Acorn Media // 2014 // 468 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 1st, 2014
Enter the void.
A few years ago, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City began holding a series of public conversations on one of the world's most complex and challenging topics: nothing. Well, that's a bit misleading. The talks are about nothing in the same sort of way that Seinfeld was about nothing, which is to say that they're actually about something of some sort. Each event paired two different speakers (among the diverse group is documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, neurologist Oliver Sacks, performance artist Laurie Anderson and composer Philip Glass), gave them a loose topic and let them wander wherever the conversation took them. Sometimes the results are captivating and sometimes not, but it's certainly an intriguing idea. For those who weren't actually able to attend the events, a selection of ten of these conversations have been preserved on DVD for your viewing pleasure.
First of all, if you have any interest in picking up Talks About Nothing -- please, for the love of God, skip the introductions at the beginning of each episode, which manage to make each and every one of these conversations sound thoroughly pretentious and tedious. In actuality, some of the chats are quite accessible and thought-provoking. I loved the conversation between actor Brian Cox (Adaptation) and developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik on Shakespeare, childhood and the needless baggage many bring to the profession of acting, and the segment includes a thoroughly charming clip of Cox attempting to help a toddler quote Hamlet's famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy. However, on other occasions the conversations just tend to meander aimlessly, which I suppose is a risk when you ask participants to talk about nothing. The installments seem to have been edited a bit and vary in length (they generally land in the 30-60 minute range).
The other downside to the episodes is that the video quality is horrible. There's no reason for a DVD release in the modern era to look this crappy; it's impossible to make out any individual's face unless they're presented in close-up. Blame the bad camera, blame the bad lighting, blame the unimaginative cinematography (which sometimes seems involved and sometimes seems as if someone just left the camera running for a few minutes while the camera operator took a long bathroom break), but it's not acceptable. Also, they're shot in standard def 1.33:1 full frame. What?! Granted, this is the sort of series where the audio matters more than the video, but that's inconsistent, too -- some participants have volume issues of all sorts.
Honestly, if you're interested in seeing these, the best thing to do is visit the Rubin Museum of Art's website, as they've posted many of them free of charge for your viewing/listening pleasure. The DVD doesn't exactly have a lot to offer in the supplemental department, limiting itself to a 16-page booklet featuring essays, a "timeline of the void," info on the museum and an episode guide. I'm all in favor of owning stuff that you love even if it's available free, but the A/V quality is just too crummy for me to recommend a purchase. Amateur philosophers may feel free to proceed at their own risk.
The content isn't guilty, but the DVD set is.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 468 Minutes
Release Year: 2014
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Rubin Museum of Art