February 3, 2012


On Tuesday January 31st, 2012 the restoration of Nicholas Ray's WE CAN'T HOME AGAIN (1972-2011) premiered to a small audience at UCLA as part of the "Melnitz Movies" program at the James Bridges Theater.

After the screening there was a panel and audience questions. The panelists were:

Bill Krohn (Film Critic),
Charles Bornstein (Editor and Crew Member),
Janet Bergstrom (Professor of Film History, UCLA),
Christa Fuller (Actress, Activist, wife of Samuel Fuller),
Richie Bock (Actor, Crew Member, Filmmaker)

Under discussion: the panelists' experience of WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN and the era in which it was made (late 60s, early 70s); the multiple versions of the film; the restoration work; Nick Ray's "rolling thunder" at Harpur College (Binghamton University, NY); Ray's orchestration of the film's multiple-image form, etc....

Janet Bergstrom begins having seen the film in a different version in the 70's at UC Berkeley with a question on the film's work-in-progress state at that time...

Throughout the video "Cannes" is referred to; this specifically means the Cannes Film Festival in the year 1973 where WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN was first screened in its most complete version (the restoration was based upon this version). The completeness of this version, indeed of any version, is indirectly debated by the panel.

Also throughout, the panelists refer to "the documentary"; this is Susan Ray's excellent documentary DON'T EXPECT TOO MUCH (2011), also shown that night. It includes much context and footage of Ray and his students at work on WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN, present-day interviews with cast and crew, and astonishing audio recordings of Ray's talks on acting, filmmaking and life.

Christa Fuller is deeply moved by WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN and finds it full of the same insecurity, rebellion, lost friends and terrible times that she experienced in the United States in the 70's. She tells a story of her own similar to the traumatic tomato scene (much referred to that night) in Ray's film. She does not find the film "failed", nor does Bill Krohn, and compares it to Godard's FILM SOCIALISME.

Krohn speaks of the film's influence on Godard, and the film's place in Ray's oeuvre, of Ray as a character, as a fiction in the film, and WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN's ending as a re-writing of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE...

An audience member speaks on the film's humor and the technical miracle of Ray and crew's successful filming of multiple projections on film, the camera and each projector having its own shutter thus 50/50 chance of black, the high chance for disaster, the harmonious result...

Editor Charles Bornstein explains his transition from shooting with Nick to the editing room as one of physical reactions which began his career as an editor (he later edited Carpenter's THE FOG)...

Richie Bock recalls Ray's arrival at Harpur College as a kind of storming, with Ray interrupting the study of "avant-garde movies, individual people making beautiful films of leaves falling from the trees and here comes this guy with all this footage from 60's, with confrontation, and 'where-are-we-now?', and all this emotion...He stirred up a lot."

Bornstein and Bock detail what Ray showed them (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT) and didn't show them (his other films), the footage of the '68 Chicago riots, dressing up as cops, the feeling that "adults are the betrayers of the youth", the copious amount of unused narration Ray recorded for the film, some of which was newly used in the restoration...

Finally, Bock shares with us Ray's assigned reading selections for students, and his fondness for a certain Charles Laughton film....


Thanks to Samuel B. Prime for screening the film and organizing the event, to Richie Bock and Charles Bornstein (and of course Susan Ray) for their dedication to Nick Ray and the film in those years, and to Bill and Christa for sticking up for the film today.


Laurent said...

Nick Ray and the house of pictures

I remember a time when, in one of the four cafés near Trocadero, someone (some filmworm) could claim that the greatest filmmaker in the world was X or Y, but that Nicholas Ray had perhaps made the most beautiful film in the world. One evening it was Bitter Victory, another it was Bigger Than Life. Nicholas Ray was always different to the other directors. As if between him and cinema there was a privileged link, which we ought to look after. We already knew that his career had not been easy, that it would be broken. More than Welles, Ray was the great loser. Except perhaps that losing sometimes means winning. Easy romanticism? Yes, but we also knew – he had said it in a Cahiers interview – that for him, cinema was only at its beginnings, that we only saw a glimmer of it, that it will surprise us. Strange words for a Hollywood filmmaker that we should not have forgotten. Shown in Cannes in 1973, rediscovered after Ray’s death in 1980, programmed in English and clandestinely for one week at the Action-République theatre, We Can’t Go Home Again shows we were right. We were right to consider him “special” since, although he wasn’t filming anymore, he is, posthumously, closing a loop of cinema. With a unique itinerary, he is the only one to have followed his two favourite subjects – youth and cinema – in their most recent adventures. In his exile, his withdrawal in the early 1970s, he is the only filmmaker of his generation to testify in vivo of what young people and the cinema are becoming. And not because, for lack of anything better, he would have, late in life, tried some new “experiences”, but because he was one of these filmmakers who can only be contemporaneous. Hence why Godard loved him so much. Hence the fact that, in our imagination, neither Ray nor his cinema were ageing. We Can’t Go Home Again is simply another film by Ray, dated 1973. Another film on youth, the post-68 youth, generous and talkative, drugged and pragmatic, violent and sentimental. Another film on education, Ray’s great theme, with, this time, the filmmaker presented for who he is: a name, a faded glory, the film teacher who made, in the past, Rebel Without A Cause. Another film on fathers who are not fathers, who trick the Oedipus complex, mime their death, tie knots we won’t be able to cut. Ray the Gordian filmmaker: at the end of the film, he hangs himself at night, in front of his terrorised students, in a barn. The off-screen voice of the hanged man whispers to a young man “Take care of each other.” How can we not think of The Live By Night? Another film on the impossibility of the return, on the headlong rush, on the lack of home. For this film is unique: a filmmaker disintegrates and recomposes what was the very matter of his film. The screen is populated of smaller images which vibrate, co-exist and become blurred. Screams and confessions float on a dark background but this dark background is sometimes the shadow of a house, with a roof, as the children draw them. Not a house for characters anymore, but a house for images “which no longer have a home”: the cinema. We can’t go home again… In 1977, the first Cahiers week was taking place in New York at the Bleecker cinema. I learnt that Ray – who was teaching a block away – had just left the theatre during the projection of Numero deux. I ran after him. We got introduced. He hadn’t liked Godard’s film, too hard, intellectual, self-destructive. I laughed up my sleeve. He admitted that he had made a film of this type, before Godard, but the reels were lost, somewhere, during another editing. In 1980, his widow, Susan Ray, came to Paris with the film. She wanted to finish it, re-edit it, add things, according to Ray’s wishes, as he wasn’t satisfied with the film. Was she right? I’m not sure. What is certain is that no cinemathèque in the world could sleep quietly at the idea that it doesn’t have in its blockhaus a copy of We Can’t Go Home Again.

Serge Daney

Cahiers du cinéma, #310, April 1980

Andy Rector said...

Thank you, Laurent, for the great gift of this translation!!

More on Ray's film to come, and I will include a link to your translation so that it doesn't get overlooked in the comments.

I hope you're well!