WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN.
DIRECTED BY NICHOLAS RAY
In May 1971 Nicholas Ray was invited to give a lecture at Harpur College, a state university in Binghamton, New York.
He made such an impression with the students and faculty that the university offered him a two year contract to teach filmmaking. Nick believed that the only way to teach filmmaking was by making a feature film with his students. So in September 1971, Nicholas Ray, a Hollywood legend, began the odyssey of a film originally entitled The Gun Under My Pillow with his students. He staged improvisations from their experiences and his own, which were based on premonitions of death. As the story of the film developed over several months, Nick announced that our film would be called We Can't Go Home Again after Thomas Wolfe's last novel, You Can't Go Home Again. He was 60 years old. We filmed mostly at night because students had other classes during the day. Nick was a creature of the night.
Let me tell you a true story that illustrates Nick's affection for the night. As we filmed one scene after another, Nick spoke of a black light, saying several times that he wanted to invent a black light. So, I finally asked him: "Nick, why the hell would you want to invent a black light?" He looked at me as though it was a stupid question and said: "So I can shoot night scenes in the daytime." It was Nick's little joke.
Like the young characters and actors from Rebel Without A Cause, Nicholas Ray wanted to make the students in We Can't Go Home Again members of his family. We were refugees from home in search of our identities during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War under President Richard Nixon. Nick became like a father to several among us, someone older and wiser who understood the rebellion in the streets when insanity had swept the country. Nick was an angry old man with many contradictions. He hated the forces of repression with a passion, but he also possessed the seeds of his own destruction. All his years were intense as his films were filled with rage.
Nick Ray was a complicated individual. I never really understood him. Even now more than 30 years after his death I still don't know who he was or why. The real genius of Nicholas Ray remains evident in his films, with evocative titles like In A Lonely Place, On Dangerous Ground, Bigger Than Life, Bitter Victory, Johnny Guitar, The Savage Innocents, and They Live By Night. Nick's search for self-image continued in We Can't Go Home Again. The film premiered in the Cannes Film Festival in May 1973, just as his contract with Harpur College expired. It was possible to learn from him. Nick always told his students: "Cinema is the Cathedral of the Arts." In spite of all Nick's personal problems with alcohol and drugs, Nicholas Ray was a truly gifted filmmaker, and we are the ones who benefit from his gift.