, sanguinely servile and, above all, invisible... reminds us that we can never fully exorcise the ghosts in the machine."
Women's and Gender Studies
University of Oregon