Nicholas Ray, Writ Large

March 13–April 12, 2003


Certain directors are best appreciated on the big screen, and Nicholas Ray stands foremost among them. A master of CinemaScope composition, rhythmic editing, and color in all its gaudy splendor or monochromatic nuance, Ray created dramatic tension through formal contrasts. His is a cinema of restless movement and constant searching, whose every frame registers his own deeply felt, fiercely independent vision of the world and his preoccupation with themes of constraint and rebellion, impotence and rage, the problem of desire, and the possibility of love.

Few Hollywood studio directors had a better sense of place (the suburbs and back roads of America, the desert, the tundra, the bayou) or character (fathers and sons, outlaws and outcasts, party girls, soldiers), and few could mix genres so seamlessly or direct actors with such care and inventiveness: Ray, who was himself an actor, brilliantly cast James Cagney, James Mason, Richard Burton, and Joan Fontaine against type, and drew career-topping performances from Gloria Grahame, Susan Hayward, Charlton Heston, Christopher Plummer, Natalie Wood, and James Dean, among others.

Presenting newly restored, newly struck, and rare prints from studios and archives, this Nicholas Ray retrospective is the most comprehensive in North America in more than a decade, offering a golden opportunity to discover the bigger-than-life filmmaker who was first lionized by the French directors and critics Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette, and then later revered by such like-minded mavericks as Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Robert Altman.

Organized by James Quandt, Senior Programmer, Cinematheque Ontario, and Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media, The Museum of Modern Art.

The Department is deeply indebted to Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros., UCLA Film and Television Archive, 20th Century Fox, The Library of Congress, Cappa Productions, the National Film and Television Archive (London), George Eastman House, and Myron Meisel for their generous loan of prints, many of which have been newly struck for this exhibition.


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