Nicholas Ray’s “We Can’t Go Home Again” (1976 / 2011) at Film Forum (Oct 17); intro by director’s widow Susan Ray

by on October 14, 2011Posted in: Essay

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Monday Editor’s Pick: We Can’t Go Home Again (1972-2011)

by on October 10, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Mon Oct 17 at 7:00* at Film Forum [Program & Tix]
*Introduced by Susan Ray *Double Feature with new making-of documentary Don’t Expect Too Much


If you missed the brand-new restoration of Nicholas Ray’s final feature film at NYFF, here’s your second chance. Ray continued to work on the film from its premiere in 1973, until his death in 1979; this restoration was undertaken by his widow, Susan Ray. Don’t Expect Too Much, Susan’s own film on Nick’s life and work appears on the double bill, playing at 5:35 and 8:50.


Richard Brody for the New Yorker:

Nicholas Ray had been out of Hollywood for a decade when he started teaching at SUNY Binghamton in 1971; he was in immense sympathy with his students—their political idealism, their sexual openness, their curiosity—and terribly aware that they were living in an enclosure that allowed them to foster the finer flowers of their character and that hardly prepared them to face the withering winds of the wider world. Meanwhile, he himself was hardly at home in the university community, with its constructive norms and myriad rules. And he made a film—with his students—that dramatized their crises and his own, that captured his proximity to and distance from them, and revealed him to be at home nowhere either.


Reflections of his earlier classics of menaced and flailing youth, such as “They Live by Night” and, of course, “Rebel Without a Cause” (in which James Dean’s red jacket took on a life of its own) appear here, even as Ray—working now as an independent—charts an independent artistic course, devising a screen-within-screen schema that, without sacrificing his intense emotional engagement with his dramas, captures the furies of the day in a uniquely complex yet eruptive form. The early seventies was a time of lots of great new American movies; John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese, Barbara Loden, Francis Ford Coppola, Elaine May, and others captured the spirit of the times in films of great originality. Yet Nicholas Ray, returned from a literal and figurative exile, made what may well have been the most advanced and audacious film of the era. The fact that it has been invisible for decades and is only now becoming available makes a viewing—and its release—all the more essential. To quote a now familiar line: It isn’t that he was ahead of his time; he was in step with it when others were behind it.

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Sunday Editor’s Pick: “We Can’t Go Home Again” (1972-2011)

by on September 25, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Sun Oct 2 at 9:00 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]


NYFF presents a brand-new restoration and apparent completion of Nicholas Ray’s final feature film. Ray himself worked on the film from its premiere in 1973, to his death in 1979; this restoration was undertaken by his widow, Susan Ray. Susan presents Don’t Expect Too Much, her own film on Nick’s life and work on Monday, Oct 3 at 8:30.


David Cairns for MUBI:

Ray’s familiar eyepatch first appeared at this time, after the stress of the shoot caused him to blow a blood vessel. God knows what it did to his mind. From another perspective, mental collapse could be the film’s subject, and it’s filmed from the inside. The fragmented screen, the intense rushes of colour that infuse the images, seemingly at random, the stop-start scenes and playfully abstract editing rhythms: the only real dramatic conflict that matters is the struggle between the film’s desire to break apart, and the weaker desire to cling together.


It’s not a comfortable film to watch. It goes beyond a mere head-fuck. It’s a head-cluster-fuck. The multiple images suggest the POV of a dying fly with a migraine, its life flashing before its eyes. Coming after the immaculate imagery of Rebel Without a Cause or The Savage Innocents, it’s enough to induce heartache and depression, but at the same time there’s a wild optimism in the desperate clutching at some new form, new dramatic language, a transcendent rebirth of cinema, something that can’t be articulated by the artist or even suggested by the raw footage unspooling before us, except as a dream that is visibly striving to come true.

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Thursday Editor’s Pick: Johnny Guitar (1954)

by on August 26, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Johnny Guitar 1954 Joan Crawford Nic Nicholas Ray
Playing Thurs Sept 1 at 7:00*, 9:30 at Chelsea Clearview [Program & Tix]
*7:00 introduction by drag queen Hedda Lettuce

Chelsea Clearview’s Joan Crawford month continues this Thursday with Nicolas Ray’s beautifully, bizarrely baroque western Johnny Guitar. If Alt Screen had a golden rule, it would be: never miss a chance to see Johnny Guitar in all its gobsmacking glory on the big screen. Never.


Nota bene, Clearview discounts their ticket price for Chelsea Classics screenings: you pay just $7.50!


Martin Scorsese introduces “an intense, stylized, unconventional picture full of ambiguities and subtext that render it extremely modern”:


François Truffaut in The Films in My Life:

The cowboys in Johnny Guitar ridiculously call each other “monsieur” in the dubbed French version, which is superior for once to the subtitled version because it lets us see the film’s theatricality better. We already have learned that this Western was shockingly extravagant. Johnny Guitar is a phony Western, but not an “intellectual” one. It is dreamed, a fairy tale, a hallucinatory Western. It was only a step from the dream to Fred, which our Anglo-Sazon colleagues took up when they began talking about “psychoanalytic Westerns.” But the qualities of Ray’s film are something different, not very visible perhaps to those who have never looked through a camera’s viewer.


There are two films in Johnny Guitar: Ray’s recurring theme – the relationships among the two men and two women, the violence and bitterness – and an extravagant catch-all done in Joseph von Sternberg style, a style which is absolutely foreign to Ray’s work, but which in this case is no less interesting. For instance, we watch Joan Crawford, in a white dress, playing the piano in a cavernous saloon, with a candlestick and a pistol beside her. Johnny Guitar is the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns, a Western dream. The cowboys vanish and die with the grace of ballerinas. the bold, violent color (by Trucolor) contributes to the sense of strangeness; the hues are vivid, somethings very beautiful, always unexpected.

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Saturday Editor’s Pick: On Dangerous Ground (1952)

by on August 14, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Sat Aug 20 at 1:30, 4:40, 7:50 at Film Forum [Program & Tix]
*Double Feature with Act of Violence (1948)


Heavens to betsy, Film Forum rolls out yet another underdog classic for their Robert Ryan series. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read Imogen Smith’s profile of Ryan for Alt Screen — it’s a keeper.


Kevin Thomas for the Los Angeles Times:

Ray’s On Dangerous Ground, is a revelation, an unjustly neglected stunner. Considering Ray’s cult status, it is mystifying that On Dangerous Ground, which he and A. I. Bezzerides adapted from Gerald Butler’s novel Mad With Much Heart, is not as well-known as such other Ray films noir as They Live by Night (1948) and In a Lonely Place (1950). Working with two virtuosos, cinematographer George E. Diskant and the great film composer Bernard Herrmann, Ray hurtles us into the alienated world of a big-city police detective (Robert Ryan), a loner so embittered by 11 years on the force that he’s beginning to undermine his effectiveness by his increasingly violent physical abuse of suspects. Eager to get him out of town for awhile, his chief (Ed Begley) gives him a lecture and sends him to the snowy countryside to help track down the unknown killer of a young girl.


On Dangerous Ground develops into a confrontation, as unexpected for us as it is for the detective himself, between two very different kinds of lonely people: a rage-filled city man who trusts no one and a gentle country woman (Ida Lupino) who, because of her near-total blindness, feels she must trust everyone. The impact of Lupino upon Ryan is dizzying, and because Ray is working with people as talented as he is, he manages a shift from violence and anger to love and tenderness with an effect that is at once convincing and profoundly romantic. From start to finish, the film is breathtakingly dynamic, so much so that it seems amazingly fresh for all its genre conventions. The subtlety, richness and poignancy of Herrmann’s score makes it easy to understand why it is said that he considered it his favorite.

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