Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Street Books - Nicholas Ray An American Journey by Bernard Eisenschitz

Found - Essex St. and Rivington St in the LES .
Picked up because - James Dean on cover.
Nicholas Ray was an under appreciated part of early Hollywood. An highly passionate director that most people don't know by name. Yes everyone knows "Rebel Without a Cause" was a classic, but now after reading this biography by Bernard Eisenschitz, one finds that this director had real life experience with the nitty-gritty of American life through the 30's and 40's. Born in the Midwest he moved to New York during the depression, there he became a part of the theater. Then when President Roosevelt's New Deal gave many artist work throughout the country, Nick went out into the backwoods of this country to help rural areas with local theater activities. These experiences in peoples homes and backyards in the 30's helped Nick set up the feeling of real American hardship in his films. During this time Nick got to work with Charles and Pete Seeger. This started his love of folk and blues (used in most of his films) and Nick's technical skills in sound. Before going back to theater and then moving on to film Nick moved back to New York. Working the sound for many jazz clubs he meet Billy Holiday and other greats. Also he would bring up some of the musicians that worked with him on the radio and lived with him in the country like Leadbelly. Living such a rich life before Nick went west to Hollywood might have been why he seemed so passionate to others in the film industry. In this book Bernard Eisenschitz takes you from movie to movie with an easy flow. Here is where the reader gets the whole story about RKO, and Howard Hughes. Lucky RKO lent Nick out for Bogart's "In a Lonely Place." The title says a lot about how Hollywood could feel for the writer/Director. Even in the western, Johnny Guitar there are hints of how Nick felt about Hollywood with lines like: 'I'm a stranger here myself." The best is how Nick handled the actors and actresses. Mostly with little whispered suggestions, he was said to be able to pull the character out of the actor. Working in a very loose way, sometimes with only part of a script he would encourage improvisation, unheard of with most directors of the time. This book does not glorify Nick, Eisenschitz puts in all the gambling, drinking, and the problems with Nick's wife's. Eventually Nick goes to Europe to make some films, then ends up back in New York as a teacher and lecture. Film direction, Nick told his students, is a "hunt for the truth" This books "hunt for the truth" was more then just a story about Nick Ray, it was about how sometimes we as Americans don't really see who we are. How we need artists like Nicholas Ray to show us our own story before we believe in it.
-Nicholas Ray An American Journey by Bernard Eisenschitz, translated from French by Tom Milne


  1. you found this on the street? thats a great find. nichaolas ray's later years were the most interesting to me. so many great directors branch off from him. im not sure if you're a wim wenders or jim jarmusch fan, but he kinda mentored both of them (he was jarmusch's teacher in film school, and helped him develop his first movie). have you seen; "the american friend" or "lightning over water"? those are 2 films wenders and ray collaborated on in the late 70's.

  2. thanks again for loaning me this book. im off to kind of a slow start (im still in the radio period), but its pretty good so far. i did learn that nicholas ray and i share the same birthday!