Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bigger Than Life on Fox Movie Channel Sept. 12

Because I love you people, I have to point out this listing: On Friday, Sept. 12, at noon EDT, Fox Movie Channel is showing Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life. In letterbox. And if you miss it, it's showing on Sept. 21, also in letterbox, also at noon.

The Siren is just a teensy-weensy bit peeved about this, since she bought the movie on DVD in Paris at the current exchange rate. (The Siren sure is glad that the dollar hit an eleven-month high, with the euro closing at a bargain $1.41, and that you're still following a strong dollar policy, Mr. Paulson. Because she sure would hate to go shopping when the dollar was actually weak.) It's possible this is a run-up to Fox putting this out on DVD at last, which would put the Siren in Peter Nelhaus's camp of people who get Region 2 DVDs just before the movie comes out on Region 1.

If you don't have the service tier for Fox Movies, this movie is worth a temporary upgrade in my opinion. In fact, Fox shows a lot of hard-to-find and interesting movies, including things like Violent Saturday, The Egyptian, Wild River and Tales of Manhattan, but you have to be willing to comb through their frustrating website (the schedule setup is awful) to figure out when the good stuff is on, and record them while you're at work or asleep. Fox reserves prime time for the real classics like Jack the Bear.

If anyone needs more incentive to watch, you could start with Kim Morgan's typically fab post. Also, do not miss Peter's excellent analysis, which takes in the film's framing, something Ray is always revered for, as well as Bigger Than Life's development of the Ray theme of rebellion. For more of a contrarian view, see Evan Kindley's take at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. John at Greenbriar Picture Shows gives a convincing explanation of why the movie bombed upon initial release and remains a hard one to watch: "Show this to your teenagers if you want them to stay single."

P.S. And if anyone has posted, or found, any other particularly good writing on Ray's masterpiece, by all means drop me a line in comments and I will link it here.


Uncle Gustav said...

Hit your pause button when James Mason opens his medicine cabinet and you'll see Nick Ray in the reflection.

Andrew Grant said...

Let me just second Siren's recommendation about the film -- this is indeed a must-not-miss masterpiece, and her suggestion about updating your cable service is more than justified, if just to hear Mason say "God was wrong!"

DavidEhrenstein said...

Indeed. It's a key 50's film and a humungous bitch-slapping of those lazy ideologues who persist in whining about the era being "complacent" and "conformist."

The Siren said...

Yes, I look back and I didn't really explain why Bigger Than Life is worth the upgrade! I guess I figured James Mason, Nicholas Ray, 'nuff said.

Flickhead, I am so totally going to do that.

Erich Kuersten said...

o mighty Siren, I was just going to post this myself on BLFJ. You should upgrade to the whatever-is-tivo service for time warner cable here in NYC - all I do is scroll forward in time on the channel menu screen and click on everything that looks good - which is easy and awesome, then you can just burn what you want to keep off the tivo box (use an S-cable to ensure only minimal picture loss, he said, technically).

The Siren said...

*blank stare* S-cable? Let's pretend (just pretend, mind you, a mere mental exercise) that I can barely operate the cable box I have now. So what do I get to burn stuff off Tivo?

(I greatly appreciate the advice!)

Dan Callahan said...

I'm glad that Fox Movie Channel is playing "Bigger Than Life." But what a weird and lazy channel it is!

It's like there's no actual person programming there. The same ill-assorted ragbag of movies keep playing over and over again, for years. It's not as if they're just playing popular modern movies: at least 50 percent of the films they play are very obscure things from the seventies and eighties.

And television stuff, like a nearly 3 hour telepic about Mia Farrow starring Patsy Kensit. !?! (I will confess that that one has an unforgettable scene: Frank Sinatra and Mia, the morning after. He looks at her and says, "So, Mia...how'd you like it...my way?")

Then, out of nowhere, they'll play Clara Bow in "Call Her Savage." Or "Bigger Than Life." But by the time they're through, you're going to be awfully sick of "Call Her Savage" and "Bigger Than Life," difficult as that is to imagine. They run their movies into the ground by constantly re-playing them. I like "An Unmarried Woman," but it seems to be on every other night!

Fox has a great catalogue. There are tons of early 30's Fox films that are never seen. Couldn't they throw some on, in between "Independence Day" being shown three times in a row for the umpteenth time? Yes, let's play a movie that we play all the time...but three times IN A ROW! Sheer laziness. If people complain enough, they have to do something about this eventually. I'm beyond fed up with them.

Then again, I hope you're as excited as I am about the proposed Frank Borzage Fox DVD box set scheduled for December....

The Siren said...

Dan, you have me laughing because I also have the same thoughts. I wonder all the time about who is doing the programming there. A teenager? a computer? an orang-outang taking part in a university study? They'll run Inventing the Abbotts a bazillion times and never bother with Desire. They can't be a serious rival to TCM but they could be a really worthwhile channel. I suspect that throwing the classics lovers more bones would only boost what must be pretty spotty viewership, giving their penchant for overplaying.

That Mia line is one of the funniest things I have heard in ages. Are you sure you aren't pulling my leg? it's really in there?

Dan Callahan said...

I couldn't believe I heard that Mia/Sinatra line right, but the actor playing Sinatra really relishes it, so that it lands with a hilarious thud. I'm sure you'll see it at some point, followed by "Inventing the Abbotts" six times in a row. Pretty soon, they're just going to play one movie all day, then one movie all week long.

My vote is for a computer running everything at that channel. Somebody programmed that motley group of titles years ago, and it just keeps them coming. Then somebody idly pushes a button once or twice a year and lets loose a "Bigger Than Life."

I say we get some cinephiles together, dress up like cat burglars, break into Fox, and re-program the computer so that it spews out "Desire" and all the Pre-Code Fox movies, all at once. It would be at least a year before anybody at the company noticed anything was up.

Oh, and while we're there, let's put all the Sonja Henie movies into a folder and hide it someplace where it can't be easily found.

Vanwall said...

Creepy film - I have flashes of CIA experiments using LSD on unsuspecting souls in academia, to say nothing of the origins of so many of these "wonder drugs" back then in relatively uncontrolled environments. Where was I when all this was happening, dammit.

For that matter, where were they, the makers of the film - guess those ivory tower types needed the pins knocked out from under 'em a little, eh?...and what better place than a safe and kind suburbia turned into a jungle? Good thing we don't have those problems today, gentlefolk.

This was pretty prescient film making, and it takes the meth out of the trailer park, and puts it where it really ended up - Oxycontin for Radio Bloviators.

I trace this "the academic as transformed by overuse of dubious drugs" plotline to "The Adventure of the Creeping Man", a Sherlock Holmes mystery where the use of bad ape dope leads but to the I-Love-Me jacket...or worse, at least Mason's character wasn't mauled by his own wolfhound. Say, that would've looked pretty cool, done right, though.

Altho I love his performance, one note was a bit off-key for me - Mason always sounded quite like a cricket or ruggers kind of chap to me, old bean, hardly American Football, so the whole "go long kiddo" thing didn't wash for me.

Little touches of Philip K. Dick's "The Father Thing" for me, as well - the drugs have turned poor Ed into a frightening, alien, homicidal 'thing' rather than the boy's loving parent.

I'm afraid mentioning "Fox" and "meaningful channel" is, to quote Crash Davis, "like a Martian talking to a fungo" - a grotesque situation that can never be real.

Peter Nellhaus said...

As a matter of fact, I wrote about Bigger than Life a while back. Which DVD version did you get? By the way, I saw that Madame De . . ., which I bought in Amsterdam, is coming out next week in a Region 1 version. Thanks for mentioning me again!

Gerard Jones said...

Thank you for alerting us, Siren! When I first got FMC I paid attention to it, but then I got so frustrated by it that I quit. I mean, you'd think if they were to show ANY old Fox movies they'd show the Technicolor '40s musicals, right? And they do show a few (a mediocre print of The Gang's All Here over and over and over again), but there are a whole bunch, including Moon Over Miami, that just never show up.

Anyway, I will definitely set the device for Bigger Than Life. Never seen it but have wanted to. Sure like the other Nick Rays I've seen (although most of those are a few years earlier).

Peter Nellhaus said...

Mr. Jones: Moon over Miami is available on DVD.

Gerard Jones said...

Thanks, Peter. I'll bet I can find the DVD to rent somewhere around here. But I'm still frustrated with the Fox channel for not showing it and so many other movies in their library. It just...doesn't make sense!

Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

You might want to check out my piece about Ray ("Circle of Pain") in my collection MOVIES AS POLITICS. Or my conversation with Jim Jarmusch about the film on the BFI DVD.7

Richard Gibson said...

I like this film a lot. I got a Spanish DVD of it before BFI put it out. I've also seen it on the big screen at the National Film Theatre and that was a very nice cinematic experience for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I just bought 'Knock On Any Door' on my last trip to Spain this summer. I have bought most of my Nicholas Ray and Douglas Sirk discs there.

We have similar issues with cable channels and regular channels. They tend to show the same films over and over again.

Paul Harrington said...

I wish The Siren would have done some explaining. I look forward to her defense of the film (I look forward to The Siren's defense of ANY film); I watched the whole thing, but couldn't digest any of it. It did get me to read the New Yorker article that it was based on (thanks to The Complete New Yorker). I'd be curious to know what it was that drove Mason to devote so much to this project because I found the movie and the article to be from two different worlds. The attack on 50's conformity must have been some obsession of Mason or Ray. It certainly didn't interest Berton Roueche. The euphoria that Ed experiences seems to be alien to James Mason. But it did seem to be a starting point for his approach in "Lolita" where his inability to reach that level of experience defines the character.

For the easiest, most non-techie way to record movies to disc, I recommend a DRT400 Humax Series 2 TiVo - With Integrated DVD Recorder. They are available online at weaknees.com. Refurbished units start at $200, more if you want a bigger hard drive (plus the monthly Tivo service fee, or a lifetime fee, which is still available for this model). Moving movies from your Tivo list to a DVD only takes a couple of clicks, plus your DVD player and your Tivo use one remote.

There are programs out there to move your Tivo files to your computer. I have them. But they are too complicated and take too much time for people who would rather watch and write about movies.

Joel Bocko said...

I haven't found any particularly good writing on Ray's film, but I have just written a response to the very Fox screening you mention, so let me egregiously pimp it here! It will appear on my blog tomorrow morning, 8 am west coast, 11 am east coast...

I can't wait to read those other links you posted. It was a compelling movie, but I was a bit disappointed that it didn't take us further into Mason's head - and a bit surprised too, since Ray often does such a good job exposing his characters' pain in ways unusual for fifties cinema. But I might have a different reaction on second viewing, which is why I'm kicking myself now for deleting the DVR recording when I'd finished it, especially since the film isn't on DVD. I hope your theories are correct and I can see it again soon.

I concur with the points about Fox - but I don't "watch" it, I just record off of it, and hence it's led me to some intersting films I wouldn't have seen otherwise - Dragonwyck last week, and Bigger Than Life next week. Granted, one classic a week doesn't quite match the TCM output, but I'll take what I can get from Rupert Murdoch.

Vertigo's Psycho said...


Someone just posted a wonderful clip from a 1956 episode of "What's my Line?" featuring James Mason as the Mystery Guest. He probably was in New York to promote Bigger Than Life, as it's mentioned the film is about to open. Mason is incredibly dashing, debonair, and handsome on ther show- damn, I wish I could be him!

Here's the address for the clip: