An engrossing documentary from writer-director James Toback, THE BIG BANG raises the question of whether he may have missed his cinematic calling while it raises greater questions about the meaning of life in a series of interviews with the famous, the near-famous and the obscure.
The talk in THE BIG BANG revolves around its title and its various possible meanings, from the obvious beginning of the universe to the other "big bangs," of life, death, sex and love. The interviews, conducted by Toback, range from celebrated violinist Eugene Fodor, to pro-basketball great
Darryl Dawkins, to high-profile film producer Don Simpson (TOP GUN), to famed New York restaurateur Elaine Kaufman. Other names may not be so recognizable, such as model Sheila Kennedy, philosopher Anne Marie Keyes, ex-boxer, writer and philosopher in his own right, Jose Torres, crime figure Tony
Sirico, writer Jack Richardson, painter Charles Lassiter and, since no film entitled THE BIG BANG would be complete without one, an astronomer, Fred Hess. However, the smattering of choices is not so random as it might seem.
In the interviews, Toback focuses on their personal answers to life's big questions. But, that is only a starting point. From there, he works backwards with most of his subjects, drawing them out about their lives and experiences to show how their philosophies have been hard-won through hard
lives that are the result of choice or circumstance. Over the course of the film, a portrait of heroism emerges that begins, as Hess explains of his own life, with imagination and that endures and is sharpened through the prism of whatever life dishes out. Toback finds this form of heroism in
people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Two children, Emma Astner and Max Brockman, discuss their idealist hopes, yet to be altered or diluted by life. Then a pretty med student, Marcia Oakley, talks about her hopes of becoming a doctor to help people in developing countries, before matter-of-factly discussing how her sexual
promiscuity, from age 11, came from an identical impulse to help others. A mother, Missy Boyd, describes how the death of her oldest daughter in an auto taught her about the preciousness of life. Barbara Traub talks about how she endured the horrors of the Holocaust that took her entire family
Throughout there emerges a vision of heroism that embraces both Keyes's struggles with her chosen lifelong celibacy as a nun and Dawkins's bragging accounts of sexual excess. Along the way other startling contrasts emerge. Sirico, the tough guy, poignantly recalls how his love for a woman caused
him to destroy his marriage and his life. Yet, he claims, even for a million dollars, he would never consider murder. Laid-back jazzman Julius Hemphill then confesses to the rages and the murder in his heart. Sexy model Kennedy confesses to a deeply religious inner life. The artist Lassiter, whose
paintings explode with inner rage, confesses he would more likely be a murder victim than a murderer.
There are also healthy doses of the mundane, the profane and the downright silly, such as Kaufman speculating that most New Yorkers have their orgasms while riding the subway and Sirico and Dawkins "debating" the relative sexual prowess of Italians versus African-Americans with a visibly
embarrassed Torres sandwiched between them. Near the end, Toback gathers his subjects together to be placidly serenaded by Fodor. It's a simple moment given an uncanny power by what we now know about these disparate people and their lives and visions.
Not surprisingly from the man who wrote BUGSY, Toback (FINGERS, THE PICK-UP ARTIST) conveys his own vision in THE BIG BANG that to live is to dream and to dream is to struggle. Through it all, he shows, wherever there is struggle there is dignity. In the amusing framing story, Toback pitches his
film to producer Joseph H. Kanter by claiming that his is the one film for which the producer will be remembered through the ages. That remains to be seen, but it's hard to argue that THE BIG BANG packs a pretty big punch for a film that runs a slight eighty-one minutes.(Profanity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: An engrossing documentary from writer-director James Toback, THE BIG BANG raises the question of whether he may have missed his cinematic calling while it raises greater questions about the meaning of life in a series of interviews with the famous, the nea… (more)