Review: Insignificance Blu-ray

Insignificance Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Nicolas Roeg | CAST: Michael Emil, Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, Tony Curtis
RELEASE DATE: 6/14/11 | PRICE: Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.99
BONUSES: new video interviews, vintage short documentary
R | 108 min. | Comedy-drama | 1.78:1 widescreen | monaural  | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Insignificance movie scene

Theresa Russell goes Marilyn in 1985's Insignificance.

A lesser entry in the movie canon of mind-bending British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg (this is the guy who gave us 1971’s Walkabout, 1973’s Don’t Look Now and 1976’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, after all!), 1985’s Insignificance is nonetheless given an appropriately handsome digital release by The Criterion Collection.

Screenwriter Terry Johnson adapted his own 1982 play, a comedy-drama “fantasy” story about four legendary American figures from the 1950s coming together in a New York hotel room one hot summer night. The group is referred to in the credits as The Professor (Michael Emil), The Actress (Theresa Russell, Wild Things), The Senator (Tony Curtis, Sweet Smell of Success) and The Ballplayer (Gary Busey, The Firm), but can be more easily (and instantly) identified as Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joseph McCarthy and Joe DiMaggio.

The four interact with each other in various pairings, trios and quartets, referring to events and stories from their own well-documented lives when they’re not tackling bigger and/or more ambiguous issues involving the state of the nation, mankind and the universe.

Filled with flashbacks, flash-forwards and fantasy cutaways — all trademarks of Roeg’s brand of chronologically splintered storytelling — Insignificance is a rollercoaster of peaks and valleys, sometimes intriguing and entertaining but frequently frustrating and pedantic.

The performers are the anchor that keeps everything together, and the film, at the very least, represents a career highlight for Ms. Russell, the former Mrs. Roeg. She’s at her best in a scene in which she explains Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to the man himself with the help of a toy car, some balloons and a flashlight.

The image in this Criterion edition is clear and well-detailed — the textures of the characters’ clothing and skin are particularly clear — and the lighting is luminous and lovely. The uncompressed monaural audio track also delivers, a not-insignificant plus in a dialog-heavy film like this one.

Among the bonus features on the Blu-ray are new video interviews with producer Jeremy Thomas, editor Tony Lawson and Roeg, who offers that it’s the film’s “emotional sense of things” that delivers, rather than the “plot sense of things.” Spoken like a cult filmmaking legend…


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.