507 Bigger Than Life

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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cdnchris
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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#51 Post by cdnchris » Mon Mar 08, 2010 3:01 am

Florinaldo wrote: But have we become so blasé or spoiled about extras that this edition realy deserves the comment "a modest little selection of supplements"?
I actually didn't mean it as a slight or ironically. There's a few supplements, including an "okay" commentary (for me anyways.) Though maybe we/I have been so spoiled.

At any rate:
DVD review

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tenia
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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#52 Post by tenia » Mon Mar 08, 2010 3:16 pm

cdnchris wrote:
Florinaldo wrote: But have we become so blasé or spoiled about extras that this edition realy deserves the comment "a modest little selection of supplements"?
I actually didn't mean it as a slight or ironically. There's a few supplements, including an "okay" commentary (for me anyways.) Though maybe we/I have been so spoiled.

At any rate:
DVD review
I praise the fact that you always dedicate a sometimes very big part of your reviews to the supplements, explaining what they're really about, who's talking and if it's really interesting in more than 20 words (which is the path Beaver is more and more choosing).

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#53 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sat Mar 13, 2010 8:23 pm

I found this a very interesting and at times arresting film.
My favorite parts:
- Forced studying with large ominous shadows of Dad on the wall behind the kid. Then Mom coming in saying that dinner has been waiting for two hours, "and he didn't even have lunch today."
- James Mason sitting in church, unshaven, with a thoroughly skeptical look on his face bordering on disdain.
- the stentorian one-liner on God.
- two nice uses of mirrors
- the fairly wild brawl with carnivalesque music playing on the TeeVee

The cortisone angle didn't bother me at all.
I mostly thought of cortico-steroids, such as prednisone, which are indeed wonder drugs, but have pretty terrible physical side effects from long-term use.
But it's not hard to just go imagine any generic experimental drug, or perhaps modern psychotropic drugs, which can mess with one's mind. And this was an era in which the gov't carried out LSD experiments and such.

I was more concerned with the rushed time frame, which seemed a little awkward. But again, I just mentally adjusted the time frame to, in my view, fit developments better.

I was also surprised how very modern Mason's rant seemed with regard to the flaws of the education system, which to him is too soft with its focus on esteem building and self-actualization and not enough basic learning. I'd have to hear it again to recall the terms used, but it sounded an awfully lot like criticisms during the Bush years and continuing today.

Loved Mason. Who better to play a conflicted uber-Dad?
I need to let it sink in a bit more, especially the pushover wife and the doctors' certitude despite the near disastrous results.
But this is definitely a film to catch for anyone at all interested in 50's filmmaking.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#54 Post by TheGodfather » Wed Mar 17, 2010 6:53 pm

Received my blu-ray copy today and watched it tonight (my second viewing since september)
Loving it this time even better than the first time, I noticed especially how up to date it still is.

I thought the picture quality was magnificent, loved the grain in the picture.
I listened to the first part of the audio commentary as well. Really interesting so far, looking forward to the rest of the track and the other supplements.

All in all, I`d highly recommend it.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#55 Post by domino harvey » Mon Mar 22, 2010 5:35 pm

Got my copy today and though I'm not done plowing through the extras, this really is the best Criterion release in recent memory. One of the things I'm loving about it is how academic the supplements are-- whoever produced this disc should be producing all Criterions. This all makes me remember how Criterion used to be and fall in love all over again.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#56 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Mar 22, 2010 5:52 pm

How is everyone getting their copies today? My Amazon Prime order hasn't even shipped yet.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#57 Post by domino harvey » Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:18 pm

I preordered from Criterion and they shipped it Friday, got it today via UPS. They actually overnighted it but of course UPS doesn't deliver on Saturdays

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#58 Post by Tribe » Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:34 pm

Haven't watched this yet...but I absolutely loved the essay by B. Kite (who I was unfamiliar with, as I'm unfamiliar with Bigger Than Life). I'm in no position to evaluate whether the essay is bullshit, inaccurate, what have you...but I thoroughly enjoyed it as positing a succinct background on Ray and the exposition of Bigger Than Life against Ray's overall work history. Reading it certainly has me looking forward to watching the film.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#59 Post by Fortisquince » Wed Mar 24, 2010 12:31 am

Received the Blu-Ray from Criterion last Friday and watched the film that night. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was very underwhelmed. I thought the film was...dull. I didn't find an intriguing critique of Eisenhower Era America, I found a routine addiction melodrama. The film seemed earnest and played straight to me, which is not to say that I need my satire to be campy in order for me to appreciate it. I was very surprised at my reaction and listened to the commentary the next day looking for some insight. I thought the commentary was extremely dry and didn't provide me with a deeper understanding of the film, although it was good at providing a historical context of the film itself and the players involved.

On the whole, a big disappointment.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#60 Post by Gregory » Wed Mar 24, 2010 2:05 am

My advice, speaking just as someone who loves the film, would be for people not to approach it on the first viewing expecting it to play as a damning social commentary. Even if one is aware it's been read that way, it's not necessary to watch for that, and I think doing so on the first viewing might leave some people wondering what the fuss is about. Experience it once, come back to it a couple more times, with some time between viewings, and see what you find lurking within it. It's one of those films that offers new things each time, at least I find that to be true. Watching other Ray films in between makes a lot of interesting connections possible in thinking about how he sees the structures and relationships in which people live.

(And I hope none of this makes it sound like I think the film does not offer a critique. I'm just thinking about newcomers to the film putting the cart before the horse.)

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#61 Post by HistoryProf » Sat May 01, 2010 3:54 pm

Watched this last night (on blu) and was blown away. in terms of the picture, it's my new favorite blu ray - just absolutely stunning, I really couldn't believe how awesome it looked. It was a revelation.

The film itself is a masterstroke. James Mason is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, and he's brilliant here. I didn't find it campy at all, and loved the addition of the carnival music in the climax. One thing that jumped out at me was Mason and the wife's single beds in their boudoir. It's such a Lucy and Ricky icon of the sweetness of 50s America - but I now know that in reality those rooms existed everywhere not out of prudishness, but due to rampant PTSD in post WWII and Korea America. My dad's parents had single beds and we always laughingly called them Ricky and Lucy. I only found out towards the end of my grandfather's life in the mid 90s that the reason for them was that he had night terrors that physically threatened, and even injured my grandmother a couple of times. They began the week he came home from Europe in May 1945, and continued for 50 years - forcing them into adjacent single beds for both their safety. He never once talked about his experiences in France and Belgium - much like thousands of other American Dads who suffered through unspeakable horrors of war in Europe and the Pacific, and then came home to a nation intent on building suburbs, big cars, shopping malls, and forgetting all that bad stuff. Appropriately, my grandfather went to work as an engineer for the auto industry in Detroit.

Those seething realities that under gird the era's supposed innocence is perfectly represented in this film. The 50s are perhaps the single most misunderstood decade in American history, primarily because the nation was so focused on projecting a veneer of perfection that permeates every document of the period we have. Rarely do films get under that skin so well as Bigger Than Life. Criterion really outdid themselves with this one....bravo!

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#62 Post by jojo » Mon Jun 07, 2010 1:59 pm

jonah.77 wrote:It may not be camp (I certainly don't think it lends itself to that), but most of the audience at a recent screening in the midwest--in a town that will go unnamed--found every moment of it, even or especially the most disturbing, completely hilarious. Although much of the reaction was just a generic "oh, look, the fifties!" smugness, there is something about this film that seems to elicit this reaction more than other films of the time. Maybe it's just too on-the-nose for most of its length? Too schematic? Maybe it's the treatment of the medical profession? Mason's acting style? A combination of all of these things?

Anyway, it was a real shame that most of the audience decided to laugh, and not just because it irritated those of who found it moving. Finding the whole thing worthy of contempt, the audience didn't seem to pick up on the weird tonal shift the film takes in its final minutes. This has gotta be one of those "false happy endings" that critics are so eager to discover in Hollywood films.
This is almost exactly the same experience I had at a screening I caught yesterday afternoon.

I don't know what it is. Certainly, there are some parts of the film that are indeed very funny. But I don't know if it's "hilarious" as these people find it to be. I believe if you take it strictly superficially, it does have an element of camp to it, but even so, it's not exactly a laugh-riot.

The curious thing is that a bunch of the people around me who found it a laugh riot were some pretty old people. There were a couple of old women, maybe in their 70s or so, who were laughing almost every 5 minutes. But then, they lived in the 50s and I didn't so maybe they're seeing something I'm not catching.

What I did catch was that the film did indeed seem ironic. If you think about how the first half hour or so plays, it's just way too earnest and "Leave it to Beaver"-ish to not have been done on purpose. And Mason's last line, talking about dreaming that he was walking with Lincoln...isn't that almost proof that this film has indeed been an ironic take of stereotypical 50s-era American suburbia?
Those look really contrasty. Almost too dark and the colors seem muted. Can those of you who've seen it theatrically speak to the contrast/color?
The Criterion release seems right. Although the film is quite colourful, it did not seem a particularly "bright" looking film to me. The film that does often seem dark looking on the big screen.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#63 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Jun 07, 2010 2:20 pm

jojo wrote: What I did catch was that the film did indeed seem ironic. If you think about how the first half hour or so plays, it's just way too earnest and "Leave it to Beaver"-ish to not have been done on purpose. And Mason's last line, talking about dreaming that he was walking with Lincoln...isn't that almost proof that this film has indeed been an ironic take of stereotypical 50s-era American suburbia?
I didn't get the Leave it to Beaver impression from the first part- perhaps because I already knew broadly where it was going- I felt like I could already see the darkness creeping in around the edges. Mason's contempt for his son's tv watching, his job at the taxi stand, and his money problems are all probably in of themselves things that could have slipped into a 50s sitcom, but here they're taken seriously. When Mason goes mad, it's not a parody of the first part where all the dynamics are reversed, it's an extension and supertextualization of the currents that had already been established and were swept under as long as Mason was calm and mild mannered.

It's certainly not a very believable happy ending.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#64 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Jun 07, 2010 6:34 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:When Mason goes mad, it's not a parody of the first part where all the dynamics are reversed, it's an extension and supertextualization of the currents that had already been established and were swept under as long as Mason was calm and mild mannered.
I agree - the money worries, the distrust of brain rotting television and the "is he having an affair? Phew, he's just working an extra job!" material of early on just gets heightened into the later spending sprees, enforced tuition sessions and one nicely understated scene where Mason appears to be eyeing up his female colleague (was this something that would have inevitably happened or was Mason started down that path by his wife's own suspicions? Or was I, as the audience member, just over sensitive to the idea of an affair because of the earlier scenes?)

Even the potential child murder section, while dark, is quite funny for the way Mason is just resigned to having to take on this extra moral burden after having had to become the ultra-paternal teacher in the other areas, having to make up for all the perceived failings of society. Considering the way that Mason seems to be a rather kind but distant father and husband early on (since he is too busy keeping up society appearances and taking on second jobs), he is far scarier when, as the drugs kick in and he takes over from society, he diverts his whole attention onto his son and seems to be trying to mould the boy in his image (again a more extreme version of the previous low key and acceptable father/son socialisation behaviour).

Of course all this heightened belief in his own abilities comes crashing down when he finally tries to take on Matthau's P.E. teacher in a punch-up! Taken together with the pain, the influence the drugs have and the focus on forcing the son to play football there seems to be a running theme of the physical being able to easily assert its dominance over easily manipulated and changeable intellectual and emotional behaviours.

I quite liked the ending for not coming up with any miracle cure, but instead leaving the family to continue to struggle with the drugs. I don't really see it as an 'undermined happy ending' exactly, more that the family are left in the same basic situation that they were in before the problems with the drugs, just with the admonition to try and be more careful next time (the big message of the film would seem to be for family doctors not to take the weekend off because that is always when your patients are going to get into the biggest trouble!)

I suppose that Criterion is planning to bookend this year's releases with this and Antichrist - another borderline hysterical, scissor related familial film! Though while watching Bigger Than Life and seeing the final violence that takes place in what should be a cosy family front room while the television blares irrelevantly in the corner and adoring children internalise their behaviour from increasingly maniacal parents, I felt it was a bit more anticipating of Haneke and Cassavetes.

A Woman Under The Influence in particular has that same feel of the lack of power of both doctors on the one hand and loving partners on the other in the face of mental disturbance. At least though the family has to stick together through these troubles, while the suggestion here seems to be that outside authorities appear to get involved, make things worse and then drop the issue while taking the credit for any 'recovery' experienced!

Now, when will Criterion get to my very favourite Nicholas Ray film, Johnny Guitar?

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#65 Post by Magic Hate Ball » Wed Jun 09, 2010 6:31 am

I loved the television blaring circus music, but that seemed like a familiar gimmick. Has Hitchcock ever done that? Seems like something that would fly in his world.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#66 Post by hearthesilence » Thu Jun 10, 2010 1:50 pm

Don't share their POV, but thought this was amusing:
Lena Dunham ("Tiny Furniture"): For me, forgetting that I'm watching people act is such a thrilling sensation. That's what I look for when watching movies. . . . I'm a total movie geek, but I can't get into movies like Nicholas Ray's. I'll go with my friends and they'll say, "Bigger Than Life—that was incredible." And I was so distracted the entire time by watching James Mason act in that fashion.

Aaron Katz ("Cold Weather"): I totally agree about Bigger Than Life. I do like some Nicholas Ray movies, but I was so off-put by that one.

Dunham: I was watching it with a boy who I wanted very much to think I was cool and have a crush on me, but the whole time I was like, ugh, yawn, bring a book, I can't deal with this. . . .

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#67 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Jun 10, 2010 2:01 pm

Haha Brecht is rolling around in his grave at "For me, forgetting that I'm watching people act is such a thrilling sensation."

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#68 Post by The Elegant Dandy Fop » Thu Jun 10, 2010 2:39 pm

Strange as their feelings are the exact same feelings I had about Aaron Katz's first two features. I felt the whole time he was trying to have his actors act like it's real life, but it ends up being contrived. After hearing the word "like" to start a conversation for the fiftieth time and about how pointless all his character's lives are like, I just couldn't get connected at all. I'm about the age of his characters and I know nobody like the people in his films. Everyone is so boring and unexciting. Plus I've seen Bigger Than Life a good four times now and I've never thought that James Mason was a beacon of distraction for the entire film. What a lot of the new generation of filmmakers fail to realize is that different generations of cinema have different acting techniques. Take a look at silent cinema and it's incredibly deliberate mime and over the top facial expressions to cinema of the fifties with stage directors moving to cinema and taking stage performance with them. People have to be comfortable with the acting styles of these generation, otherwise what's the point of even enjoying cinema?

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#69 Post by jojo » Thu Jun 10, 2010 3:06 pm

Many of Ray's films (and many studio films from that era, I should also add) do tend to take on a stylized, exaggerated quality--they're expressionistic rather than "realistic" in the superficial sense of the word. I think many modern viewers are so conditioned to think that we need to "believe" what we're seeing onscreen that many of them don't like to see an expressionistic, "big" display of emotions anymore. Post-modern sensibilities and all that jazz. Strangely enough, so many can readily accept actors battling obvious CGI creations but if emotions are displayed in a rather open, unabashed and "large" manner, many people brush that off as camp.

It's one of the reasons, perhaps, that the melodramatic acting/storytelling style of soap operas have never been universally considered as "art".

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#70 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jun 10, 2010 4:38 pm

It was interesting to watch Richard Quine's Strangers When We Meet recently and be treated to an entirely different dynamic between Walter Matthau and Barbara Rush :shock:

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#71 Post by zedz » Thu Jun 10, 2010 5:48 pm

jojo wrote:Many of Ray's films (and many studio films from that era, I should also add) do tend to take on a stylized, exaggerated quality--they're expressionistic rather than "realistic" in the superficial sense of the word. I think many modern viewers are so conditioned to think that we need to "believe" what we're seeing onscreen that many of them don't like to see an expressionistic, "big" display of emotions anymore. Post-modern sensibilities and all that jazz. Strangely enough, so many can readily accept actors battling obvious CGI creations but if emotions are displayed in a rather open, unabashed and "large" manner, many people brush that off as camp.
I think this is more a case that stylization in acting changes over time and presentist audiences like to think that they've arrived at a point of unrivalled sophistication and verisimilitude. Thus they swallow the nonsense of the present whole while looking down on the nonsense of the past. In fifty years' time, the grandchildren of today's heedless presentists will be howling at today's 'realistic' acting styles and sneering just as foolishly at the gullibility of their forebears.

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#72 Post by david hare » Thu Jun 10, 2010 7:26 pm

You mean they will sneer at Mumblecore?

God forbid!

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#73 Post by zedz » Thu Jun 10, 2010 8:10 pm

Even worse, folk like us will be defending it as "the Sirk of the noughties."

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#74 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jun 10, 2010 8:22 pm

C'mon 2012

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Re: 507 Bigger Than Life

#75 Post by aox » Thu Jun 10, 2010 8:35 pm

zedz wrote:
jojo wrote:Many of Ray's films (and many studio films from that era, I should also add) do tend to take on a stylized, exaggerated quality--they're expressionistic rather than "realistic" in the superficial sense of the word. I think many modern viewers are so conditioned to think that we need to "believe" what we're seeing onscreen that many of them don't like to see an expressionistic, "big" display of emotions anymore. Post-modern sensibilities and all that jazz. Strangely enough, so many can readily accept actors battling obvious CGI creations but if emotions are displayed in a rather open, unabashed and "large" manner, many people brush that off as camp.
I think this is more a case that stylization in acting changes over time and presentist audiences like to think that they've arrived at a point of unrivalled sophistication and verisimilitude. Thus they swallow the nonsense of the present whole while looking down on the nonsense of the past. In fifty years' time, the grandchildren of today's heedless presentists will be howling at today's 'realistic' acting styles and sneering just as foolishly at the gullibility of their forebears.
Have you seen Pulp Fiction lately? :-"

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