Nick’s Film: Lightning over Water. 1980. West Germany. Directed by Nicholas Ray, Wim Wenders. 90 min.
With Ray, Wenders, Tom Farrell, Susan Ray, Ronee Blakely. During a brief respite from his ill-fated studio production Hammett, Wenders collaborated with Nicholas Ray (Rebel without a Cause, In a Lonely Place) on a film about the final weeks of Ray’s life. Suffering tremendously from terminal cancer but defiant to the end—“I knew that he wanted to work, to die working,” Wenders observes—Ray lectures to college students about The Lusty Men and previews his latest film, the experimental We Can’t Go Home Again, in his Soho loft. Shot by Edward Lachman, Mitch Dubin, Martin Schafer, and Timothy Ray on film and video, the film’s ghostly images threaten to disintegrate or fade away—an expression, it would seem, of Wenders’s own ambivalence about capturing Ray in such a vulnerable state. Ultimately, however, Lightning over Water testifies to an enduring and unsentimental friendship, transcending mere portraiture to confront, in the starkest way imaginable, the uneasy ethical question of how to represent the dying.