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Review: In & of Itself (2021)

In & of Itself (2021)

Directed by: Frank Oz

Premise: A cinematic presentation of Derek DelGaudio’s one-man stage show In & of Itself. DelGaudio performs magic tricks and tells stories while speculating about our conception of identity and meaning.

What Works: Recordings of live performances such as concert films, stage shows, and lectures tend to be the least cinematic kinds of film. Movement is often minimal and the point of view is generally fixed in order to replicate the experience of sitting in a live audience. Magic and illusion acts are especially difficult to make engaging on film because the plasticity of cinema takes away the immediacy that makes illusions impressive. In & of Itself is so impressive because it makes this stage show cinematic and engaging. It helps that the show itself is so unusual. Derek DelGaudio’s one-man stage show has a lot of audience participation and the film cobbles together moments from different performances as well as using interesting camera angles and including animated visuals over some of DelGaudio’s narration. In & of Itself fuses theatrical and cinematic techniques which makes for an engaging and unusual film. But the form works as well as it does because it is married to fascinating material. Derek DelGaudio is a master performer and his show gets at meaningful ideas. In & of Itself has humor and illusions but it isn’t a standup act nor is it strictly a magic show. Like the best standup performances, Derek DelGaudio’s In & of Itself is built around a theme—in this case’s it’s our identity and the way in which we grasp onto labels and categories—and the humor and the stories and the illusions open up our understanding of ourselves and the world. The way DelGaudio and the filmmakers adumbrate abstract concepts is powerful and unsettling and that allows the film to approximate the vividness and immediacy of a live show.

What Doesn’t: In & of Itself does not fit neatly within categories of comedy or drama. This is not a conventional one man stage performance nor is it a typical magic show. The film’s elusiveness is to its credit; there is a mysteriousness to In & Of Itself that’s powerful but the film is also cerebral and downbeat and the filmmakers ask the audience to come to them rather than the other way around. The final set piece of In & of Itself runs up against the limitations of a recorded performance. Magical illusions aren’t as impressive on screen as they are in person and that becomes evident in the ending; the final bit works but on screen it lacks the impact that a live performance would possess.

DVD extras: Currently available on Hulu.

Bottom Line: In & of Itself is a unique and mysterious film. It requires the viewer’s full attention and warrants multiple viewings. Going beyond a concert documentary or a standup act, performer Derek DelGaudio and filmmaker Frank Oz have created a transcendent cinematic experience.

Episode: #854 (June 6, 2021)