There are times when I'm reminded that performance can be a transformative event, and am honored to witness the magic uniquely found when a group of individuals come together to share their time, energy, and attention with one another.
The opening night of Austin's Fusebox Festival proved to be just such a moment.
Green's unique combination of photographs, video, a physical narrator, and live music spoke to my interdisciplinary performance background, raising questions about how the future of live performance art can work with technology instead of always being set in opposition to it. I didn't quite know what to expect from the evening, however, and was not prepared to be as moved by the documentary as I ended up being.
The performance took place outdoors on the hill in front of the Long Center, and the festival board could not have asked for a more perfect spring evening for an outdoor event.
Between the live orchestra and giant projection screen, The Measure of All Things was able to combine the best of summer symphony performances in the park, drive-in movies, and the outdoor amphitheaters of ancient Greece and Rome.
The Measure of All Things is a documentary about the Guinness Book of (World) Records, which I didn't know was in fact actually started by the beer manufacturers.
In the documentary, Green explores our cultural fascination with world records, and what it might tell us about the human experience. While some of the records in the books appear to be silly and foolish, others are quite poignant and even haunting. Alongside the record for the longest fingernails is the record for the most times a person has been hit by lightning and survived.
What does it mean for a man to survive seven lightning strikes only to commit suicide via shotgun?
What does it mean to hold the record of oldest living person for thirteen hours?
How does being trapped in an elevator for forty hours change someone's life forever, above and beyond laying claim to the record for that event purely by accident?
Why would a man run a mile every day for over forty years, or memorize 90,000 digits of Pi? And what does it mean that neither of them could even explain to Green or any other interviewer why they do it?
In The Measure of All Things, Green explores the way the Guinness Book of Records can be understood as a means for making sense of the extremes and exceptions in the human experience. These peaks and valleys of human achievement paint a picture of who we are and the ever-expanding limits of what might be possible. And if some of the records seem foolish or inconsequential, perhaps that is only a reminder that the sum of our lives is often a series of otherwise mundane events.
When life is fleeting and unpredictable, what can we hold on to? What kind of legacy will we leave behind, and is the human drive towards excellence in the end just the desire to be remembered? Through the snapshots of the lives of a series of record-holders, Green is able to capture, in a way almost reminiscent of Beckett, the perpetual existential crisis of the human condition.
How even the supposed fame or permanence of holding a record is fleeting, because at any moment, it could all be taken away. Because time marches on, and the 1975 Guinness Book of Records can be purchased on Amazon for one mere cent (plus shipping).
There is a four thousand year old tree in Death Valley and the oldest living person at the time the documentary was filmed (who, Green admitted, actually just died) was born in 1898. Can you imagine seeing an entire century unfold? Being possibly the last person alive to ever experience life in the 19th century?
The Measure of All Things raises a lot of questions about humanity: who we are, what we value, and what we hope to leave behind.
But more than that, it provides a snapshot of the lives of some unique individuals who got their 15 minutes of fame, and questions what we get out of quantifying the human experience.
Is the Guinness Book of World Records just a silly, childish book of trivia or is it a bizarre self-portrait of the breadth of the human experience? In the end, I suppose that's up to each of us to decide.
But if The Measure of All Things is any indication of what the rest of Fusebox Festival has to offer, it's sure to be a wild and illuminating ride.
Fusebox Festival runs April 1-12 in locations all across Austin and is FREE to attend. The full festival schedule can be found on their website.
This review was originally published by The Horn on 04/02/2015.