Sunday, October 09, 2011

David Thomson on Films: The Lonely Legacy of Nicholas Ray

David Thomson on Films: The Lonely Legacy of Nicholas Ray
David ThomsonAugust 4, 2011 | 12:00 am THE NEW REPUBLIC

He died well short of his own centenary, and some who knew film director Nicholas Ray (and who tried to save him from his richly endowed self-destructiveness) were amazed he got as far as 67. But, this August 7, he would have been 100. And now, for a moment, the world seems ready to take notice and offer the chronic vagrant a home. Not that “home” has much reliability in his case. What made Nick Ray valuable and important was his living forever by night, on dangerous ground, in a lonely place. I’m playing with the titles of some of his films, to which I should add his last, unfinished problematic film—an untidy picture about picture-making on its own existential borders—We Can’t Go Home Again.

This was a project that grew out of a college teaching job in upstate New York in the early ’70s, a psychodrama in which Ray and his own students played themselves, working in every film or video format they could find. When Ray died in 1979, he was
struggling to complete it, though it was apparent that death was the most likely closure. Now, decades later, Ray’s fourth wife, Susan, after valiant efforts to find funding, to keep the faith, and discover a form for the film, has produced a version that may be definitive. To mark Ray’s centenary, it will play at the Venice Film Festival. Will it seem like a masterpiece, or a footnote to a history so few people know now? I can’t say, but I would guess that the film raised from the dead must renew the potent but frightening legend of Nicholas Ray. There’s no doubt that Ray embodied the idea that, in the mid and late
twentieth century, the place to look for America’s tragic heroes was among its film-makers.

At the same time, July saw the publication of Patrick McGilligan’s Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director. This is the first attempt at a Ray biography written in English (and researched by someone raised in Ray’s Midwest). The earliest work on Ray came from France and England, and a lot of it was written in the vibrant but not always helpful vein of Jean-Luc Godard’s comment, “Nicholas Ray is the cinema.” McGilligan is more down-to-earth and much more interested in research. So he is more valuable on the failure and the mess in this handsome but very insecure figure. He admits the bisexuality that some hero-worshippers preferred to overlook. He keeps a steady eye on the sheer chaos of the life: Nick Ray found his son Tony in bed with his third wife, actress Gloria Grahame, when the son was just thirteen!

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

One guy whose life always seemed more sensational than his movies.