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Bigger than legend

By CHRIS FUJIWARA  |  July 6, 2010

As early as THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1949; July 10 at 7 pm), his moving debut about lovers on the run, Ray is saying goodbye to Hollywood, and the farewell becomes more and more definite in his late films, which are mostly non-studio (until he became as much the victim as the director of independent producer Samuel Bronston's gargantuan attempts to re-create Hollywood in Spain). His film about Inuits, THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS (1960; July 30 at 9 pm), is neither an ethnographic film nor an exercise in trivial exoticism but a magical and cruel fairy tale with an ending of sublime impossibility. WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES (1958; July 31 at 7 pm) is, like John Cassavetes's Faces, affected by alcohol in its form. This happens so deeply that even the abruptness of transitions — partly the result of cutting that occurred after Ray was taken off the project — ends up heightening the intensity of the film, its excess of presence.

I said 11 masterpieces, not 11 perfect films. Their imperfections help make them great (with the exception of Wind Across the Everglades, the mutilation of which is tragic). In the order I value them: Bigger Than Life, Bitter Victory, The Lusty Men, Rebel Without a Cause, In a Lonely Place, Johnny Guitar, They Live by Night, The Savage Innocents, Wind Across the Everglades, Party Girl, On Dangerous Ground.

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  Topics: Features , Johnny Guitar, Nicholas Ray, Harvard Film Archive,  More more >
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