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The Definition of Insanity (A Video Review)

The Definition of Insanity

The Definition of Insanity


Starring Robert Margolis, Kelli Barnett, Frank Krias, Derek Johnson and Peter Bogdanovich.

Screenplay by Robert Margolis and Frank Matter.

Directed by Robert Margolis and Frank Matter.

Distributed by FilmBuff.  85 minutes.  Not Rated.

Acting isn’t as glamorous as Hollywood would like us to believe.  For every Brad Pitt or George Clooney who becomes a huge star there are thousands of people like Robert Margolis.

Margolis is a classic example of the term “struggling actor.”  In this self-penned and directed indie film (in collaboration with co-writer / director Frank Matter), Margolis takes a tongue in cheek look at the extremely hard knocks of being a wannabe actor – or for that matter any type of driven artist.

At least, I hope it is tongue in cheek.

In this mock documentary, Margolis plays a fictionalized version of himself – even using his own name – as an actor who is constantly deluding himself that his big break is just around the corner.  The possibility of an off-Broadway play or a new set of head shots or a meeting with an agent fuel his determination anew constantly, only have the rug pulled out from under him on a nearly constant basis.

This rabid determination to his craft is causing financial hardships (Margolis refuses to take a job because he wants to be available for auditions), marital strife (his wife is played by a very good actress named Kelli Barnett, as far as I know she is not his real spouse) and nearly constant humiliation.

It is said that in 2004 (the year this film was first released) the average member of the Screen Actor’s Guild made about $5,000 a year directly from acting jobs.  That isn’t even counting the people (like Margolis – at least according to this film) who can’t even get into the union – whether because lack of funds for the annual dues or not having gotten the right type of jobs to qualify.

Honestly, Margolis looks extremely familiar, though I can’t say exactly why.  His filmography lists six films made between 1996 and 2004 – only one I had ever heard of before receiving this DVD screener and none of which I have seen.

Then again, that sense of instant recognition is vital to a character actor.

By playing a character that is named after himself, the audience wonders how autobiographical this film truly is.  We would like to believe that the real Margolis is showing bemusement in some of the screen Margolis’ more desperate actions and delusions.  Yet, you have to assume that Margolis does share at least some of his fictional doppelganger’s traits – after all he is still trying to push this film as his calling card over six years after the film was made.

However, by finally getting a video release of his labor of love, maybe Margolis will finally get some of those juicy roles that he so obviously lusts after.  (It shows a certain amount of nice self-awareness that his character insists he has no interest in being a star, he just wants to be able to work at what he loves.)

The title of the film, obviously, refers to the old Albert Einstein quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The fictional Margolis tenaciously ignores all the hard knocks that the acting profession hurls his way, forever delusional in his certainty that things are coming together for him… long after those around him have lost all hope in his chances.

The latter scenes – in which Margolis’ obsessions start to catch up with him – are hopefully just an artist’s imagining of the worst-case scenario future.  I’d like to believe that here, at least, the artist diverges from his true course.  After all, who was it that said that art was just real life spiced up with periodic sexy parts?

The obsessive urge of an artist to create in the face of constant hardship is a fascinating plotline – but honestly it is not a particularly unusual one.   Variations of this story have been told often.

The Definition of Insanity is not the best of those films, but it is a funny and enjoyable inside look at the psyche of the struggling actor.  Hopefully it finally will help Margolis find his great white whale of a role – or at least the making of the movie helped him to come to terms with his professional desires.

Jay S. Jacobs

Click on this link to purchase or rent a download of the movie: Definition of Insanity

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: April 9, 2010.


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