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.

“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.