Saturday, 25 June 2011

Insignificance (1985) - Nicolas Roeg

I was first introduced to both this and subsequently Nicolas Roeg back in my early teens by a Marilyn obsessed girlfriend, who made me watch it back to back with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I didn't really think all that much of either film at the time, but over the years, and after becoming a huge fan of Roeg's films I've always wanted to rewatch it, to see if it was just the young me that misunderstood the film, or if it really isn't all that great. Twenty years on I figure that it's a bit of both.

Four 50's icons run into each other in a hotel one night. Although never mentioned by name it's fairly obvious that they are Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell) and her second husband Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey), Joseph McCarthy (Tony Curtis) and Albert Einstein (Michael Emil). All four are loose interpretations rather than fully fledged historically accurate versions. Russell despite looking nothing like her, does her best to channel Monroe via some makeup, that Seven Year Itch dress and Monroe's wistful voice. It half works, since despite thinking Russell's performance one of her best, not once did I believe it was Monroe I was watching. Still the scene where she explains to Einstein his theory of relativity was one of the highlights of the film for me.

I've never been a fan of Gary Busey and this film didn't do anything to change my opinion, as for Emil his name isn't familiar to me but I felt it should be since he is wonderful in this, totally believable and able to be quirky in a way that isn't annoying. Props to Curtis too as the Marilyn obsessed commie hunting fuckbag Senator McCarthy. Curtis who of course acted opposite Monroe in Some Like it Hot, stinks up the screen and sweats his way through the whole production. He reeks of nastiness, McCarthy is up there with his portrayal of Albert DeSalvo in The Boston Strangler as Curtis' best least pretty boy work.

Based as it is on a stage play, this is one of Roeg's more straightforward efforts. For a start it's all sets, with almost no shots in the real world that dominated Roeg's 70's output. That could be down to the fact that it takes place in a slightly unreal version of reality. Or maybe not, who knows? Visually it's obviously Roeg, lots of inserts and slow motion photography, even the set dressing smacks of him. Same thing with the editing, lots of subconscious links and flashbacks, nowhere near the amount in say Bad Timing, but then again would that even be possible?

However despite all the above I still didn't warm to this film, sure it does have things to say - just consider the fact that despite being set in 1954 it's equally relevant to Regan's finger on the nuclear trigger world of 1985, the acting is fine and there are some great ideas and images in here too, such as Marilyn spinning around in slow motion with her dress on fire. Yet somehow it all felt a little flat and by the time the credits rolled the initial promise had turned to a bit of an anti-climax. I've often wondered just how the genius behind Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bad Timing, Performance and Walkabout ended up being so underrated by future generations? I think the answer lies partially in this film. Oh and just for the record I think Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is still so so.

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