Bigger Than Life

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by the BFI and the films on them.

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Michael
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:09 pm

Bigger Than Life

#1 Post by Michael » Sun Jan 04, 2009 11:54 am

Bigger Than Life

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Bigger Than Life is one of the greatest American films of the 1950s, a high point in the careers of lead actor James Mason and director Nicholas Ray. The BFI, in conjunction with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, gives it its first UK release on any format.

James Mason gives a towering performance as Ed Avery, a happily married schoolteacher who agrees to take a new 'miracle drug' when diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease. It is not long before the drug begins producing malevolent and murderous side-effects that bring to the fore all of Ed's long-repressed frustrations with his life.

Mason's support is exceptional: Barbara Rush as Ed's devoted wife, Christopher Olsen as his cruelly punished son and Walter Matthau as his faithful colleague.

One of the cinema's most persuasive portraits of psychological turmoil, the film also succeeds magnificently as searing melodrama and subversive social critique, with Ray, his scriptwriters and cinematographer achieving a perfect balance between emotional realism and expressionist allegory.

Extras
* Feature commentary by Edward Buscombe
* New filmed conversation about the film and Nicholas Ray between Jim Jarmusch (fan, friend and assistant on the last film Ray made) and Jonathan Rosenbaum
* Extracts from a 1969 interview with Nicholas Ray
* Original theatrical trailer

The DVD contains a fully illustrated 22-page colour booklet with essays by Geoff Andrew, author of The Films of Nicholas Ray (BFI, 2004); Jeanine Basinger and Susan Ray, and biographies

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foggy eyes
Joined: Fri Sep 01, 2006 9:58 am
Location: UK

Re: Bigger Than Life

#2 Post by foggy eyes » Sun Jan 04, 2009 12:00 pm

Michael wrote:The only Nicholas Ray films I've seen are In a Lonely Place and Rebel Without a Cause and I'd like to venture more into Ray's art. Is Bigger Than Life worth picking up?
In short: yes, of course. I doubt there's anybody on this board who would say otherwise!

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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

Re: Bigger Than Life

#3 Post by Gregory » Sun Jan 04, 2009 1:46 pm

Strongly seconded, to the forum in general and in particular to you, Michael. I think it will be a worthwhile experience for you from what I know of your tastes and look forward to any comments you have whenever you do see it.

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Michael
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:09 pm

Re: Bigger Than Life

#4 Post by Michael » Tue Jan 06, 2009 11:41 am

Thanks guys. I will be ordering it today.

neal
Joined: Fri Dec 02, 2005 11:44 pm
Location: NY, USA

Re: Bigger Than Life

#5 Post by neal » Thu Jan 08, 2009 12:45 am

For anyone who's in NYC, Film Forum is currently screening a 35mm print of this...

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Barmy
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 3:59 pm

Re: Bigger Than Life

#6 Post by Barmy » Thu Jan 08, 2009 11:27 am

Boring, flat, silly and overrated. The first half in particular is dull as dishwater. Yeah, it's got the PTA scene and that one good line. Obviously it plays as high camp now; thus perfect Film Forum fodder.

Perkins Cobb
Joined: Tue Apr 29, 2008 12:49 pm

Re: Bigger Than Life

#7 Post by Perkins Cobb » Thu Jan 08, 2009 2:05 pm

Barmy wrote:Boring, flat, silly and overrated. The first half in particular is dull as dishwater. Yeah, it's got the PTA scene and that one good line. Obviously it plays as high camp now; thus perfect Film Forum fodder.
Okay, now I finally understand why everybody always makes fun of Barmy around here.

royalton
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2008 1:18 am

Re: Bigger Than Life

#8 Post by royalton » Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:08 am

The audience at the Forum tonight didn't seem to know how to take it either. Lots of tittering and giggles at stuff that either played differently to a jaded ironic audience, or perhaps at a few things Ray meant that flew over the heads of the period viewers. The crowd exploded when James Mason turns onto his stomach for another invasive medical exam and is then told he needn't; "sorry," he says, "I was in the Navy."

I really loved it and I think it's going to stick with me, the same way Synecdoche, NY did recently after I tried to sort of put it out of my mind. I think I may prefer it to Rebel. But I'm still pondering whether Ed (Mason) was acting out as the ultimate nightmarish suburban male, or as a monstrous renegade torn from those mediocre trappings, or, perhaps and probably, both.

It's particularly interesting to note that this film was done after Ray found his son in bed with his latest wife - and then, in the film, Ed tries to kill little Richie.

I wish I could find the proper regionless player so I could pick up the BFI disc of this.

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david hare
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:01 pm
Location: WellyYeller

Re: Bigger Than Life

#9 Post by david hare » Fri Jan 09, 2009 6:01 am

Royalton there's also a R4 ( or more corrrectly a region free)

I am just so hapy you guys like this. I think its one of Ray's very best movies, quite apart from the gay bullshit you are dithering with in the text of it.. of all of Ray's movies I just donna get the gay text here?

THere are movies in which Ray clearly dithers with gayness., including rebel but I simply donna thing this bewunna, adem..
.......

royalton
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2008 1:18 am

Re: Bigger Than Life

#10 Post by royalton » Fri Jan 09, 2009 6:39 am

david, I'm not trying to assign that to the text, as I didn't really think the reaction to the Navy line was what was intended by Ray; I think it was just a typical attitude from a "need to appear to be jaded hipsters" modern audience.

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Tom Amolad
Joined: Sun Jan 13, 2008 4:30 pm
Location: New York

Re: Bigger Than Life

#11 Post by Tom Amolad » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:23 am

royalton wrote:david, I'm not trying to assign that to the text, as I didn't really think the reaction to the Navy line was what was intended by Ray; I think it was just a typical attitude from a "need to appear to be jaded hipsters" modern audience.
I think you're missing the point of the Navy line. He's been told he needs to have his sternum punctured, and to a seaman, anything having starting "stern-" suggests backside. When I saw it it Film Forum, it from the delayed reactions, it sounded like a lot of people got it after a couple seconds' thought.

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Barmy
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 3:59 pm

Re: Bigger Than Life

#12 Post by Barmy » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:51 am

Why is laughing at this film evidence of being a "jaded hipster". That's pretty condescending. The film is very silly and campy and that's what people are responding to. The "God was wrong" line gets huge laughs. Ditto that endless football scene. Ditto basically everything Matthau does cuz he's such a clown. The only interesting thing about the film is speculating to what extent it played as a comedy in the 50s.

montgomery
Joined: Thu Sep 15, 2005 6:02 pm
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Re: Bigger Than Life

#13 Post by montgomery » Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:20 pm

royalton wrote:But I'm still pondering whether Ed (Mason) was acting out as the ultimate nightmarish suburban male, or as a monstrous renegade torn from those mediocre trappings, or, perhaps and probably, both.
This is also what I was left wondering. (spoilers ahead:) The ending felt slightly tacked on; the doctor's insistence that Mason had abused the drug and that with the proper dosage all would be well, was belied by what we saw earlier in the film, at least to some extent. It seemed like a tacked-on disclaimer to avoid any potential lawsuit from pharmaceutical companies. But was it a happy ending? When he's in bed with his family again, are they all agreeing to live in denial?

I am trying to figure out the significance of the early scenes too. In the first scene, a teacher flirts with Mason. Then we see Mason working for the cab company; his wife assumes he's having an affair with the teacher. Later, in the first instance of Mason's drug-induced behavior, he flirts with the teacher. Then, after he quits his cab job, these plotlines are dropped from the film. Obviously, his job working as an operator (with a bunch of other women) was supposed to be emasculating, and there is his need to keep up appearances as the masculine head of the household. But something more seems to be going on. I got the sense that he purposely led his wife to believe he was having an affair, and he was clearly pleased when his wife thought he was capable of it. But perhaps there was more significance to this whole section of the film, or something obvious that I'm missing.

Frankinho007
Joined: Tue May 26, 2009 6:45 pm
Location: Berlin, Germany

Re: Bigger Than Life

#14 Post by Frankinho007 » Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:12 pm

With the upcoming Criterion BD in March 2010 are there plans to do a BFI Bigger Than Life BD as well?

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