You might have heard of director Nicholas Ray. He directed some classic movies, including Johnny Guitar and the mighty Rebel Without A Cause. If you haven’t heard of him then I recommend that you start learning about the man now. If you have heard of him then I recommend you take the time to explore more about his thought process and how he lived his life. Whichever camp you reside in, you could do a lot worse than kickstarting your knowledge of Nicholas Ray with this fascinating documentary, a look at just what happened when Ray moved from his role as Hollywood director to that of a film teacher. He decided that the best way to learn about the process was to get everyone making a film, learning every day and experimenting with their few resources and limited funds.
If this documentary wasn’t set up and structured so well then it would be easy to laugh at. Most of the runtime concerns a bunch of bright and loving students naively making something that they hope will last as a great work of art. Yet, for all of the counterculture lifestyle and love-in moments described you know, from the outset, that Nicholas Ray is a fantastic director speaking from experience. He may be trying new techniques and setting goals far beyond the reach of either himself or his students but he also teaches them plenty they will use in later life. Not just about film either, but about thoughts and how to get the best out of any situation. He does, in fact, end up teaching them some great life skills.
Despite the charisma and forcefulness of Nicholas Ray, I can appreciate that some people will still look at this documentary and see nothing more than a camera pointed at a bunch of amateurs attempting to make something artistic and worthwhile from an incoherent messy mass of film. The final result may be a bit of a failure but it’s an interesting one, something that ends up hiding the truth at its heart even while it attempts to show audiences a collection of images that add up to something honest and powerful. Described out of context it may sound like risible nonsense, but seeing one young man cut off his beard while being directed by Ray is one of the most emotionally raw and overt portrayals of the end of innocence that I’ve ever seen.
This is not an easy documentary to recommend to people but if you’re interested in film and just how much of the process of moviemaking can bleed off the edge of the screen and into every aspect of the lives of those involved then I urge you to give this a watch and see if you like it as much as I did. You may not but you don’t get anywhere without taking any risks, another point that the film makes.
Don’t Expect Too Much is showing on Sun 24 June (19:45) in Cineworld and Sun 1 July (18:45) in Filmhouse 1, with both showings also preceded by showings of We Can’t Go Home Again as a separate feature that you may want to try and sit through, as experimental and messy as it seems.
Writer/Director: Susan Ray
Stars: Nicholas Ray, Gerry Bamman, Richard Bock and Peer Bode
Runtime: 70 min