Tom Waits released his groundbreaking concert video Big Time 25 years ago. Not only did Big expand the contemporaneous notion of a short, promotional music video into a feature-length work of art, it also served as a moving picture showcase for the artist’s audacious mid-career trilogy: Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Frank’s Wild Years.
Of course, Big Time also delivers on the promise of all concert films, providing plenty of footage of Waits and his band stomping and growling and grimacing and roaring through ballads, rockers and the odd-ball tunes that define the trilogy — music influenced by Bertolt Brecht and the European avant garde as well as by American experimental composer Harry Partch and cult rocker Captain Beefheart. Still, the film has even more to offer. Here’s what Time Out had to say about it’s 1988 release.
This magnificent movie, filmed on a set consisting of a red-and-black checked floor and neon light boxes, cross-cut with scenes shot around the theatre, sees Waits adopt a variety of guises; the pencil-moustached ticket-seller who ‘dreams the film’, a sit-down comedian in stained white tuxedo and glitter-flecked face – sort of Victor Borge from Hell – and more or less straight troubadour. The music is from Frank’s Wild Years, Rain Dogs and Swordfishtrombones. Musical, visual and verbal puns abound; elements of vaudeville, burlesque and soulful balladry are orchestrated by what is evidently, for all the downbeat, offbeat imagery, a fantastically energetic imagination. A concert film unlike any other, owing something to the work of ’40s fashion photographer/jazz film-maker Djon (Jammin the Blues) Mili, and with no shots of an audience at all.
Watch Tom Waits’s Big Time below