Bigger Than Life
I love this drama by Nicholas Ray, shot in CinemaScope. James Mason plays a professor and family man who has a troubled relationship with over-the-counter drugs. Bigger Than Life is a modern take on U.S. society in the 1950s that was unusual at a time when Hollywood and television were invested in depicting picture-perfect nuclear families. The film is both disturbing and fascinating.
I remember the impact Lucrecia Martel’s debut feature had on film students, critics, and fellow filmmakers. It was released on one single 35 mm print in Brazil, and that was shredded over a period of a year after playing in just about all noncommercial movie theaters around the country. I love everything about this film: the obliqueness of it, the fresh and bold take on sexuality, the use of sound, the faces and bodies. It was also quite a reference for a filmmaker like me, who like Martel believed films could be about people interacting with a certain feeling of space and time, mediated by cinema itself.
Was 1979 the year of excess? If we look at Spielberg’s 1941, Landis’s The Blues Brothers, and Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, we see they are very different films made by young American filmmakers whose previous work had given them blank checks. Heaven’s Gate was so brutalized at the time of its release, but all things considered one feels most of the assessments now are actually positive. I think time has been kind to it; it’s an American epic that feels closer to a Soviet experiment than to straight-up Hollywood. And what a great disc this is.
I saw this with my parents as a very young child in the seventies, on television, and I never forgot it. I went back to it over the years on VHS and DVD, but this Criterion edition is quite a rediscovery. It’s an unusual VistaVision beach western with unstable and elusive racial narrative elements. It’s also the product of star power and a studio willing to go along, with reportedly messy results, but I see nothing wrong with this film. I like it a lot. Brando is wonderful in it, both as a director and as a star.
I know this is out of print, but I still have the Criterion disc on my shelf, and it’s one of my favorite DVDs ever. U.S. cinema has made the action film a national product, but all in all I keep thinking of two films that have rewritten filmed and staged action: George Miller’s Mad Max 2, from Australia, and Woo’s Hard Boiled, from Hong Kong. They look familiar as recognizable genre exercises (chases, shootouts), but the truth is they are pretty dangerous and extreme. If you can ever release a Blu-ray for this, I’ll get it.
I saw this just recently—proof that you can still make huge discoveries and feel like a young cinephile again at fifty. This amazing film can be filed under “cinema as a beautiful, frightening hallucination,” and it includes a rare collection of anamorphically shot images of action and movement. This is also one of those special films that are hard to assign easy descriptions. One year later, 2001: A Space Odyssey came out. Very different movies, but similar in how unusual and thrilling their ideas of cinema are.
Another widescreen movie, this one has American cars and roads, drivers and mechanics. The seventies saw quite a number of films with images of automobiles and white lines, and the smell of gasoline and roadkill. None are quite like this one directed by Monte Hellman. At some point, Warren Oates says something like “everything is too fast and not fast enough.” This film is a major reference if I ever need to shoot something in and around cars on roads.
Paul Thomas Anderson
This American and very modern take on the romantic comedy is quite a number, a wonderful filmgoing experience. I love just about every shot, sound, and character. Great contraband for a Hollywood studio.
When I was preparing my film Aquarius, I looked at a number of films I admire. Two of them were from South Korea, Bong Joon-ho’s Mother and Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine. This is an intimate film for the big screen, and difficult to predict in how it unfolds. Its 142-minute running time made me feel more at ease with how long Aquarius turned out to be, also 142 minutes.
Saulo Pereira de Mello just passed away this week at ninety-two. He’s the archivist who worked for years on Mario Peixoto’s legacy on film and in writing. Mr. Pereira de Mello also played a major role in the difficult restoration of this ninety-year-old Brazilian dream masterpiece, which can be discovered by so many through Criterion.
Nathan Lee’s Top 10
Nathan Lee is a critic, curator, and unrepentant champion of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. A former film critic for the New York Times, the Village Voice, and NPR, he is a contributing editor of Film Comment and member of the National Society of…