Blu-ray Review: Nicholas Ray's WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN Shows How The Rebel Found His Cause

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
Nicholas Ray is one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood history, and with a CV that includes films like Rebel Without a Cause, Johnny Guitar, In a Lonely Place, and many more, it's no surprise. What impresses me the most about Ray and his filmmaking, however, isn't the precision of his framing, the timbre of his dialogue, or the world-beating performances he's able to pull from his actors; what impressed me the most about Ray is that he didn't give a fuck about placating anyone. Nick Ray was in it for the art, he was in it to make statements, and he was in it to shine a light on an America suffering from a post-WWII identity crisis to show them just how fucked they really were.
 
In the years between 1964 and 1971, he found himself out of work and bumming around wherever he found inspiration. Sometimes it was with the French New Wave directors who saw in Ray a true auteur, sometimes it was elsewhere, but ultimately he found himself teaching a filmmaking class at Harpur College in New York. It was here, in the midst of this class, that Ray collaborated with his students in the creation of his final, sadly unfinished, feature, We Can't Go Home Again.

During his globetrotting years, Ray had picked up an affinity for multi-screen projection as a way to tell interweaving stories. The idea of creating this film became his fuel, and it gave thrust to him (and his students) to create a contemporary story about the world as he saw it in 1973. Nick Ray was a stubborn son of a bitch, and that stubbornness really paid off, since the film ended up taking nearly three years to complete principal photography. A kaleidoscopic piece of social antagonism and treatise on the changing morality of the times,  as well as an indictment of the old guard and the progressive destruction of the American family, We Can't Go Home Again is an avant garde attempt by Ray to squeeze all of his ideas into one 97 minute film. Surprisingly, even though the film has little cohesive narrative to speak of, it succeeds in what I imagine are its goals.

We Can't Go Home Again is a cacophonous deluge of dysfunction. Voices coming at you from every angle; images moving, shifting, morphing into and out of one another, through each other; and numerous storylines all fighting for your attention make the film an experience akin to Anthony Burgess's Ludovico technique, in which the viewer's mind is bombarded with images and vignettes designed to mimic the chaotic state of the nation and general distrust of its people for their government (who, incidentally, was actually lying to them at the time about the extent of the war in Vietnam). The overall effect of this experience is an increasing sense of anxiety brought on by a combination of style and substance that is hard to describe.

Unfortunately, Ray died before he came up with a satisfactory edit of We Can't Go Home Again, and so what remains are work prints, notes, and best guesses. However, with his widow Susan Ray at the reins, I suppose we're about as close as we'll ever get. Whatever the state of this cut of the film, it works marvelously well at unbalancing its audience, while maintaining complete control over the message that only appears to be jagged and unwieldy, but is instead fine tuned and razor sharp. It takes a fascinating mind to create art that is both antagonistic in presentation and soothing in content, and Nick Ray was that rare genius artist whose skills were so finely honed that it was second nature, even as he fumbled his way through the technical bits. We Can't Go Home Again is Rebel Without a Cause for the Vietnam generation, a drug inspired work of anxious frenzy created with the sole purpose of opening the eyes of its audience to the world in which they lived.


The Disc:

This Blu-ray disc from Oscilloscope Films is nothing less than a labor of love. The image, taken from a number of different formats in which the film was shot, is all over the place, however, none of it looks overly processed, and as such, any kind of additional restoration would do more damage than good. Can I honestly say that the Blu-ray image isn't going to be noticeably better than the DVD image? Probably not; however, I know we're all geeks, so feel free to buy the Blu-ray so it matches with the rest of your discs, size-wise. 

The audio is similarly taken from numerous sources, none of which were very good in the first place. In spite of the overlapping conversations from time to time, the dialogue is easy enough to follow and English language subtitles are a godsend from time to time.

The resurrection and restoration of We Can't Go Home Again appears to have been a pet project of Susan Ray for many years. As such, the disc is absolutely LOADED with bonus material that puts this film in its proper historical context, as well as bringing together lots of largely unseen material for the first time. 

Most significant among the bunch is the 75 minute retrospective 'making of' feature which includes lots of behind the scenes and b-roll footage as well as interviews with all of the principals including archival interviews with Ray regarding the project. This is almost more engaging in a traditional way than the film itself. 

Add to that numerous interviews, archival interviews with Ray, a conversation with Jim Jarmusch, and a massive booklet with an extensive essay from Susan Ray regarding not only the film itself but also the restoration process and its challenges, and you've got an amazing collection of material for an incredible work of art. Highly recommended
Special Features:
  • - WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN (1973) – newly restored from original elements
    - DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH (2011) – Feature-length documentary by Susan Ray
    - Extended interviews with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and Ray Biographer Bernard Eisenschitz.
    - Camera Three - Profile of Nicholas Ray (CBS) (1977)
    - Rushes from Ray's MARCO (1977)
    - About Marco – Interviews with Claudio Mazzatenta and Gerry Bamman
    - The Janitor – Nicholas Ray's Segment from the feature WET DREAMS (1974)
    - Twenty-four page booklet featuring photos, original material by Nicholas Ray, and Essays by Susan Ray, Serge Daney, and film scholar Bill Krohn.
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