Image by Sam Green

The Measure of All Things, a live documentary by Sam Green and yMusic

Sam Green and yMusic


The Measure of All Things is a new live-cinema performance from Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Sam Green (The Weather Underground). The project, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, continues Green’s exploration of a form he calls “live documentary.” These projects deconstruct the elements of a documentary film and rebuild them as a live event: Green narrates the piece onstage and cues images—photos, film footage, interview clips—while a live band performs the soundtrack. It’s all the elements of a film, but live, and there is something in the ephemerality and serendipity of the performance that creates a profound collective experience in the theater.

Green situates his recent work at the intersection of performance, film, and lecture. His live documentaries—including his most recent piece, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, featuring an in-person soundtrack by the legendary indie band Yo La Tengo—have been presented at performance venues like the Time-Based Art Festival (Portland, OR), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN), the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH), the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston, MA), the Barbican (London), and the Kitchen (New York, NY).

The Measure of All Things is a meditation on fate, time, and the outer contours of the human experience. Inspired very loosely by the Guinness Book of Records, the film weaves together a series of portraits of record-holding people, places, and things, including the tallest man (7 feet 9 inches), the oldest living thing (a 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine in Southern California), the woman with the longest fingernails, the oldest living person (116), and the person with the world’s longest name. Each portrait is a poem. Some are funny—the world’s most powerful supercomputer, circa 1992, for example. (It boasted 32 MB of memory!) Others are poignant: “Roy Sullivan was struck by lightning a record six times. He eventually took his own life. Friends said he was ‘unlucky in love.’”

The Measure of All Things resolutely avoids the silly or freak-show side of the Guinness Book of Records. Instead, the portraits add up to a poignant meditation on the mysteries of existence, our individual and collective search for meaning, and the beauty and tragedy of human folly.

Drawing inspiration from forms as diverse as old travelogues, the Benshi tradition, and TED talks, The Measure of All Things was developed with creative collaborator Annie Dorsen (Passing Strange, Magical, A Piece of Work).

The film will be screened with a live soundtrack performed by the acclaimed chamber group yMusic.

The Measure of All Things was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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