After the disastrous production and poor reception of his last feature film, 55 Days at Peking (1963), legendary Hollywood director Nicholas Ray drifted between half-realized projects, unmoored from the studios who were reluctant to employ the notoriously mercurial filmmaker. Paradoxically, as he wandered unable to find purchase or producer for his creative vision, Ray's status as an Icarus-like figure struck down from the studio firmament only continued to rise, fueled by ceaseless tributes and retrospectives staged at cinematheques and universities around the world, many of them dutifully attended by Ray himself. In 1968 Ray was offered his first visiting teaching position at SUNY Binghamton by the new director of the film program, experimental filmmaker Larry Gottheim. Inspired by his students and by the political and socio-cultural unrest of the period, Ray embarked on his most experimental work, a radically avant-garde example of expanded cinema that remains, to this day, far ahead of its time. During his brief teaching stint Ray found solace and an important new creative outlet in a band of devoted undergraduates who dedicated themselves to the completion of the project that would become We Can’t Go Home Again. Equally scripted and spontaneous, We Can’t Go Home Again was partly an open autobiography of Ray and of the students and of the production itself, drawing from their own intensely personal stories and experiences to create a cinematically and theatrically dynamic experience loosely structured around the encounters between a film professor, played by Ray himself, and his students. Seeking to rupture narrative tradition and the controlled distance between audience and image so important to his Hollywood work, Ray and his team set out to combine simultaneous images and soundtracks by improvising a fragile multi-projector system that combined different formats (35mm, 16mm, Super 8 and video) and that always threatened to break down, as it did during an important American Film Institute preview for potential donors, and at the Cannes premiere of the work-in-progress.
Directly tied to Ray's own well-known practice of forging an often quite dangerously intense intimacy with his actors, We Can’t Go Home Again also drew from the creative ferment of the time, and especially the type of experimental cinema that would later thrive within the SUNY Binghampton program. Never finished, We Can’t Go Home Again became Ray's last great obsession, a passion shared by with wife and partner Susan Ray, who has worked tirelessly as head of the Ray Foundation to finally realize Ray's vision of combining the multiple images and soundtracks onto a single screen. Recently premiered at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, the new restoration of We Can’t Go Home Again supervised by Susan Ray allows us to finally reevaluate and understand the last expression of one of the postwar American cinema's great visionaries.
Restored by the Nicholas Ray Foundation EYE Film Institute Netherlands and the Academy Film Archive. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. Special thanks: Susan Ray.
Sunday November 6 at 7pm
Monday November 7 at 7pm
Directed by Nicholas Ray. With Nicholas Ray, Tom Farrell, Jill Gannon
USA 1972-2011, 35mm, color and b/w, 93 min