Eric Rohmer (1920-2010)
The Autopsies Group offers a tribute to the late Eric Rohmer through a collection of objects, now obsolete or nearly so, which his films help us to remember. While we might not in principle embrace "auteurism" as a theoretical or conceptual model, remembering Rohmer's career by means of the spaces and objects around which his films circulated gives us a sense of the era that he captured. Our Rohmer museum reminds us of the fantasies of the modern that the so-called "New Wave" fueled.
[video above] Eric Rohmer makes a 'mysterious' telephone appearance on French television in 1983
Characters in Rohmer's films always seem to be on the phone. This may hardly come as a surprise to viewers today, glued as we are to our portable cellular devices, but what did it mean to contemporary audiences to see telephones in a film? For viewers between the 1960s and 1980s, the abundance of telephones in Rohmer's films would have been a sign of privilege or just good luck. For decades, possessing a domestic telephone line was a relative luxury in French households. Waiting lists for telephone installation could last for years. The predominance of telephones in Rohmer's films corresponds with the national preoccupation of densifying the French telephone system. In 1975, the French network was only half as dense as the British and West German networks, and was a quarter of the density of the Swedish network.
Telephones in France 
Year 1946 1954 1968 1975
Telephones/100 inhabitants 5 7.5 15 25
In 1962, Philippe Lamour, president of the national commission for town and country planning presented his views on telephone use in Paris:
The visitor, provincial or foreigner who compares Paris to other great European or American
cities will be irritated by the slowness s/he experiences either to join the people
s/he needs to deal with on the spot, or to stay in contact with her/his place of origin or
other country. 
In 1964, the French satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné published a scathing attack on what it saw to be France's engineering incompetence. The paper deplored the lamentable state of the country's roads, hospitals and telephone system. Le Canard believed France lagged behind in advanced industry and that French technology was content to copy foreign ideas:
If we build a rocket, we have to buy the steering system from the Americans. There's is no
medical research, no scientific research at all that has not been financed or inspired - totally
or partially - […] by what's being done in the USA or in England. 
The first four French State Modernisation Plans (1946-1965) provided little investment in telecommunications. Things only began to pick up from the Fifth Plan (1966-1970), when France finally tried to catch up with the telephone systems of its European neighbours.
In 1965, 3 million telephone lines existed in France;
in 1970, there were 4 million;
in 1976, there were 8 million;
and in 1977, there were 10 million lines.
Of the 3 million telephone lines that existed in France in 1965, only around a half were in households. In other words, only one in nine homes were connected with a phone. The Seventh Modernisation Plan (1976-1980) had a target to ensure that one in two households would have a telephone line.
The French dreamed of being able to use the phone, but for many years supply simply could not meet the demand of potential subscribers. In 1963, 200,000 people were on the waiting list for installation of a telephone line, 55,000 of whom lived in the Paris region. While there were around 300,000 applications for telephone lines in 1965, only 210,000 were installed. By 1976, there were 1,800,000 applications a year. Meanwhile, the use of each existing line doubled between 1965 and 1977.
'All the old telephone exchanges are 'breathless' [à "bout de souffle"], wrote Le Parisien libéré in 1963. A cartoon in the popular right-wing paper showed a cartoon of two parents admiring their baby in its cot saying, 'I put his name on the waiting list today. He'll have a telephone for his twentieth birthday!' 
Domestic telephone use in France between the 1960s and 1980s correlated with the individual income and geographical location of potential subscribers. Only one in twenty workers with the lowest income had a phone in 1965, while one in six office managers had a line at home. In 1975, while half of households in the Paris region were connected to the telephone network, only a quarter of rural homes could use the telephone.
The country villa in La Collectionneuse (1967) is fortunate enough to possess a direct-dial telephone at a time when a new generation of telephone exchanges were only very slowly being rolled out, and subscribers faced lengthy waits to be connected with a telephone line. Manual switching was still common in France: in 1961 only 61% of exchanges were automatic (compared to 96% in the USA). 
The Caisse national des télécommunications (CNT) was established in 1967 to raise funds to investment in French telecommunications. At first it only issued bonds to foreign investors, but from 1971 French investors could also lend money to the financially autonomous public agency.  This 1975 television campaign by the CNT appealed for French private investors. It called for 'a telephone worthy of France.' ['pour un téléphone digne de la France']
and a 'telephone for everyone.' ['Telephone pour tous']
For more on national plans to develop the telephone network see this French Senate report [in French]
French telephone numbers during the 1960s comprised of three letters and four numbers. In order to make international calls easier, the PTT (post and telephone company) decided to roll out a standardised seven digit telephone number. After a test period in 1966, some telephone users in Paris wanted to delay the process of replacing familiar telephone numbers. A local magazine reported that Parisians found it easier to remember the letter and number combination than the number only arrangement. The magazine claimed more dialling errors were made with the seven numbers system. It blamed the change on the new "mathematical" spirit of state administration, and insisted that Parisians preferred the ‘common sense’ and practicality of the old numbers. 
Film helps us find out when telephone operators began to fade from everyday life - or at least from the popular imagination. Film chronicles changes to dialling habits and the meanings associated with having access to the phone. Film could help us ask what it meant to use the touch dial phones that made a tactile break with the way had people called for decades. Can pushing buttons on the phone offer dramatic visual intrigue in the same way Hitchcock knew how to use rotating dials to provide such narrative tension? I have not carried out a definitive study of telephones in Rohmer's films, but closer study of French films of the 1960s, 70s and 80s could provide a history of what is now the most banal task: dialling the phone.
 Jean Fourastié, Les Trente Glorieuses, ou la Révolution invisible de 1946 à 1975 (Paris: Fayard, 1979), p. 138.
 Philippe Lamour cited in District de la Région de Paris, Paris en Question: Une enquête du District de la Région de Paris (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965), p. 161.
 Jean Manan, ‘Le royaume des taupes,’ Le Canard enchaîné (29 January 1964), p. 2.
 Le Parisien libéré (11-12 May 1963), p. 1.
 Mark Thatcher, The Politics of Telecommunications: National Institutions, Convergence, and Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 41.
 Thatcher, The Politics of Telecommunications, p. 106.
 ‘Téléphone: les chiffres ne valent pas les lettres,’ Rive Gauche Magazine, no. 15 (December 1966), p. 6.
Further references from:
Simone Muret, 'Le téléphone en milieu rural,' in Les réseaux pensants: télécommunications et société, edited by Alain Giraud, Jean-Louis Missika and Dominique Wolton (Paris: Masson, CNET-ENST, 1978).
Laurent Virol, 'L'administration face à l'évolution de la demande, des techniques et des mentalités,' in Les réseaux pensants: télécommunications et société, edited by Alain Giraud, Jean-Louis Missika and Dominique Wolton (Paris: Masson, CNET-ENST, 1978).
Reports in Le Parisien libéré (1/2 January 1966).