10 user 6 critic

Big Time (1988)

Bringing his unique sense of humor to this bizarre and original piece of moviemaking, Tom Waits takes the audience through a musical journey with his jazzy, quirky, bluesy tunes presented ... See full summary »


Chris Blum




Credited cast:
Tom Waits ... Himself
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Michael L. Blair Michael L. Blair ... Musician
Ralph Carney Ralph Carney ... Musician
Greg Cohen ... Musician
Marc Ribot Marc Ribot ... Musician
Willie Schwarz Willie Schwarz ... Musician


Bringing his unique sense of humor to this bizarre and original piece of moviemaking, Tom Waits takes the audience through a musical journey with his jazzy, quirky, bluesy tunes presented as you would never, ever, ever expect. Written by Sam Hayes <gshayes@mail.gwi.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The concert was "the best live performance of the year." The movie is BIG TIME.


Documentary | Music


PG | See all certifications »






Release Date:

6 January 1989 (Denmark) See more »

Also Known As:

Wielki czas See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »


Box Office

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


Tom Waits: [revealing a row of watches on his arm] Hey, you almost missed the show! You need a watch. Paris, France, Tokyo, Hong Kong, the Sudan. Know what I'm sayin'? Step this way... step this way please!
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Spoofed in Documentary Now!: Final Transmission (2016) See more »


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User Reviews

a one-of-a-kind concert movie for a one-of-a-kind poet/musician/whatever like Waits
21 September 2008 | by MisterWhiplashSee all my reviews

Tom Waits is one of those handful that, to my possibly limited knowledge, appears to be a complete original; this doesn't mean he just sprang out of thin air (although it's not an explanation totally out of reason), but that whatever influences he's taken in- the Beats, Bob Dylan, Cole Porter, gypsy and blues and jazz and rockabilly- one can't distinguish really between one or the other. Like Kubrick or Hunter S. Thompson or Dostoyevsky, there's a totally distinct voice and creative force at work when looking at what they can deliver, and Big Time is an extremely welcome treat for those who are enthusiasts of the Waits's work, especially his 80's renaissance period. If you're new to Waits it's not exactly deterring as a feat to experience it, but it will be somewhat perplexing and bewildering and just flat out bizarre as a concert movie. For Waits fans, it's business as usual- or unusual as it happens.

The method to the director Chris Helm's madness is to form a loose narrative around the concert Waits is performing in LA: there is a 'character', or one or two or three, that are watching or listening to this concert either from bed on New Year's Eve or from a ticket booth or from the heights of the top of an auditorium working the lights. This doesn't come off as possibly hackneyed or artsy as it might sound, on the contrary it works brilliantly into the stream-of-consciousness head-trip that the Waits concert is anyway (at one point, I believe during 'Innocent When You Dream', he sings while standing in a bathtub). And on top of this, the art direction, the cinematography and lighting, the stage set-up, everything about it blows the senses as complimentary fixtures amid the wild and sad and funny and quixotic stories Waits lays down in his songs.

And the performance - this is key to how astonishing Big Time is. For everything that you think you might imagine Waits and his band do on the albums (in this case much, if not all, of the material comes from Frank's Wild Years, Swordfishtrombones, and very happily as a big-big fan Rain Dogs), Waits and his great-eclectic band accomplish, and no song sounds quite the same as on the album either, which is also a treat. Classic numbers like 'Rain Dogs', 'Gun Street Girl', 'Way Down' and 'Time' are performed with an immense heart and soul and bravura that maybe isn't as surprising for those who may have had the luck of seeing Waits live in concert. But the best news for fans, and for newcomers, is that Big Time captures what it's like, and of what those dark and sinister worlds are in the songs and even in Waits's own mind. It's like entering some sacred netherworld with Waits as tour guide and ringmaster and occasional joke teller amid his poetry (my favorite is his "oft-asked question" and answer involving if pregnancy is possible without intercourse!) A+

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