NEW YORK — THE so-called Big Bang is tech-talk for the explosion that many scientists believe set the universe in motion. And now it's also the title of a movie - not a science-fiction epic, but a talking-head documentary that's not like any I've seen before. The director, James Toback, filmed interviews with a long list of people who couldn't be more different from one another. Then he ran his footage through a kind of cinematic Cuisinart, slicing and dicing and rearranging it so the pieces bounce off each other like molecules in a chain reaction.
Everyone in the movie has a different profession: There's an astronomer, a model, a philosopher/nun, an author who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, a couple of children, a gangster. Some of them are even famous, such as concert violinist Eugene Fodor; basketball star Darryl Dawkins; restaurant owner Elaine Kaufman; and filmmaker Don Simpson, who produces commercial films like ``Top Gun'' and ``Beverly Hills Cop.''
What they talk about in ``The Big Bang'' is the biggest topics imaginable - not only the real Big Bang but love, death, friendship, family life, sex, violence - you name it. Some of it is very funny, especially in the very beginning, when Mr. Toback talks with the producer of the picture. And some of it is in scathingly bad taste, pushing the movie well into the R-rated zone. What makes the film particularly unusual is its way of presenting the interview subjects and what they have to say. Nobody is allowed to deliver speeches from the screen. Instead we get 20 seconds of the astronomer, 30 seconds of the model, a minute-and-a-half from the gangster, then back to the astronomer, and on to the producer and the violinist. And so on, for about an hour-and-a-half of the wildest party - conversation-wise - you've ever been to.
``The Big Bang'' is the brainchild of Toback, who was an unusual filmmaker even before he dreamed up this idea. He started his movie career by writing the screenplay for ``The Gambler,'' an excellent James Caan drama (directed by Karel Reisz) about 15 years ago. Then he became a writer-director with ``Fingers,'' a bizarre melodrama with Harvey Keitel as a concert pianist who's also a hitman. His other films include ``Love and Money'' and ``Exposed,'' two of the more peculiar melodramas of the '80s. Some people thought he was going commercial three years ago with ``The Pick-Up Artist,'' a Molly Ringwald teen movie. But he had ``The Big Bang'' up his sleeve to prove he's really still a maverick.
It's a frustrating movie, since it never lets you settle down with any of its characters for more than a minute or two at a stretch. And it's manipulative in the way it builds interest by artificially juggling words and personalities. But if you've ever wondered what boxer Jos'e Torres, jazz musician Julius Hemphill, and a painter, and a medical student, and a humorist might sound like in the same room - or at least the same movie - this is the place to satsify your curiosity. For better or for worse, it's certainly one of a kind.