We Can't Go Home Again | Chicago Reader

We Can't Go Home Again

Nicholas Ray ended his Hollywood career with his most expensive production, 55 Days in Peking (1963), and followed it ten years later with his least expensive, an experimental and politically radical independent feature made with his film students. Each movie is a shambles, though if I had to choose between them I'd probably opt for this one, which is certainly the more original. Ray and his students play themselves in docudrama situations that culminate in Ray's (fictional) suicide, and often he combines several images into crowded frescoes. The film reeks of countercultural alienation and anguish, and when it premiered at Cannes in 1973, Ray spoke of trying to make “what in our minds is a Guernica” out of such materials as “a broken-down Bolex” and “a Mitchell that costs $25 out of navy surplus.” He tinkered with the film for years, and the 1976 date commonly assigned to it refers to a second unfinished version, which, lamentably, is unavailable. It's upsetting in many ways, but as a document of its time there's nothing remotely like it.

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