Insignificance (Criterion) (Blu-Ray)
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Four unnamed people who look and sound a lot like Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, and Joseph McCarthy converge in one New York City hotel room for this compelling, visually inventive adaptation of Terry Johnson’s play, from director Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth). With a combination of whimsy and dread, Roeg creates a fun-house-mirror picture of cold war America that questions the nature of celebrity and plays on a society’s simmering nuclear fears. Insignificance is a delirious, intelligent drama, featuring magnetic performances by Michael Emil (Tracks, Always) as “the professor,” Theresa Russell (Bad Timing, Black Widow) as “the actress,” Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story, Lethal Weapon) as “the ballplayer,” and Tony Curtis (Sweet Smell of Success, Spartacus) as “the senator.”
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • Newly restored digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Nicolas Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack • New video interviews with Roeg, Thomas, and editor Tony Lawson • Making “Insignificance,” a short documentary shot on the set of the film • Original theatrical trailer • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens and a reprinted exchange between Roeg and screenwriter Terry Johnson
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Top Customer Reviews
The film opens with an establishing shot of the "movie star" (Marilyn Monroe) shooting the most iconic scene of her career: standing over a New York subway grate while waiting for the wind of a passing train to whoosh her skirt up around her ears.
We then follow the "movie star" as she goes shopping while enroute to a clandestine nocturnal visit to "the scientist" (Albert Einstein) to teach him a lesson in relativity.
The best part of this rather bizarre film is the lengthy scene in which Marilyn Monroe (played quite convincingly by Theresa Russell) explains the theory of relativity to Albert Einstein.
Of course the denouement is when we realize that Marilyn doesn't even really understand the complex theory she has so perfectly demonstrated (with toy cars, trains, and flashlights), but that she has only *memorized* her explanation of the theory, as the actress herself would memorize her lines for a film role.
The other characters in the plot are "the senator" (Joe McCarthy of the infamous "McCarthy-era" witch-hunt of the 1950's) and "the ballplayer" (Joe DiMaggio, the "movie star's" husband (NOT Babe Ruth, as described by some idiot in another Amazon review posted here!). These characters serve purpose to bring a dark sub-plot or two to an otherwise unusually entertaining storyline.
Unfortunately, it all turns tragic, and ends mysteriously.
I know nothing about this director's other film work, but this film stands alone as a classic of the bizarre. I have enjoyed it through repeated viewings throughout the years.
Worth watching once if only for scenes like Marilyn Monroe demonstrating relativity to Einstein with miniature trains and flashlights, Babe Ruth telling Einstein how many packs of gum he's been featured on, and Monroe dancing with her skirt on fire in the middle of a nuclear explosion (don't ask).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
An eclectic gathering indeed. If it helps you to conceptualize where this film is headed, think of this as an evening of psychotherapy for the rich and famous. Marilyn wants to be loved for her brain, yet continually relies on her sex appeal for attention. Her husband and sports legend Joe DiMaggio wants to express his deep feelings of love for his wife but can't seem to express himself without a pack of baseball cards in his hand. Meanwhile Senator Joe McCarthy is busy scowling and perfusely sweating as he continues a campaign of threats and intimidation against everyone in the room.
Einstein's quiet evening alone has definitely taken an unexpected turn. Between the emotional angst displayed by the vulnerable sex kitten, the inept attempt at reconcillation by her superstar husband and the politics of fear levied by the Senator, the usually aloof, unattached scientist finds himself in an environment beyond his control, even for one of his mental capabilities. It turns out to be an evening of personal discovery for all involved.
'Insignificance' is really a mixed bag, one of those films you either get it or you don't. Not by any means a great movie, but it has its moments, the best moment being Marilyn's attempt to impress Dr. Einstein by explaining his theory of relativity using toy trains and flashlights as props. Very cute, thank you Theresa Russell!
This may not be a film that would stand up well to alot of repeat viewings but worth a viewing nonetheless. Starring; Michael Emil as Albert Einstein, Theresa Russell as Marilyn Monroe, Gary Busey as Joe DiMaggio and Tony Curtis as Joe McCarthy.
I prefer straightforward storytelling in my movies and his work is just too cryptic and experimental for my taste.
Nevertheless, even aside from Roeg's kaleidoscopic images, I'm not quite sure I get the complete message that screenwriter Terry Johnson is trying to put across in INSIGNIFICANCE, an adaptation of his stage play that deals with a fictional meeting between 1950s icons Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell), Albert Einstein (Michael Emil), Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey) and Senator Joseph McCarthy (Tony Curtis), none of whom are specifically identified in the film.
Perhaps the movie is about the burden of "celebrity," or the fact that "knowledge is not necessarily truth," or maybe it's about those ideas and a few others. Certainly there are many different thoughts tossed about in the picture's 108 minute running time.
Einstein, played by Emil with a childlike innocence, and Monroe are the central figures in the piece, and the scene in which she uses flashlights and various toys to explain to him his "theory of relativity" is a delight. Also memorable is a scene with the scientist and the DiMaggio character where the great athlete justifies his "celebrity" with the fact that he was featured in 13 series of bubblegum baseball cards.
Busey is marvelous as DiMaggio, as is Ms. Russell in capturing the persona of Monroe. Indeed, all of the actors shine in their individual roles. It is their performances, as well as many of the well-written scenes from the original stage play, rather than Roeg's flair for "opening up" the action, that make INSIGNIFICANCE worth watching.
Among the extras in The Criterion Collection edition of the 1985 film are recent interviews with Roeg, his producer (Jeremy Thomas) and the film's editor (Tony Lawson). There is also a vintage "Making of" featurette and a 26-page booklet filled with essays about the picture.
© Michael B. Druxman