In this quirky highly original film director Nicolas Roeg posits the theoretical question, what would happen if Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Senator Joe McCarthy were all gathered together in the same hotel room for one evening in 1953?
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.
on December 13, 2009
CONTAINS A FEW SPOILERS. While "Two Deaths" (1995) showed a few flashes of the directorial brilliance that seemed to come so easily to Nicholas Roeg between the early seventies and the mid-eighties, I would argue that "Insignificance" was his last great film. Roeg was not a writer, but he managed to put his unique stamp on nearly every film he directed between his mesmerizing solo directing debut, "Walkabout" (he was co-director on "Performance" prior to that), and this allegorical gem, "Insignificance." This film followed by two years Roeg's underrated "Eureka," a film which baffled the suits at MGM/UA, and was not released until a couple years after it was completed. "Insignificance," with a script adapted by Terry Johnson from his stage play, was a more low budget film than "Eureka," and, to paraphrase another interesting director, Whit Stillman, when a lot of dollars are involved your movie is more likely to get sabotaged by "jerks." I can't decide myself if Theresa Russell's portrayal of "the actress" in this film is the high water mark of her career, or if that came in 1981 in "Bad Timing: a Sensual Obsession," her first collaboration with Roeg, whose wife she had become by the time "Insignificance" was shot. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Russell in 1981, during her promotional tour for "Bad Timing," and she told me at the time she considered her work opposite Dustin Hoffman in "Straight Time" the acting she was most proud of to that point in her career. But to "Insignificance" itself, this is a movie I find fascinating, but which I'm sure some would find utterly pretentious. What saves it from that charge is the humor that runs through this film, despite the seriousness of the subject matter: the unleashing of atomic weapons, communist witch-hunts, and, while it may see of lesser importance, the nature and burdens of celebrity and having to live up to some manufactured image of oneself. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. It is appropriate that Tony Curtis, at least lately a decidedly right wing, anti-gay activist who campaigned against "Brokeback Mountain getting Best Picture, is cast as "the senator," who is obviously meant to be Joe McCarthy. Curtis, a fine actor, brings some of the smarmy charm of his character from "Sweet Smell of Success" to this film as well, albeit a charm filtered through an alcoholic haze. Gary Busey is perfect as the famous former baseball player, who realizes his glory days are gone, and that he will forever live in the shadow of his wife's greater fame. And Michael Emil, so good in a number of his brother, Henry Jaglom's quirky low budget films ("Sitting Ducks," "Always") is fine as "the professor," who has come urge the US government to not use his great discovery for additional destructive purposes, but to use it to promote peace--a position for which the senator has no sympathy. The scene in which Russel, as the actress, demonstrates her understanding of the professor's theory of relativity using a toy train set is not to be missed. Roeg never made a film this interesting again. After a few attempts at films of substance, such as the failed "Track 29," derailed by a weak script, Roeg signed on to direct more mainstream fare. Some like "The Witches" were at least competent and entertaining films. Others, like the TV mini series "Samson and Delilah," seem beneath him. In the end, Roeg was the victim of the passing of the time of the powerful director in commercial film making. Some of the strong (and/or commercially successful) still survive, but many, like Roeg, have had to abandon the adventurous path of their earlier films in order to maintain a viable, or semi-viable career.
on June 23, 2011
I've never been a fan of director Nicolas Roeg.
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
on September 20, 2013
All of Nicolas Roeg's films are well-framed, interestingly edited and not entirely possible to completely understand in one viewing, but they do reward multiple viewings as you catch a few more things and certain themes become clearer after you've taken them in a couple of times. This one is no exception.
An imaginary meeting of the minds between four people who suggest but are not directly named as Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joe Dimaggio and Joseph McCarthy in a New York City hotel room, the film is not without its flaws (Theresa Russell is a very attractive woman but she doesn't really look that much like Marilyn Monroe) but there a lot of ideas about science (Russell's re-enactment of the theory of relativity using toys and everyday items is enjoyable), politics (again, Tony Curtis looks nothing like Joseph McCarthy but he does inhabit the weird combination of sociopathology -- and a need to be liked that still comes off as slimy -- that does make for a convincing portrait of what McCarthy might have been like in person) and there are some a few funny moments, such as DiMaggio's answer as to what shape the universe is.
Admittedly, you do have to be a bit of a weirdo to like this movie but hey, if the shoe fits watch it.
on October 3, 2015
Insignificance is an interesting and talky film: part comical, part intellectual, just a bit tragic. It has some upfront symbolism, which may add value if you get it or may irritate you. While it does not really feel much at all like Bunuel films in terms of vibe, it is reminiscent in that it digests human culture through a comical dream play. The performance of Theresa Russell as "The Actress" stands out, she plays her character with a combination of winking intrigue and stoicism. How much of life is an act? How much is play? How much and what should be taken seriously? The character interactions feel at times authentic (or at least sincere), at times spontaneous, but then falling into stereotype. Anyhow, this is the type of film where your enjoyment of it will be largely based on how much you get it (there is not enough else in the film to be appreciated by itself). For myself, I understood it somewhat and enjoyed it somewhat.
on February 1, 2010
I have always loved Mr Roeg's approach to films and this particular example is no exception. In fact, it has been a favourite for many years and I've watched it several times. Personally I rate it as one of his best amongst many fine films.
The subject matter is interesting, intense and always entertaining. It is also remarkably believable, despite it's fictional content. It is beautifully acted by all. Finally it is an innately intelligent product that remains fresh to this day.
Yogesh Pama, Knysna, South Africa