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|Index||22 reviews in total|
What if Marylin Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joe Dimaggio and Senator
McCarthy were to come together in a mind-bending evening of relativity?
This delightful roman à clef never uses the actual names of the characters it so thinly veils and scathingly exposes not only for the individuals they must have been, but also for what they came to represent over time. If you are confused by allegory, or if you like your movies served up predigested and mushy, you won't like this film. It is a demanding opus that rewards on many levels the viewer with the intelligence to appreciate it.
Dropping, for the time being, the rigorous avoidance of using the real names of the characters, we see Einstein, about to deliver a pacifist speech to a United Nations hell-bent for nukes, being visited by Marylin Monroe, after filming the notorious Seven Year Itch scene that some say led to the end of her marriage with Joe Dimaggio. They have a lovely interplay in which Einstein stumbles with suitable professorial clumsiness around the innocence of perhaps the greatest sex symbol of modern times.
Enter Senator McCarthy who thinks Einstein is a Red. He is determined to extract Einstein's assurance that he will support the activities of the House Unamerican Activities Committee while delivering the ultimate weapon in the name of peace. Add Joe, a surprisingly fragile and vulnerable person perhaps not perfectly cast as Gary Busey, who hates Marylin's exhibitionism and believes Einstein has become her lover, even though Marylin only wants to show Einstein that she understands the Special Theory of Relativity.
But there's more.
Just like each of us, these characters have their deepest fears, which they reveal one by one in haunting flashbacks. It is these weaknesses, ultimately, that lend humanity to figures we cannot help but see almost exclusively in the abstract today. Finally, we see the shocking terror of Einstein's vision, and the statement of the movie becomes clear. It is a powerful and memorable moment.
Insignificance is one of my top five movies of all time. It is utterly amazing.
Nicolas Roeg's projects are variable to say the least, but are never less
than interesting. "Insignificance" is obviously, first and foremost, an
adapted stageplay: it's wordy and pretty-much 'room-bound'. BUT, it pays to
view this film more than once: the underlying themes are not overtly
presented and, what's more, it takes a while to adjust to the juxtaposition
and role-reversals of the four protagonists: Einstein, McCarthy, Munroe, and
Einstein is wracked by guilt over Hiroshima yet fancies the simplicity of a sexual liaison with Munro; Munro is sick of being seen as a bimbo and craves intellectual credence; Senator McCarthy is at the height of his witch-hunting powers but is an impotent sleazebag; DiMaggio is insecure about his celebrity, self-obsessed, and prone to violence. Each of them contains the seeds of their own destruction. Each character has a troubled, abused/abusive past and a questionable future. Gradually, we see that obsession itself is the central theme. America's obsession with its postwar cultural icons and mores; the obsessions of the protagonists for something none can have: peace-of-mind and/or happiness.
Compared with the theory of relativity, a proposed unified-field theory and, indeed, the cosmos itself, all the aspirations and interactions of Roeg's protagonists seem insignificant. Yet these aspects of the physical universe (it's all quantum, trust me!) affect us when they are applied to the development of the means to destroy us. Monroe's mention of the principle behind the neutron-bomb (without naming it as such) is not an anachronism per se, but can only be understood by a contemporary audience. Indeed, ALL the references within the script are only accessible to a knowledgeable viewer: one au fait with '50s occurrences/personality cults and how they affect us in the 21st century.
This film and its screenplay are either very, very clever, or extremely opaque and pretentious. Ultimately, however, probably insignificant.
live long and prosper :)
The collaboration between Nicolas Roeg and his wife Theresa Russell is one of the greatest between a director and an actress in film history, ranking right up there with Sternberg/Dietrich and Griffith/Gish. This is one of the fruits. Russell is "The Actress" (Marilyn Monroe) in a phantasmagoric nightpiece that brings together her, Albert Einstein, Senator Joe McCarthy, and Joe Dimaggio in a 1950s New York hotel during the filming of The Seven-Year Itch. The encounters between the four are mind-bending and richly entertaining, especially Monroe's delirious explanation of the special theory of relativity, using toy trains and balloons, for a delighted Einstein. (Monroe was a closet want-to-be intellectual, surprisingly well-read and capable of thoughtful comments in interviews.) Roeg's directing style is rich, propulsive, wonderfully matched to the material (which began as a stage play, although there's nothing the least stagy here, or gratuitously "opened out", either). The apocalyptic finale is fully the equal of the most comparable scene I can think of, the house-destruction at the end of Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. A not-to-be-missed experience. (By the way: what has become of Russell? Like Debra Winger, another of the great talents of her generation and her acting partner in Black Widow, she has hit her forties and Hollywood responds by giving these amazing performers nothing whatsoever to do. It's a darn shame. I'd look for Russell in more Roeg films, of course, but he seems to be in hiding too.)
It was late at night, and fighting with a dream that refused to take
over me I finally saw the movie...
It blew my mind away... Marilyn, Di Maggio, McCarthy & Einstein all in a small hotel room!
I really enjoyed the characterization of Marilyn by Theresa Russell, and the other actors played their parts with grace too.
A nostalgic trip to the yesterday. This movie is now in the list of my favorites.
If you have the chance to see it, don't miss it!
I have always been a great admirer of Nicolas Roeg and "Walkabout" is one of my favorite films. This is a film version of Roegs stage play and while most of the film takes place in a hotel room it still has some of Roegs cinematic flare. Very unique story is about a famous actress (Theresa Russell) who after a hard nights work on a film in 1954 goes to a hotel to visit a famous professor (Michael Emil) and together in his hotel room they talk. After awhile she wants to go to bed with him but as they start to get undressed her husband is banging on the door. Her husband is a famous ex-baseball player (Gary Busey) and he wants to know what is going on. The three of them in the hotel room talk about what is going on and what the future holds for them. Meanwhile, a famous senator (Tony Curtis) is threatening to take away the professors papers if he doesn't testify at a hearing. Theresa Russell is just excellent and while she's not trying exactly to impersonate Marilyn Monroe she does a wonderful job of exuding the phobia's and nuances that Monroe is very well known for. One thing the film does is show her as not only a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown but show her as a physical wreck as well. She talks of being unable to have children and at one point in the film she suffers a miscarriage. You can make an excellent case that this is Russell's best performance and I probably wouldn't argue. The film does an interesting thing in showing many flashbacks as the characters continue to talk about one thing and in the flashback we see one of many reasons for their actions. Busey also gives a good solid performance and it reminds me of what a strong persona he gives off on screen. Emil as the professor is a character that has many more things on his mind then we originally thought. The last scene in this film is a demonstration of his darker side! One of the highlights of the film for me is the little conversation he has with the elevator man (Will Sampson of "Cuckoo's Nest") and they discuss what Cherokee Indians think about at all times. But of course the famous scene in this film is where Russell demonstrates to Emil how she does understand the theory of relativity and uses toys to show this. The professor is delighted by her demonstration and so are we! Russell and Roeg are married in real life and they do admirable work when they are in collaboration and this is probably their best film together. Good performances and a very interesting job of directing make this a challenging and visually thought provoking film.
If you have any sort of appreciation for character and dialogue, and any
sense of American cultural history, you will find a lot of very absorbing
material in this film. It probably was originally a play, and that's why
it's dialogue heavy, but I can't stress enough how these icons that we
have a shallow understand of are made into truly complex and wonderful
This film is better than any college course for telling you how to create a character-driven story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maybe the best Roeg film since "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (1976), and
surely his last good one, "Insignificance"rolls along gathering
momentum, like some enigmatic ball, seemingly going nowhere yet
arriving everywhere as it explodes in a shower of illumination.
The time is 1954, a year in which Marilyn Monroe's career was beginning to crest, divorce from DiMaggio was in the offing, and the mixed blessings of her self-improvement program via psychoanalysis and the Actors' Studio were already under way. So, in the delightful encounter imagined by Terry Johnson's play (performed at the Royal Court in 1982), Marilyn flees from the gawking spectators and lowbrow frustrations of filming the subway grating scene for The Seven Year Itch to drop in unannounced on a shyly startled Einstein in the hope of intellectual stimulation ('Gee,' she sighs contentedly after being lectured sternly on the dangers of merely pretending to understand, 'this is the best conversation I ever had'). But just as a despairingly jealous DiMaggio is on Marilyn's trail, so McCarthy is hounding Einstein to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee; and in a valiant attempt to rescue the manuscript of Einstein's latest opus from being impounded as subversive, Marilyn gets punched in the stomach by McCarthy, causing her to abort the baby that might have saved her marriage. Significant events that are insignificant, in that physically Marilyn could never have borne the child anyway, while Einstein himself cheerfully throws away the manuscript he has already destroyed four times. Relativity. At the end, absently watching Marilyn go through her lines for himonly she hasn't any, Einstein sees a nuclear holocaust only there isn't one.
Faithfully filming this scenario adapted by Johnson himself, Roeg has completely transformed it by placing it under his familiar sign of time and the stars. The opening image, of a wrist- watch spiraling in free-fall through space, has many ramifications: in its formal use as a device providing each of the four principals with childhood memories defining both the drives that turned them into stars and the inhibitions that burned them out; or in the more general symbolism of the timepiece stopped forever when a childhood experiment of Einstein's went wrong and which, for 'the Daddy of the H Bomb', signifies the guilty past horror of Nagasaki and the guilty future horror of what he has glimpsed next in his exploration of the precise nature of the universe.
Will Sampson, a mysterious Indian serving as a lift-boy addresses Einstein in a scene that seems like straight from David Lynch films: 'I know you. You're a Cherokee,' the elevator man had told Einstein, in a double-edged reference to the Cherokee belief that wherever he is, there is the center of the world. The thread of significance (or insignificance) has less to do with getting back to ancient wisdoms than with Einstein's complaint that people, though seeing themselves at the center of the universe, 'won't take responsibility for their world, they want to put it on the shoulders of the few.' The point is that, revered as the world's greatest repository of knowledge, Einstein knows that knowing is nothing, and thinking is what makes us significant.
Director Nicolas Roeg and writer Terry Johnson have fashioned a fantastic story-conceit: to assemble four disparate icons of history in one hotel room and have them exchange their ideas and perceptions of life. Theresa Russell (finally using her innate blankness to her advantage) plays a Marilyn Monroe-like starlet, Michael Emil is Albert Einstein, Gary Busey is a famous ball-player a la Joe DiMaggio, and Tony Curtis is a Senator not unlike Joseph McCarthy. Russell is grating at first, but her performance improves tremendously, while Emil is the acting stand-out, leaving an amazing impression. Of course this is a Nicolas Roeg film, which means it is by turns difficult, distracting, overly arty (sometimes for no other purpose except to be irritating), and obtuse. Yet, the film's inscrutable nature is almost endearing: you may feel something fresh being born out of this crazy-quilt material. For discerning film-buffs, there's nothing else quite like it. *** from ****
Yes, it's flawed - especially if you're into Hollywood films that
demand a lot of effects, a purely entertaining or fantasy story or
plot, and you can't actually think for yourself.
Roeg's films are for the intelligent film-goer, and Insignificance is a perfect example.
The characterizations are brilliant, the story is excellent, but, like all Nic Roeg's films - it has you thinking on every level about aspects of reality that would never have dawned on you before. His films always make you think, and personally, I like that in a film.
So don't expect to come away from watching this film and feeling all happy-happy, because it's likely you'll be disappointed.
But I think it's excellent.
"Insignificance" is a far from great film, from a stage play, directed by Nic Roeg. In the scheme of Roeg's films, this is above the level of most of his post-"Don't Look Now" work, which is characterised by judicious use of Theresa Russell as lead actress. She's actually very good here, and far from the problem in other Roeg films like "Bad Timing" and "Cold Heaven". As the "Actress", who is Marilyn Monroe, Russell is very effective, portraying her as a thoroughly depressive, but likeable siren. She plays well alongside Michael Emil as Einstein, who is excellent to say the least. He looks the part admirably, and while Theresa Russell doesn't look exactly like Monroe, she certainly is attractive enough to make the part ring true. Other players are adequate if not quite as arresting as Emil and Russell are. A pretty workable, intelligent script is directed well by Roeg, but certainly not brilliantly, like "Walkabout" or "Performance". As in other later Roeg films, he tends to rely too much on vague, insubstantial flashbacks, that add very little to the film. In many ways the film would have worked better as a shorter (say, 60 minutes), more modest piece. Still, a quite acceptable, passable film. At times quite excellent, but somewhat lacking overall. Rating:- *** 1/2/*****
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