Big Time

Watch Big Time

"The concert was "the best live performance of the year." The movie is BIG TIME."
  • PG
  • 1988
  • 1 hr 27 min
  • 8.0  (897)

"Big Time" is a 1988 movie that operates as a unique hybrid between a concert film and a surreal narrative, showcasing the raw, gravelly charisma and eclectic music of the enigmatic singer-songwriter, Tom Waits. Directed by Chris Blum, the movie propels viewers through a quasi-dreamlike journey, punctuated by live performance footage, theatrical stagings, and monologues that feel plucked right out of the noirish, smoke-filled dives that Waits often conjures in his songs.

The film captures Tom Waits during what many consider to be the apex of his middle period, reflected in his transition from the barstool balladeer of the 1970s to the more experimental and avant-garde artist that would mark his later work. Interlacing the frenetic energy of a live performance with scripted vignettes, "Big Time" takes its audience on a rollicking ride through the depths of Wait's imagination; a place where the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, and the music serves as a primary vehicle for storytelling.

At its core, the movie is centered upon a selection of Tom Waits' music from his albums "Swordfishtrombones," "Rain Dogs," and "Franks Wild Years." It immortalizes his unique performance style—a mix of vaudeville, jazz, blues, and experimental rock—that comes alive in the grainy, atmospheric visuals and the gravel-and-whiskey-soaked timbre of Waits' voice. His performances are augmented by an assortment of musicians and performers, including Michael L. Blair and Ralph Carney, who contribute to the rich, layered soundscapes that define the film's auditory experience.

The setting for "Big Time" varies from the realistic to the fantastical. We see Waits on stage, the spotlight casting shadows that seem to stretch out into infinity, surrounded by his band in a venue that resonates with the aura of a classic nightclub or theater. Yet, not confined to the realm of straightforward concert footage, the film ventures into staged environments that seem to exist within the very mythology of Waits' songs. These sequences feel like stopovers in a bizarre, dreamlike narrative, where Wait's troubadour persona holds court, spinning yarns and embodying various characters, both humorous and haunting.

Elements of the film mimic that of a live show—a master of ceremonies introduces acts, and the hustle-bustle of stage life is captured in quick, quiet shots that show the musicians and backup performers prepping for their cues or relaxing in the shadows. But these moments of quiet never last long, as we're swiftly pulled back into the whirlwind of Waits' world.

The narrative fragments that intersperse the musical numbers are eclectic and often surreal in nature. They weave in elements of Waits' own personal storytelling, the characters and anecdotes in his lyrics, and a sense of the otherworldly that often accompanies his musical themes. These snippets of story offer glimpses into the life of a performer on the road, crafting a kind of fictionalized tour diary that presents Waits as both star and protagonist in an ongoing escapade of nocturnal wanderings.

Michael L. Blair and Ralph Carney, alongside a host of other talented musicians, accompany Waits, enhancing the overall mosaic of sounds and images portrayed in the film. Their collaboration lends an additional layer of depth to the performances, with percussive beats and haunting wind instruments that mesh seamlessly with Waits' piano and sinus-nodal growl. These musicians not only play their parts but share in the creation of the film's mythos. They are integral components, animating the mise en scène and sometimes participating in the highly stylized, absurdist skits that are woven throughout the visual and auditory tapestry.

"Big Time" is, at its heart, a love letter to those who revel in the offbeat and the off-kilter, who find beauty in the gritty alleyways of urban landscapes, and who appreciate the stories of the dispossessed, the heartbroken, and the dreamers. Its cinematography mirrors this affection, often dark and moody, shot through with neon and stage lights, creating stark contrasts and a beautifully melancholic palette that matches Waits' artistic vision.

For fans of Tom Waits, the movie is a must-see, an essential piece of his extensive career. For the uninitiated, it may prove to be a curious entry point into his oeuvre—a piece of work that reflects an artist at a fascinating crossroads. Although released as a complement to his album "Franks Wild Years," "Big Time" stands on its own as an ambitious piece of cinematic artistry, straddling the lines between music film, experimental theater, and narrative cinema. It's a touchstone in the career of an artist who has made a life out of defying expectations and transcending genres, and it serves as a vivid snapshot of Tom Waits in his inimitable prime.

Big Time is a 1988 documentary with a runtime of 1 hour and 27 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 8.0.

Big Time
Where to Watch Big Time
Big Time is available to watch, stream, download and on demand at Apple TV Channels and The Roku Channel. Some platforms allow you to rent Big Time for a limited time or purchase the movie and download it to your device.
  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 27 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    8.0  (897)