Nicholas Ray: Rebel With a Camera
Venice honors the iconoclastic director with a rare screening of his final film.
Orson Welles and Nicholas Ray were two of Hollywood's greatest iconoclasts, Wisconsin boys born four years apart who did highly personal work within the studio system, directed their final American films in 1958, spent years hustling in Europe trying to get new pictures made and left behind unfinished, avant-garde, essentially homemade features that buffs and scholars have debated and wondered about for three decades.
These aficionados have also hopefully anticipated the possibility that, one day and somehow, Welles' The Other Side of the Wind and Ray's We Can't Go Home Again would be possible to view in some admittedly incomplete but nevertheless revelatory form. This has now come true for the latter. Ray's "tribal student work," begun at Harpur College in upstate New York in 1971, will receive its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, as will a feature documentary, Don't Expect Too Much, directed by Susan Ray, the director's companion over the last eight years of his life.
The title of Susan's documentary might serve as a warning about what to expect from Can't Go Home Again. Called "an adventure in time and space" by the director, there was no need to answer when Ray's friend Sterling Hayden, present for that first Cannes screening, afterward inquired, "Shit, was Nick on psychedelics when he made this?"
But it could be that in Can't Go Home Again might now be found some illuminating self-analysis by a long-tormented and conflicted artist. Perhaps some reflections from the midnight of Ray's tortured soul will echo the struggles of some of the director's most memorable characters, notably those of James Dean's tortured teenager in Rebel Without a Cause, Humphrey Bogart's embittered screenwriter in In a Lonely Place, James Mason's drug-addicted father in Bigger Than Life and, dare we say it, Jeffrey Hunter's doubting Jesus in King of Kings.
That Nick Ray will be able to speak to us anew on his 100th birthday, 32 years after his death, will certainly be welcomed by anyone who ever cared about him. But now, can Orson Welles be next?