Absolute Cinema is a continuing series of moments that I illustrate a moment of cinematic transcendence. These can be a single element or a variety of cinematic techniques that come together in such a way that elevates cinema. It might be an entire sequence or just a particular shot, edit, score it doesn't even have to be on purpose. It is a moment exclusive to cinema as an art form.
[Entry 5] Absolute Cinema: Bigger Than Life
In The Name of the Father
In his operatic melodrama Bigger than Life, director Nicholas Ray breaks down and reverses many of the nuclear family ideals, James Mason plays Ed Avery, a middle class school teacher who is diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease and given the new miracle drug cortisone as a means of suppressing its progression. Treatment becomes dependency, and it is not long before dependency becomes addiction, turning Avery into an egotistical maniac and something much more disturbing.
Ray's paternal issues spilled into his film making. His films are themselves 'bigger than life,' visuals of pure personal emotion. His decision to shoot a domestic drama on CinemaScope is inspired genius giving Avery warped sense of grandeur, contained within a tightly structured setting. The real victim here, as with much of Ray's work is son Richie who finds himself at the brunt of his father’s increasing instability. Avery becomes a twisted representation of traditional American values - religion, education and family. Psychologically bullying his son before Ray delivers a moment of fierce, twisted intensity.
At a time when boys looked to their fathers for reassurance and safety from the monsters on their TV, from the escalating Red-scare. Ray is formidable as he casts his image, deeply coded in Expressionism. For Richie, there was no comfort to be found with his father. As Avery looms over his son, his shadow contorts into a warped figure of Elvis and then into a beast, arched on all fours. He becomes the monster from the TV. It is the most direct image from Ray's canon, and one of the most daring shots of 50s American cinema.