Scarlett Johansson is tipped for an Oscar this year. No surprise there other than that the role involves neither her famously lovely face, nor her famously lovely body.
In Spike Jonze’s Her, Johansson plays the disembodied voice of a computer operating system – she doesn’t appear on screen once. But her performance as “Samantha” was expressive enough to win the Best Actress award at last week’s Rome Film Festival and to inspire a revived respect for the work of the voiceover artist. I’m hoping Johansson will also inspire a revived respect for an art that’s both more cruelly overlooked and more noble: the voicemail message.
Since mobile phones superseded answering machines and text messaging offered a free-of-charge alternative, no one except your mum leaves voicemails anymore. You might think with iChat, Skype and WhatsApp to hand, the loss of one more messaging service is no biggie, but voicemail was special. It was a one‑take‑only chance to shine that could give even the most confident monologuer stage fright.
For some this led to extraordinary stream-of-consciousness rambles; for others it was an invitation to say aloud things they’d never say in conversation. Attempted by many, perfected by few, voicemail was the last true test of vocal communication. I’d like to hear Johansson try it.