Most film director's with a resume the likes of Nicholas Ray usually find work in the industry until retirement amid the aristocratic splendors of Beverly Hills and Malibu. But Ray unlike most successful Hollywood directors had more demons and daring than most so when out of desperation the off beat director took a job teaching film in an upstate NY University it was not that unusual a fit. The director of They Live by Night and Rebel Without a Cause clearly showed a strong sympathy if not a complete understanding of the challenges of youth attempting to make sense of the world they are inheriting and in Don't Ask Too Much, a documentary by his widow and former student Susan Ray we witness his unorthodox attempt to get his work screened on the big stage (Cannes) again. Both comic and tragic in part, Ray's self destructive bent is not pretty to watch but admirable for its lack of self pity where in spite of the obvious career downturn he remains engaged and involved with his students.
Don't expect Too Much is divided between archival footage and present day interviews with former students with mixed feelings but all in agreement about the experience. Outside of Jim Jarmusch no major names in film making evolved over the next generation but it's clear Ray had a lasting impact on their life view. Ray himself is a fascinating character to watch whether drunk, stoned or sober cajoling or consoling students passing on both sage and contradictory advice while at the same time inquiring where he can get some killer weed in quantity. In many ways its clear that the anti-establishment adult with street cred dealing with a disenfranchised generation of hippies and freaks is a match made in heaven for the process. The finished product "We Can't Go Home Again" ends up being an incoherent disaster and while there are hints of bitterness and feelings of betrayal among the former students they all seem to a letter grateful for the experience.
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