We Can't Go Home Again: Film Review

Nicholas Ray's posthumously restored final project is a hodgepodge of early '70s experimentation.

The excavated final work from Hollywood renegade Nicholas Ray is a gift to Ray fans and film historians.

NEW YORK — An anti-mainstream final work from Hollywood renegade Nicholas Ray, the excavated feature We Can't Go Home Again is an artifact that will interest scholars of the ‘70s avant-garde and hardcore Ray fans but puzzle almost everyone else. Respectful notice on the fest circuit and airings on Turner Classic Movies should provide a modest PR boost for eventual DVD/digital release.

Though it is promoted as a film by the director of Rebel Without A Cause and Johnny Guitar, onscreen credits say the film is "by us" -- and the claim of collective authorship fits a work whose narrative, such as it is, is thin and scattered enough to have been stitched together from bull sessions and post-‘60s political postures.

The movie emerges from interplay between the wizened, battle-scarred Ray and his 1971 class at New York's Binghamton University. Early scenes imagine a confrontational meeting between the two, and subsequent material, zigzagging between scripted dialogues and self-conscious behind-the-scenes footage, focuses largely on the curiosity each feels for the other.

Many of the young filmmakers are, unsurprisingly, pretty poor actors, and some recruits (like a journalist roped into acting as a shoot's soundman) display similarly low aptitude for the technical end of things. Audiences hoping to suss out an overarching story will be disappointed, finding instead a kind of fictionalized self-portrait of characters in search of meaning during one of America's most confused eras.

More interesting, though equally time-capule-ish, are the movie's stylistic affectations, some of which hold up better than others. Individual scenes often alternate between conventional shots while others that have been heavily distorted using primitive video effects; at other moments, amateurish noodling on synthesizers makes for a proto-electronica soundtrack.

Most noteworthy is the picture's multi-screen format, in which static photographs serve as a cryptic frame around a black central area where scenes overlap each other haphazardly, often pairing staged footage with documentary or stock images of political protest. This kitchen-sink experimentation may befuddle most viewers, but it will likely help them sustain interest in a narrative that would otherwise lose them within a half-hour.


Venue: New York Film Festival (Oscilloscope)

Production Company: Nicholas Ray Foundation

Cast: Nicholas Ray, Richie Bock, Tom Farrell, Jill Ganon, Jane Heymann, Leslie Wynne Levinson

Director-producer: Nichola Ray

Screenwriters: Nicholas Ray, Susan Ray

Principal Crew: Steve Anker, Richard Bock, Peer Bode, Charlie Bornstein, Doug Cohen, Danny Fisher, Stanley Liu, Luke Oberle, Helene Kaplan Wright

No rating, 95 minutes