Capital Celluloid - Day 21: Friday Jan 21, 2011

Bigger Than Life: BFI Southbank, 6.10pm NFT 3

It's a quiet Friday on the London repertory cinema front. I haven't seen Ceiling Zero which is on at BFI Southbank (6.10pm) in NFT2 as part of the Howard Hawks season but will be interested to hear reports. However, there is another chance to see Bigger Than Life, generally regarded to be Ray's finest work, at the same venue. I saw the film on TV some time ago but was mightily impresses.

Ray, who directed In A Lonely Place which was the featured film last Sunday, was one of the most interesting directors of Hollywood's Golden Age. Famously lauded for Rebel Without A Cause, he was also responsible for some of the most remarkable movies to emerge from America in the 1950s.

Ray directed the weird western Johnny Guitar and a fascinating anti-war drama in Bitter Victory, a Richard Burton vehicle now almost entirely forgotten but which deserves its growing reputation. However, Bigger Than Life is Ray's masterpiece. A searing indictment of American middle-class values, the film was trashed on release but came to the attention of film buffs in the 1960s after being championed by Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

In the movie James Mason plays a quiet sububan teacher who is transformed into a murderous megalomaniac following his addiction to cortisone. If the radical story wasn't recommendation enough, Ray's use of colour and his unequalled use of Cinemascope are masterful. Here is the trailer.

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