Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Don't be fooled: Nicholas Ray's final directorial effort, 1976's WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN, is not really a Nicholas Ray film.

Yes, he's in it (playing himself), and yes, he spent too many minutes from his emeritus years trying to make sense of it in the editing room. And yet the film--largely shot and performed by some bombed-out film students of his at Syracuse's Binghamton University--is an unwatchable mess, even by experimental film standards. I like me some Brakhage, Warhol and Belson, but this thing is a headache machine. Though a multitude of 8mm and 16mm images often crowd the screen at the same time (with a little 35mm thrown in for welcome relief), there is little to look at and less to enjoy in this plate of scrambled eggs. Dang, this thing was enough to make me swear off split-screen filmmaking forever, and I've ALWAYS been a split-screen fan.

Ray landed a gig teaching film at Binghamton after alcoholism and poverty had decimated his once florid Hollywood career. But this thesis called WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN plays like ugly wallpaper at the worst freak-out you've ever stumbled into. Interesting only for the most diehard film buffs, it does allow us a peek into Ray's final years, where he's been hobbled by his demons and thus is instantly inattentive to his classroom charges, who apparently were too enamored of a dying youth movement to listen to what this moviemaking master had to impart (the students say, in an opening scene, that REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE was just "okay"). Or maybe it was the eternally youth-loving Ray who, himself, smothered his own know-how in the face of a powerful rebellion with which he was just then coming into direct contact. At any rate, the film makes you sadly feel as if the director was pitifully cashing in his meager teaching pay check and spending it all on booze and young girls, some of which probably appear nude here. I'm thinking, now, maybe I'm being mean writing this. But YOU try sitting through this film...

There are moments of truth: I liked a scene in which a young student talks to Ray about how his recent weight loss really didn't change his life, and there's a full-framed sequence where and un-eye-patched Ray walks with another, more contemptuous student as the kid throws punches, trying to test if the great director is really blind in that eye. There's also a tweaked-out exchange where a girl student admits to hustling her body in order to raise money for the film (I really got the impression Ray was fucking this girl, too, and good for him, I guess). But these moments are fleeting in the extreme.

Instead, throughout most of the film's interminable 95-minute running time, we're treated to go-nowhere arguments, one endless close-up of some guy's rotten face, messy video art, unrelated views of student marches, and sub-par first-time filmmaker narratives involving cops and their wandering suspects. But we do have one clue that that Ray KNEW this movie had nothing to do with his great career. When it's all thankfully done, the movie's most memorable image has Ray, presumably watching dailies with his famed eyepatch on, augmenting that accessory with a second eyepatch so that he can't see anything. The inevitable DVD release of WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN should come packaged with two such eyepatches, to advisedly be administered to both eyes by the unfortunate viewer.

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