Sunday 4 September 2011

Bitter Brilliance: Links to Nicholas Ray Scholarship and Criticism

If the cinema no longer existed, Nicholas Ray alone gives the impression of being capable of reinventing it, and what is more, of wanting to. While it is easy to imagine John Ford as an admiral, Robert Aldrich on Wall Street, Anthony Mann on the trail of Belliou la Fumée or Raoul Walsh as a latter-day Henry Morgan under Caribbean skies, it is difficult to see the director of Run For Cover doing anything but make films. A Logan or a Tashlin, for instance, might make good in the theatre or music-hall, Preminger as a novelist, Brooks as a school teacher, Cukor in advertising - but not Nicholas Ray. Were the cinema suddenly cease to exist, most directors would in no way be at a loss; Nicholas Ray would. After seeing Johnny Guitar or Rebel Without A Cause, one cannot but feel that here is something which exists only in the cinema, which would be nothing in a novel, the stage, or anywhere else, but which becomes fantastically beautiful on the screen. [Jean-Luc Godard, [On Nicholas Ray's Hot blood]', Cahiers du cinéma, 1957, cited by Sam Rohdie, 'Studies', Screening the Past, Issue 19, 2006]
In the opening credit sequence of Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Jim Stark, played by James Dean, stumbles to the foreground of the wide, Cinemascope image and lays down to play with a miniature toy monkey. After winding it up and childishly watching it march and clap its cymbals, he paternally makes a bed for it out of assorted litter and puts it to sleep under a blanket of wrinkled paper. This brief moment not only provides immediate insight into Dean’s character, but it also foreshadows the entire story to come: young Jim’s paternal drive to ‘be a man,’ induced in part by a pathetically weak father figure, leads him to adopt Plato [Sal Mineo] as a younger sibling/child whom he can protect (like he wishes he was protected). In fact, Plato acts as a direct visual stand-in for Jim’s toy, as is clear from the latter’s attempt to give Plato his jacket in the police station moments after the opening sequence, a gesture that Plato would finally accept seconds before his death at the end of the film, when Jim would put him to rest—like his cherished toy that had run out of energy—by zipping up his jacket for the cold beyond. Jim’s own father surprisingly repeats this gesture by putting his jacket over his son’s shoulders in an inaugural act signaling his desire to protect his child from the gratuitous cruelty of the world. [Gabriel Rockhill, 'Modernism as a Misnomer: Godard’s Archeology of the Image', Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy - Revue de la philosophie française et de langue française, Vol XVIII, No 2 (2010) pp 107-129: 110-111]
Today, inspired in part by the appearance yesterday of Serena Bramble's video tribute (above), Film Studies For Free collects snippets from and links to scholarship and critical writing on the films of Nicholas Ray.

This year marks the centenary of Ray's birth. Interestingly, the years since are remarkably short on online and openly accessible scholarly studies of his work, but mightily longer, luckily, on some really excellent film critical work. The below list aims to link to the best and most interesting of both those categories, but if you know of great items missing from this selection, please feel free to tell FSFF about them in the comments. Thank you!

Evan Meeker's video The Rebel Within uses experimental editing techniques "to probe Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause analyzing scenes and dialogue with the intention of drawing out hidden themes and character traits easily glanced over in the original."

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