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Nicholas Ray spent the glory years of his career creating films that were dark, emotionally charged, and haunted by social misfits and bruised young people—from his career-defining debut, They Live by Night, to his enduring masterwork, Rebel Without a Cause, with James Dean; from the noir thriller In a Lonely Place, pairing his wife Gloria Grahame with Humphrey Bogart, to the cult classic Johnny Guitar, a campy showcase for the tempestuous Joan Crawford. Yet his work on-screen is more than matched by the passions...
Nicholas Ray spent the glory years of his career creating films that were dark, emotionally charged, and haunted by social misfits and bruised young people—from his career-defining debut, They Live by Night, to his enduring masterwork, Rebel Without a Cause, with James Dean; from the noir thriller In a Lonely Place, pairing his wife Gloria Grahame with Humphrey Bogart, to the cult classic Johnny Guitar, a campy showcase for the tempestuous Joan Crawford. Yet his work on-screen is more than matched by the passions and struggles of his personal story—one of the most dramatic lives of any major Hollywood filmmaker.
In Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, Patrick McGilligan offers a revelatory biography of Ray, a self-destructive man whose troubled life was marked by creative peaks and valleys alike. From carousing with musicians such as Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie to romancing starlets such as Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, and a teenage Natalie Wood, Ray's story is irresistibly alluring. Meticulous and compulsively readable, this is an extraordinary life of one of the most fascinating figures in American film.
Chapter 1 The Iron Fist, the Velvet Glove 1
Chapter 2 "Struggle Is Grand" 21
Chapter 3 Agitation of the Essence 49
Chapter 4 "Ungathered" 81
Chapter 5 Atmosphere of Fear 125
Chapter 6 Mr. Nice Guy 173
Chapter 7 Bread and Taxes 215
Chapter 8 The Golden World 262
Chapter 9 Circle of Isolation 314
Chapter 10 Lost Causes 356
Chapter 11 The Martyrlogue 391
Chapter 12 Project X 440
Other Credits 507
Sources and Acknowledgments 508
Posted May 9, 2012
Ray is my favorite director. I've also read Bernard Eisenschitz's bio of him and a lot of critical books and essays over the past 45 years. This one is well written and has a few new revelations regarding both Ray's life and his films that help explain why they turned out the way they did. He once said of himself that he was the greatest director who never made a completely satisfactory film. Scenes and concepts are exhilaratingly original and emotionally involving in a completely unique way in perhaps two thirds of his twenty-ish films--a very high average. But the self-destructive Ray (which McGilligan describes in glimpses that are painful to read) keep his vision sadly incomplete. Ray had a number of addictions--drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling--any one of which would have siderailed him given how much he was indulging and how few hours of sleep and sobriety he had. All together, it's a self-inflicted tragedy. Ray was famously verbally inarticulate at times and I wondered after reading this book whether perhaps during his long silences he was having imaginary conversations with his colleagues in his head and was so inebriated that he didn't realize that he hadn't spoken aloud. And his seduction of 16-year old Natalie Wood, while long known, is such a distasteful, repellent act that it's hard to excuse the artist because of the human. When I'm watching Rebel Without a Cause, I have to wipe that knowledge out of my mind. It's hard to do.
But the films are wonderful and repay any number of rewatchings. McGilligan tried hard to tie moments in his films with moments from his life, showing how he transformed his life with his art. I guess I would have preferred to have less on his life and more and the meaning of his work, even if that meant a longer book. I got to the point when I didn't want to see him continue to race to the bottom and wanted to see more McGilligan's analysis of the works, especially the lesser ones. But if you're a Ray fan, you'll need to read this book.