The Measure of All Things by Sam Green

This post is the first in a series on Hot Docs 2014 films that reorganize and reimagine the limits of documentary.

The Measure of All Things is not so much a screening as a feature-length “live documentary” enacted at the Isabel Bader Theatre early in the festival’s run. U.S. filmmaker Sam Green, best known for his Academy Award-nominated The Weather Underground, “performed” a one-night-only staging of his multi-media documentary, which is loosely based on the Guinness Book of Records, and accompanied it with a live score performed by the musical group the Quavers.

Both of my boyish thirty-something viewing companions admitted their own adolescent obsession with the Guinness Book of Records; however, appreciation of the “live” film doesn’t depend on a childhood entranced by odd statistics. Rather, the Book’s stories are the ground upon which to explore, in Green’s framing, a yearbook of the edges of humanity. What’s wonderful is the way those edges become less distant from our lives than images of the world’s longest fingernails at first suggest.

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“The Measure of All Things” Sundance premiere, photo by Ryan Johnson

 

Multi-media performances in which a live band scores projected images overlain with the narration of a charismatic live speaker are becoming more common, though they often come across more as a gimmick than they did in Green’s thoughtful live film. (It’s also important to recognize the economy undergirding such performances, which can be a strategic way for a filmmaker to secure artists’ fees within the traditional festival landscape of (mostly) free labour.)

A tease for anyone able to catch the next performance: there is endless post-film dinner-party-fodder in a scene involving a dolphin, near death, and the second tallest man in the world.

 

About the author

Brett Story

Brett Story is a writer, organizer, and independent documentary filmmaker based out of Toronto whose most recent film, Land of Destiny (2010), offers a portrait of a petrochemical town in crisis. She is currently working toward a PhD in geography at the University of Toronto, conducting a project about the relationship between prisons and cities.

By Brett Story