There are two films that are on the main disc; an experimental film by Nicholas Ray and a documentary by Susan Ray about the making of said film. They are perfect companions on this release and I feel one is crucial for the other, therefore I’m going to treat neither as simply a “Bonus.”
We Can’t Go Home Again
This film is the result of a course taught by Nicholas Ray. The idea behind the course was to have students work on all aspects of creating a film instead of just sitting in a classroom. This meant trading positions between lighting, sound, acting, writing and so on. The result of this experiment appears just as that, an experimental film.
I feel as though this is the type of film that would have greater success if experienced as an Art Installation and not a feature. That way you are not pinned down by the film as you make a vain attempt to decipher some sort of coherent plot from it. At many points there are upwards of six different images presented on the screen which would translate well to a gallery setting. It is disjointed and hard to retain in a single sitting.
That being said, there is still a journey to be had with this film. There is a kind of meta-narrative happening with the way that Ray has injected himself in into both the creative work and personal lives of his students, in both the film and in the production itself (that latter of which is touched upon in Don’t Expect Too Much extensively). Kudos to him and his students for making the effort to learn and create at the same time. What they produced is still…something.
Don’t Expect Too Much
This is a feature length documentary about the making of We Can’t Go Home Again that really should be considered the main feature as this making of the film is far more compelling than the film itself.
As mentioned before, famed Hollywood director Nicholas Ray took a job as a film teacher. Instead of teaching film theory, he wanted his students to learn about what it takes to make a film by actually making one. The film became their lives as anything and everything could be a part of it. There was no classroom.
Their journey became a sort of “Heart of Darkness” tale for Ray as he became increasingly desperate to find ways to film and edit a complete film. With the help of his students and some cohorts, a film was eventually cobbled together and screened at Cannes. The reaction was not good and Ray was left terribly disappointed.
Many experiments occurred within the grand experiment that was the project. Students were going through intense emotional discoveries as they placed themselves into their creation. It was truly a learning experience to never be forgotten and professors would do well to learn from this example (even if it is just a caution).
I personally had the good fortune to be a part of a nearly identical experiment led by George Toles (best known as the Screenwriter of many Guy Maddin films) therefore I can personally attest to just how truly harrowing yet rewarding experience such an experiment can be. This documentary captures every essence of that.
Fullscreen. Since this is largely footage cobbled together from a film making course where lower quality cameras were used for learning purposes, the picture quality is not going to be crystal clear. I still commend the efforts made to remove a lot of the pops, hisses and graininess that is normally present in such things. For basically being a student(s) film from the 70s, the picture looks plenty clear.
Dolby Digital Mono and Stereo. There is no real use or need for Surround sound with this type of film. Granted, an immersive experience could be tactical for an experimental film but this crew clearly did not have the capacity to create such a thing. What is there is about as clear as one could hope for. We Can’t Go Home Again is frequently muffled but this is due to the audio being handled by student working with relatively cheap equipment.
Extended Interview – Jim Jarmusch: Jim reflects on his film school days where he met and worked with Nick Ray and the things he learned directly from him. As he speaks more about his lessons he becomes more and more excited to describe the things he retained, and Mr. Jarmusch is not known for his enthusiastic mien.
Extended Interview – Bernard Eisenschitz: This interview discusses the biographical pars of Ray’s history that were not touched upon in the main features. This man is an academic who has studied Ray (the large stack of books about Ray in the backgroung give evidence to this fact).
Camera Three – Profile of Nicolas Ray: This is an episode of a former CBS program from the 1970s. This entire episode is dedicated to an interview with Ray. Said interview has such an odd, almost lethargic calm to it that even AM Jazz radio hosts would get fidgety watching it. This is still a thoughtful and respectful examination of Ray’s contribution to cinema. A lot of the focus is placed on Ray’s most popular film: Rebel Without a Cause.
Marco Rushes: A rare look at Ray working with an actor on a film assignment for one of his courses. This is not a short film. “Rushes” is the term for all the footage taken in a shooting day that will be considered for editing. This is raw footage, including multiple takes of the same shot. The advantage of this is getting to see and hear Ray working directly with his actors.
About Marco: The star of Marco, Claudio Mazzatesta, and a former assistant to Nick Ray, Gary Bamman,reflect on this particular assignment and what it meant to work with Ray. There unique perspective, having worked mostly on a non-professional level, is interested to hear.
“The Janitor”: This is a chapter, directed by and starring Nick Ray, of Max Fischer’s feature film Wet Dreams. It is a strange segment that dissolves into a sort of orgy by the end. Another truly rare gem for collector’s and fans.
Also included is a booklet that features three articles by Susan Ray, Serge Daney and Bill Krohn.
This release got a Criterion worthy treatment. This is an “as-good-as-it-gets” cut of the main features and a great assembly of rare extras. An essential item for a true cinemaphile’s collection.