Insignificance (1985, Nicolas Roeg)

A theatrical, dialogue-heavy movie with occasional bursts of appalling 1980’s music. Four iconic celebrities meet up in a hotel room (I don’t think all four are ever in the room at once, though). A Cherokee elevator man (Will Sampson, memorable as the Native spiritualist in Poltergeist II) provides a guilty American grounding to it all.

The four leads are playing the popular image of their characters, not aiming for a rounded, realistic portrayal. Hence, Einstein (Michael Emil, mostly in movies by his brother Henry Jaglom) is brilliant but down-to-earth and funny, able to explain his work in everyday terms – Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell, who married Nic Roeg the following year, star of his Bad Timing and Eureka) is flirty, never stops using her breathy screen voice, intelligent and somewhat tortured – Joe McCarthy (Tony Curtis) is relentlessly trying to get everyone to admit they’re a communist – and Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey) is hot-headed and jealous (even of Einstein).

I didn’t find the play interesting at all – maybe I’m too young for it. The idea seems like a good one, but the only parts I enjoyed were the bits of Roegian collage – some visual explosions at the end, an insert shot which goes back in time, each character’s childhood flashback. I did also enjoy Marilyn’s explanation of the theory of relativity using balloons, flashlights and toy trains. Afterwards, the balloons anchor each shot, giving me something fun to watch instead of the actors.

Also worth mentioning: the movie ends with Albert envisioning Marilyn being killed in a nuclear blast. Kind of intense after all the dialogue scenes that precede.

J. Rosenbaum:

The film is less interested in literal history than in the various fantasies that these figures stimulate in our minds, and Roeg’s scattershot technique mixes the various elements into a very volatile cocktail — sexy, outrageous, and compulsively watchable. It’s a very English view of pop Americana, but an endearing one.

The trouble with Blu-Ray: in the full-size version you can plainly read that the wall calendar in this shot says June 1954…

But in the insert shot, it’s been changed:

In fact, it’s such an obvious mistake that maybe it was done on purpose. The close-up is shot from the perspective of DiMaggio, a man who lives so firmly in the past that he can’t even register the current date – his eyes are still processing what they saw three months ago.

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