"The cinema is Nicholas Ray"
August 7, 2011 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Today is the 100th birthday of Raymond Nicholas Kienzle, better known as Nicholas Ray. The seminal Hollywood-outcast-turned-French-New-Wave idol behind Rebel Without a Cause, Bigger Than Life, Bitter Victory and the hallucinatory Western Johnny Guitar made intensely emotional films about isolated people, often infused with profound desperation and a sense of the nightmarish. Francois Truffaut dubbed him "the poet of nightfall," while Jean-Luc Godard simply declared that "the cinema is Nicholas Ray." He studied architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright, mentored Jim Jarmusch and let Wim Wenders film him as he was dying of cancer. Bob Dylan even wrote a hit song about one of his movies.

Ray Reading and Viewing Online:
posted by alexoscar (18 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well shit, looks like I'm watching Johnny Guitar finally.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:38 AM on August 7, 2011


(thanks!! awesome!!)
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:38 AM on August 7, 2011


This is what the best of the web means. I love that no matter how much you dabble in a subject (French New Wave is one of my favourite film eras) you can always learn about some new connection.

I'll be following these links most of the morning.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:59 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is great, thanks. Yeah, I'm gonna move Johnny Guitar to the top of the Netflix queue now; I've been meaning to watch it for years.

I saw Bigger Than Life a couple of months ago; James Mason's performance as an increasingly violent father addicted to his meds was amazing, and the melodramatic lighting, direction and pacing is really fun to watch as the story gets darker and darker, culminating in a fairly brave for the time, if over-the-top, climax. It's at least as good as Rebel Without A Cause. I think it's better, actually. There's a good essay about it at the Criterion site as well, but it has spoilers.
posted by mediareport at 8:56 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


johnny guitar is indeed my favorite western
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:05 AM on August 7, 2011


I know it's wrong but the thought of grabbing the torrent of (64 year old) Bitter Victory and knowing that other Mefites are simultaneously sharing and being shared with makes me happy.

Thank goodness it's just a thought...
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 9:31 AM on August 7, 2011


54. I suck at math.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2011


in a fairly brave for the time, if over-the-top, climax.

I think the fact that it's over-the-top is the point. For me, that's the moment where it turns from an "issue drama" into a straight-up horror movie. Also: it's got one of the queasiest happy endings ever. Ray directs the final scene in this way that totally lets you know that it's bullshit and that, in reality, nothing is ever going to be right again.

I forgot about that B. Kite essay at Criterion. Glad you posted the link, because B. Kite is always awesome.
posted by alexoscar at 9:42 AM on August 7, 2011


I am writing something longish about Western Masculinity, what my friends call the Cowboy Porn book, though it's not really about Cowboy Porn, and so I have been watching the Lusty Men a few times, and working through meanings and the like. It's his best western, and Mitchum's best performance, but I can't tell you why. The rodeo footage is some of the strongest i've seen, and the omnesicent camera is mocked several times, and it reverses genders, making an erotic melodrama a cowboy movie, but featuring boys, and not featuring drag--so it's an interesting mirror/companion peice to Johnny Guitar, and its taciturn as all hell, and Johnny Guitar is talky, talky, talky...


But mostly I think its feelings of isolation and ennui, same thing that the French picked up, and 40 years after that Unforgiven picked up. Being a man in the American West is lonely, and being a man is lonely and often horribly, violent, and often intensely broken...that seems to be the message.

(Fuck it's even the message of King of Kings, his Jesus movie, with the Lord himself clamboring all over Monument Valley talking like a hood or a surfer of anyone but a mid-eastern Prophet, shooting King of Kings in Ford country had 6 layers of hot sexy irony, 3 of them formal, and 2 of them about sex and gender. )

Here's a still from The Lusty Men: "
says what i me an
posted by PinkMoose at 9:46 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


being a man is lonely and often horribly, violent, and often intensely broken...that seems to be the message.

I'd say that that' the message of pretty much every Nicholas Ray movie, except for the ones where the message is "being young is lonely," "being a woman is lonely" or, in the case of We Can't Go Home Again," being Nicholas Ray is lonely and often horribly violent." The man sure had some demons, and he turned them into movies because he thought everybody else had these demons, too (which is essentially true). I love the thing he says at the very beginning of "I'm a Stranger Here Myself:"
My heroes are no more neurotic than the audience. Unless you can feel that a hero is just as fucked up as you are, that you would make the same mistakes that he would make, you can have no satisfaction when he does commit a heroic act. Because then you can say, "Hell, I could have done that too." And that’s the obligation of the filmmaker — of the theater-worker — to give a heightened sense of experience to the people who pay to come see his work.
posted by alexoscar at 9:54 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Exactly!
posted by PinkMoose at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2011


When all is said and done he's probably my favorite director -- toss-up between him and Hitchcock, but Hitchcock wasn't a tragic figure in the way Nicholas Ray was. I can't think of a better movie by an American director than "In a Lonely Place" -- so dark, so subversive to the dominant messages in mainstream film at the time, so amazingly eloquent about obsession and violence and missed chances and heartache and the shadow side of the American dream, as so many of his movies are.

It's great to see that there are at least two new biographies of him out now -- in commemoration of his 100th. That tale from his adolescence in LaCrosse, WI, of tracking down his father's mistress in a speakeasy and having her take him to a fleabag flophouse on the edge of town to a dark room where he found his dad lying drenched in sweat and vomit with "puke pans" on the floor at the side of the bed, whereupon the teen took the dad home to nurse him back to health, hits home for me in more ways than I can ever describe.
posted by blucevalo at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and thank you, alexoscar, for the wonderful post.
posted by blucevalo at 11:49 AM on August 7, 2011


Being a Wim Wenders fan I've seen Lightning Over Water, but I've neglected Nicholas Ray. That's for all the great info and for the clearing up the mystery of the Mighty Quinn.
posted by incandissonance at 2:57 PM on August 7, 2011


Being a Wim Wenders fan I've seen Lightning Over Water, but I've neglected Nicholas Ray. That's for all the great info and for the clearing up the mystery of the Mighty Quinn.

Yeah, it kind of blew my mind the first time I read about that. I think Dylan mentions it in Chronicles.

Speaking of Ray and Wenders, Until the End of the World is named after the last line of dialogue in Ray's King of Kings. And, of course, Ray also appears in a supporting role in The American Friend (with Dennis Hopper, whom Ray gave his first screen role in Rebel Without a Cause).
posted by alexoscar at 3:12 PM on August 7, 2011


I can't think of a better movie by an American director than "In a Lonely Place" -- so dark, so subversive to the dominant messages in mainstream film at the time, so amazingly eloquent about obsession and violence and missed chances and heartache and the shadow side of the American dream, as so many of his movies are.

A major factor in creating that feel with In A Lonely Place was Nicholas Ray directing his own wife, Gloria Grahame, when their marriage was falling apart. Years later, Gloria Grahame would get remarried to Nicholas Ray's own son. That's practically a plot point you would find in one of Nicholas Ray's movies.
posted by jonp72 at 5:43 PM on August 7, 2011


Got to take a class on Ray's films, where he quickly became a favorite of mine. What a cool guy and awesome filmmaker. Thanks for this!
posted by Rykey at 12:51 PM on August 8, 2011


For any Mefites in the UK, Johnny Guitar is being shown on More4 at 10am on Thursday. The only Ray film I've seen is In a Lonely Place, and that was brilliant, so I'll be recording it.
posted by afx237vi at 2:31 PM on August 8, 2011


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