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Originally published Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'We Can't Go Home Again' and 'Don't Expect Too Much': A Nicholas Ray film, and the making of it

"We Can't Go Home Again," a new, digitally restored version of the 1976 docudrama by director Nicholas Ray about a student project he designed at State University of New York, is playing at Northwest Film Forum along with his widow Susan Ray's "Don't Expect Too Much," an entertaining 2011 documentary about the making of "We Can't Go Home Again."

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review

2 stars 'We Can't Go Home Again,' a docudrama by Nicholas Ray. 97 minutes. Not rated; contains sexual references.

3 stars'Don't Expect Too Much,' a documentary by Susan Ray. 70 minutes. Not rated; contains mature subject matter. Both are playing at Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

The Saturday screening of "We Can't Go Home Again" will be introduced by David Spaner, author of the new book "Shoot It! Hollywood Inc. and the Rising of Independent Film."

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Best-known as the director of James Dean's "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955), Nicholas Ray left Hollywood in the early 1970s to work as a professor at State University of New York.

After an ambitious project fell through, he found himself assigning students to create "a boy/girl story" that would have a strong political focus. Riots and assassinations would provide the background for a story told largely through multiple images.

Such split-screen narratives had already proven popular in the 1960s with Andy Warhol's "The Chelsea Girls" and Norman Jewison's "The Thomas Crown Affair," but Ray pushed for a more extreme approach.

Frequently four or five images would be competing for the viewer's attention, and pulsing psychedelic effects suggested a light show.

The unwieldy final product, "We Can't Go Home Again" (1976), bombed at the Cannes Film Festival, but it's the kind of would-be groundbreaker that continues to stir interest long after its failure as a theatrical release.

A new, digitally restored version of the film is a collaboration between The Nicholas Ray Foundation and Ray's widow, Susan Ray (he died in 1979). It's playing at Northwest Film Forum along with Susan's "Don't Expect Too Much," a 2011 documentary about the making of "We Can't Go Home Again."

"Don't Expect Too Much" is the punch line for one of Ray's favorite jokes, and his droll delivery of it is one of the high points of "We Can't Go Home Again." Unfortunately, the rest of the picture meanders through a series of incidents that are never satisfyingly drawn together.

More entertaining is Susan's film, which makes effective use of interviews with crew members who remember what it was like to take a class from a major Hollywood director. Their anecdotes about Ray's creation of a filmmaking commune are vivid and affectionate, and they're punctuated with material from the film that is sometimes alarming but always informative.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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