“We Can’t Go Home Again” at Film Forum

Nicholas Ray (right), and a student, in "We Can't Go Home Again."

On October 17 Film Forum presented the restored, most complete version of the late movie director Nicholas Ray’s long unseen film “We Can’t Go Home Again,” paired with wife Susan Ray’s new documentary “Don’t Expect Too Much.”  The latter chronicles the making of “We Can’t Go Home Again.”   Susan Ray attended the screenings and spoke in between the two films.  “We Can’t Go Home Again” has been restored in honor of Nicholas Ray’s centennial year.

Late in his life and career Nicholas Ray, an established Hollywood director (“Rebel Without a Cause,” “Johnny Guitar”), and a bit of an eye patch wearing mad man, wound up broke and teaching film at Harpur College (SUNY Binghamton) in upstate New York, in the early 1970s.  Ray believed that the only way to learn filmmaking was to make a film.  As Ray put it, “Film is a way of life.  I can’t teach you how to make a film.  It is an experience.  I am here to give you that experience.”  True to his word, Ray, and his group of students, threw themselves into the creation of a project in which they all took turns at different film crew positions, as well as being the film’s cast.  They worked around the clock.  Susan Ray described the experience as “a very unusual spirit of collaboration and, dare I say it, love.”

“Don’t Expect Too Much” is a well made, and important companion piece to the film.  The documentary provides the basis and history for “We Can’t Go Home Again,” which has a non-linear narrative that might best be described as “challenging.”  The ambitious project was Ray’s attempt to break with traditional story telling.  The film, made well before modern day computer technology, involved multiple images projected simultaneously by four or five projectors that had to be positioned and in sync and whose positions had to be changed during the showing.  Susan Ray explained that with today’s computer technology this would not be nearly as difficult as it was then. Ray showed “We Can’t Go Home Again” at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and continued to work on the film until his death in 1979.

Susan Ray explained that her husband had three objectives in making “We Can’t Go Home Again.”  He wanted the film to be journalistic.  Ray wanted to capture the disillusionment of young people coming out of the altruistic sixties and heading into the “me” oriented seventies.  He wanted to use multiple images, not as a gimmick, but as a way to tell several story lines at once.  Susan Ray pointed that in the 90 minutes of “We Can’t Go Home Again” we would actually see about four hours of film.  Lastly Ray intended “We Can’t Go Home Again” as an experiment in teaching.  Students would change crew positions every two weeks.  As a result, they learned what each position involved and how each position related to the other.  Following the screening of “We Can’t Go Home Again” several of Ray’s students appeared and spoke about what a positive, life changing experience working with Ray was for them.

My advice, for the curious who want to see “We Can’t Go Home Again,” is to watch “Don’t Expect Too Much,” then watch “We Can’t Go Home Again.”  Repeat as often as necessary.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on October 18, 2011, in Documentary, Feature Articles, Film Forum and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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