Bigger Than Life

Bigger Than Life

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Angus Wolfe Murray's film review of Bigger Than Life

The audio commentary is by Ed Buscombe. Ed who? Exactly.

He calls himself Edward. The abbreviation must be an American affectation, even though he is English and “a fan of Nicholas Ray.” That’s it. No intellectually over-endowed film archivist. No smarty pants studio mouthwash. No critic who wants to talk the leg off Captain Ahab. Just a fan. It’s wonderful.

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And Ed(ward) IS wonderful. He points out details in scenes you might not have noticed (“The rusty water heater in the kitchen emphasizes Ed’s need for money”) without making you feel unobservant, or stupid.

His knowledge of the subject, namely Ray and this particular film, is lightly worn. He’ll say, “Barbara Rush has a pretty, but bland, face that Hollywood demanded, appropriate for a suburban housewife,” and it doesn’t sound like a put down, while facts (“It was shot in 32 days on the Fox studio lot, relatively cheaply”) are always of interest. Apparently, Gavin Lambert, who was a young film critic in London at the time, with ambitions to be a scriptwriter, was brought over to Los Angeles by Ray and sneaked onto the production staff, in order to chip in with rewrites. Also, he doesn’t gush about his hero (“Ray’s use of colour was never less than thoughtful”), but simply radiates admiration.

Jim Jarmusch In Conversation With Jonathan Rosenbaum should have been called Jim Jarmusch Listens To Jonathan Rosenbaum. Every Indy film buff’s favourite director (Down By Law, Night On Earth) has always enjoyed that unique position of standing on the dark side of cool. He wears black to highlight an overgrown silver crew cut and speaks slow'n'low, like a robot in a lift shaft.

“Yes. A very strange film.”


“I love the way the doctors talk mumbo jumbo.”

This is from the man who has seen the film more than four times, “but not for the last 10 years.” He calls it “very subversive,” because “it’s not the cortisone that’s so horrible, it’s the life they’ve been leading since the beginning.”

Rosenbaum is long haired, overweight, with two pens in the top pocket of his shirt. He’s neither young, nor old, but caught in the middle between being respected for his indiscretions and ignored for trying to hog centre stage.

“Nick was seeing Marilyn Monroe while making the film,” he says. “He cast her as a nurse in one of the scenes, but it was never used.” Not many people know that. Also, Nick was talking with Jimmy Dean about making more films together. Instead, James Mason in his role as producer asked him to direct Bigger Than Life, based on an autobiographical article in The New Yorker. The French title, he tells us, is Behind The Mirror. He’s like a tap. Turn him on and he’ll flood your ear hole.

The Nicholas Ray Interview (1969) is in audio, accompanied by stills from 12 of his films. They are discussed in sound bit one liners. Ray says, “I’m not a very intellectual fellow. It’s taken a long time for me to understand this.” The interviewer leaves it hanging. Rebel Without A Cause, In A Lonely Place, The Lusty Men, Johnny Guitar, Wind Across The Everglades and others are analyzed briefly, but not Bigger Than Life.

Jarmusch called the film “very strange.” He called the trailer “very strange,” too. Either his vocabulary requires an overhaul, or he’s right on both counts. The trailer features Mason introducing the movie from his producer’s chair. It’s not strange so much as unexpected, which is less infuriating than trailers that show all the best bits and leave nothing to the imagination. Some trailers are better than the films they trail. Not this one.

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2007
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Addiction to a wonder drug has mind-altering side-effects.
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Product Code: BFIVD672

Region: 2

Ratio: 1:2.35 CinemaScope

Sound: Dolby Digital mono

Extras: Audio commentary by Ed Buscombe; Jim Jarmusch In Conversation With Jonathan Rosenbaum; The Nicholas Ray Interview; trailer

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