Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 108 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Review Date: June 3, 2011
Nicolas Roeg doesn’t direct your standard popcorn potboiler. His films generally stress the psychological underpinnings of their characters sometimes at the expense of narrative cohesion, but his films are always strikingly cinematic if nothing else. Insignificance falters in its clumsy psychology, and this philosophical comedy-drama isn’t as funny as it wants to be or as dramatic as it should have been. Still, there are images here that will haunt the viewer for days, and while its set-up is a rather sophomoric exercise in avant garde dramatic construction, it inarguably has its gripping moments.
In 1954 New York City, an actress (Theresa Russell) finishes filming her scene on a subway grate for the movie The Seven Year Itch while her former-baseball star husband (Gary Busey) watches scowling on the sidelines. She gets her studio driver to take her to a hotel where a world famous physicist (Michael Emil) is continuing to rework his theory of relativity after being harassed by a senator (Tony Curtis) who expects him to be candid about his ties to Nazi and Communist organizations and report to Congress the next morning about his activities. She has always longed to meet the scientist who she feels can talk to her intelligently, something no man in her usual sphere seems capable of doing. The long night and morning leads to important realizations for all four of these people.
Nicolas Roeg has taken Terry Johnson’s stage play and done all he can to make it cinematic. He explores every inch of the faces and bodies of these four adults; he explores their unhappy pasts in flashback sequences that were not a part of the original stage play. And he climaxes a long, long night of talking with an astounding montage of images which breathtakingly end the film in jaw-dropping style. But the author (and screenwriter) has a basic story that one would expect to see in one of those off-off Broadway theaters existentially pairing a group of otherwise incongruous people in the same room and letting them talk and talk and talk of their hopes and dreams, their fears and disappointments, the price of fame and the loss of individuality, the loss of love either carnal or spiritual, the politics of the bomb, the gender wars, and so forth. And while the topics these four interesting people broach during the night might have been terrific jumping off points for deep discussions that could reach the depths of these four people’s souls, it’s never that deep or meaningful and its ultimate effect is one of superficiality. For once they got the title correct: the film’s discussions do amount to insignificance.
The four people are never named, but of course we’re fully aware we’re supposed to be watching Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joe DiMaggio, and Joseph McCarthy. As such, the actors cast in these roles sink or swim with our own identification with their real-life counterparts. Theresa Russell doesn’t actually look much like Marilyn; she’s more like Gloria Grahame frankly, though she tries to get that dreamy, child-like vocal quality that was unique to Monroe. She captures a Marilyn at one of the low points of her life: disappointed and disillusioned with her stardom and personally on the brink of divorce from DiMaggio after suffering another miscarriage, so the emotions are raw and right even if the visual style and quality are a bit off. Gary Busey’s DiMaggio seems more washed-up than the 1954 DiMaggio seemed to be during this period. Still revered by fans even after his retirement, the DiMaggio as Busey plays him is a rather simple-minded bumpkin and much huskier than Joe was then. Tony Curtis seems like Tony Curtis here without the nasal, whine that distinguished the junior senator from Wisconsin, and of the four characters, he’s the one who seems least necessary to the plot. Michael Emil’s Einstein is the most interesting performance of the quartet. His character’s actions and reactions seem to have gotten the greatest amount of thought from both the writer and director and is the one essential cog in the film’s workings.
The film is presented at 1.78:1 with a 1080p resolution delivered by the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent throughout the presentation, and color is very rich and full with certain reds sometimes edging into such intensity that blooming is a problem. Flesh tones are generally good but sometimes err on the pink side. Black levels are quite acceptable. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 audio track seems a bit treble heavy with not a lot on the lower end of the mix. The dialogue is well recorded and always discernable while the sound effects and music (by Stanley Myers and Hans Zimmer) are all blended together in a very typical, unspectacular mono sound mix of the era. The climactic event of the film has a very underwhelming sound mix to accompany it.
“Making Insignificance” is a 14 ¼-minute production featurette made during the movie’s filming. All four of the leading actors plus Will Sampson as an elevator operator along with the producer and director discuss their roles in the production and describe what they feel the film means to them. It’s in 1080i.
A collective interview with Nicolas Roeg and Jeremy Thomas allow the director and producer to reminisce about the genesis of the film, the new elements which were added from the original stage piece, and how important a role that they feel music plays in the film’s ultimate success. This 1080p interview segment lasts 13 minutes.
Film editor Tony Lawson discusses his career working on films with such diverse directors as Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, and Nicholas Roeg (several with him). He also offers a rather lengthy critique of the movie in this 15 ¼-minute featurette presented in 1080p.
The theatrical trailer runs for 1 minute in 1080i.
The enclosed 26-page booklet features cast and crew lists, some stills from the movie, a think piece on the film by film professor Chuck Stephens, and a back-and-forth dialogue between director Roeg and screenwriter Terry Johnson.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Arty to a fault, Nicolas Roeg’s Insignificance presents philosophical discussions between 1950s icons in a rather unsatisfying fashion, but there is no denying that Roeg the filmmaker knows how to construct arresting, hauntingly memorable images. The Blu-ray release presents the film to its best advantage and offers some thoughtful bonus material for those who wish to explore the film’s meanings more deeply.