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With: Richie Bock, Tom Farrell, Nicholas Ray, Danny Fisher, Jill Gannon, Jane Heymann, Leslie Levinson, Stanley Liu, Luke Oberle, Phil Weisman
Written by: Nicholas Ray, Tom Farrell, Susan Ray
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 97
Date: 01/01/1976

We Can't Go Home Again (1976)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rebels Without a Narrative

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Nicholas Ray had a most amazing career in Hollywood. He made popular entertainments, and received critical acclaim for many of them. At least four of them -- In a Lonely Place (1950), Johnny Guitar (1954), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Bigger Than Life (1956) -- rank among the greatest films ever made. In France, a young film critic named Jean-Luc Godard said this: "There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforth there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray."

But Ray had another side. He was apparently not easy to work with, and wound up being fired (or quitting) from several productions. After 55 Days at Peking (1963), he left Hollywood and never went back. He roamed Europe for a while, but then, broke, he accepted a job teaching film at NYU. He decided to enlist his students in the making of a new feature film. But this was no ordinary feature film: it was an experiment in form and technique, playing around with multiple frames and odd backdrops, as well as non-linear storytelling. It became We Can't Go Home Again.

The result, truthfully, is rather dull, and its 95-minute running time asks a lot of a viewer. Ray used to be known as a "youth" director, someone who was in touch with the youth of the world, and here he seems to want to be that person, but it's not clear whether he really pulls it off. His students seem fond of him, even if they don't know what to make of him at times. Frankly, the movie is too disjointed and fragmented for any real characters or connections to develop. One of the students, Leslie Levinson, was very pretty and had a natural camera presence. She went on to appear in Scorsese's The King of Comedy, as well as one or two other films. Whenever she's on camera, at least, it eases the boredom.

Oddly, Godard years later tried a similar multi-frame experiment (Numero Deux) with more success. Maybe Ray was more of a pioneer than anyone realized.

Oscilloscope has released this "lost" film on DVD and Blu-ray, along with a new documentary about the making of the film: Don't Expect Too Much, directed by Ray's widow Susan. She interviews most of the former students, who are today about the same age as Ray was in the original. Sadly, though it sheds a bit of light on Ray's film, it's also a very standard talking-head doc and doesn't have much value on its own. The disc also comes with some other Ray footage from the same period.

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