I was reading Patton Oswalt's tremendously entertaining website recently and he mentioned the Nicholas Ray film Bigger Than Life. Forgive the somewhat pretentious literary allusion to a book I haven't even read, but it was like I'd consumed Proust's tea-soaked madeline. A memory came flooding back to me of sitting in a darkened classroom with my fellow film students, watching James Mason go crazy from taking cortisone. We saw Bigger Than Life because our instructor Walter (a total film theory badass, seriously) was fixated on domestic melodramas being in the midst of his thesis in which he was attempting to show that The Shining was melodrama, not horror, and that anything supernatural was just in the character's addled minds. Dubious, but interesting to consider because the staircase you know.
Anyway, Bigger Than Life is hilarious. It's not meant to be hilarious, but from a modern sensibility it's over-the-top with the yelling and the weeping and the lines like "your daughter is on the intellectual par with an African gorilla." Many film people, Scorsese and Godard among them, love it authentically, but my class was eating it up with forks and knives of vicious glee. The climx of the movie is incredible. James Mason's character is all hopped up on cortisone and has decided to sacrifice his son like Abraham in the Bible. His wife, trying the use-crazy-person-reasoning-to-reason-with-the-crazy-person method, offers that God stopped Abraham, to which Mason responds, "God was wrong!"
It's difficult to convey the intense explosion of love/mock/disbelief/exultation sounds that filled our classroom. We were floored. It was much better than the time we watched Dylan get drunk and belligerent during an episode of 90210, and that was fantastic. Sadly, Bigger Than Life is not available on DVD or video. I don't know if it shows up on Turner Classic Movies, but catch it if you can. Soooo good.
Oh, and also I met Patton Oswalt once at Bumbershoot in Seattle. I knew of him previously and he killed with a fantastic set. I ran into him afterwards and he was incredibly sweet, sincere, and appreciative. So, yay for all good things that happen to him. Must to buy his CD when I get my next paycheck.