This is Insignificance (1985), Nicolas Roeg’s peculiar fantasy (based on Terry Johnson’s play) that imagines these four personalities converged on one late night/early morning in a New York City hotel. And why not? The quartet were such a huge part of the 1950s public conscious that they may as well have also shared a floor.
There’s not much of a plot to be found, though we do see a number of familiar traits that propel the sequences: McCarthy as bullying conspirator, Einstein as peaceful and haunted genius, DiMaggio as accusative spouse, and Monroe as the child who, in a remarkably hopeful yet sad scene, details the theory of relativity using toys picked up at a five and dime.
There may be more truth in the film than its preface, “This story and its contents are entirely fictitious,” lets on. Consider the following:
Though Monroe never explained anything to Einstein, she did have something to prove to the world who viewed her as nothing more than an object. Though McCarthy never personally harassed Einstein, he would have done it to any notable that could fulfill his demented goal. Though DiMaggio never muscled the physicist, he would’ve clocked anyone who was with his wife.
Nothing is entirely fictitious here, just as nothing is really entirely anything in the film. Even the characters names are questionable, with Monroe, DiMaggio, McCarthy, and Einstein listed in the credits under the generic terms The Actress, The Ballplayer, The Senator, and The Professor.
Insignificance is a unique one, simultaneously wild, amusing and thought-provoking. With the cast--Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, Tony Curtis, Michael Emil--given the rare chance to play dress-up and mime icons, it’s as if starry-eyed children put on a play about Cold War paranoia, fame and regret and actually understood the significance of it all.
Nicolas Roeg and Jeremy Thomas (12:57): Recorded in 2010, this interview sees director Roeg and producer Thomas discussing Insignificance, their third collaboration after Bad Timing and Eureka. Topics covered include the cast, the story and the production.
Tony Lawson (15:07): Also recorded in 2010, this interviews has editor Lawson sharing his thoughts on the art of editing, with references to Sam Peckinpah and Stanley Kubrick, both directors of films Lawson cut (Straw Dogs and Barry Lyndon, respectively). Focus is also put on Nicolas Roeg.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 24-page booklet with an essay titled “Stargazing” by film critic Chuck Stephens and a reprinted exchange between Roeg and screenwriter Terry Johnson.