Films of Nicholas Ray (CFP)

Going Home: Essays on Nicholas Ray in Cinema Culture

Editors: Steven Rybin and Will Scheibel
Send 300-500 word abstract and a short author bio to Steven Rybin (
smrybin@comcast.net) and Will Scheibel (willscheibel@gmail.com); please copy both of us on the email.

Deadline for abstracts: December 1, 2010.
Deadline for final essays: November 1, 2011

We are currently accepting proposals for a new collection of essays on
Nicholas Ray, tentatively titled Going Home: Essays on Nicholas Ray in
Cinema Culture
. A university press has shown an interest in this collection.

Ray was the “cause célèbre of the auteur theory,” as critic Andrew Sarris
once put it, but unlike his senior colleagues in Hollywood such as Alfred
Hitchcock or Howard Hawks, he remains a director relatively ignored by
academic film scholarship. Marking the event of his 100th birthday, this new
anthology of critical, historical, and theoretical perspectives on his films
and work aims to revisit Ray in the wake of renewed interest in the
director, evinced by the upcoming restoration of Ray’s final film, We Can’t
Go Home Again (1976), for a re-release at the 2011 Venice International Film
Festival. Additionally, the Harvard Film Archive hosted a Ray retrospective
earlier this summer, Ray’s daughter Nikka is writing a memoir, author
Patrick McGilligan is completing a new biography, and film archivist Michael
Chaiken is at work on the sale of Ray material with New York rare book
dealer Glenn Horowitz.

The aim of this collection, therefore, is to demonstrate to academic film
studies the ongoing vitality of Ray’s cinema, to reassess his career in the
new millennium from different methodological approaches, and to consider his place within film culture at large. Essays in the book may touch on one of
the following topics, but others are welcome (historical approaches are of
particular interest):

• New readings of Ray’s classic films: They Live By Night (1949), In a
Lonely Place (1950), On Dangerous Ground (1951), The Lusty Men (1952), Johnny Guitar (1954), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Bigger Than Life (1956), Bitter Victory (1957)

• New readings of relatively ignored Ray films: Hot Blood (1955), Wind
Across the Everglades (1958), Party Girl (1958), The Savage
Innocents(1960), King of Kings (1961)

• Defenses of Ray’s disvalued or forgotten films: A Woman’s Secret
(1949), Knock on Any Door (1949), Born to Be Bad (1950), Flying Leathernecks (1951), Run for Cover (1955), The True Story of Jesse James (1957), 55 Days at Peking(1963)

• Reevaluations, reexaminations, and reinvestments in older frameworks
familiar from earlier writing on Ray (the ongoing vitality of auteurism and
mise en scène criticism to contemporary film studies and Ray scholarship,
for example)

• Ray’s career in media other than film: architecture, theater, radio, and
television

• The transnational reception of Ray’s films in Europe during the 1950s and
in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s that led to his canonization as a
‘Hollywood auteur’

• Ray in the studios, with producers John Houseman and Howard Hughes; Ray out of the studios, with producers Robert Lord, Paul Graetz, Stuart
Schulberg, and Samuel Bronston

• Ray’s abandoned projects

• The rise of youth culture and a youth market in the 1950s

• Gender, sexualities, and whiteness:
representation/identification/difference

• Screening social class

• Space: rural vs. sub/urban America

• Place: Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, the backroads of Oklahoma,
“the frontier,” etc.

• Outlaws and folk heroes, celebrity, and the myth of ‘the rebel’

• Marginalized figures, victims of society, and the politics of rebellion

• Ray’s non-Hollywood films: We Can’t Go Home Again (1973-1976); The
Janitor(1974); Marco (1978)

• Film performance, stardom, and its aesthetic/social/historical contexts:
Ray’s collaborations with James Dean, Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Robert Mitchum, Natalie Wood, James Cagney, and others

• Ray in film studies/film pedagogy; Ray as pedagogue

• Ray’s international legacy and influence on the French New Wave, as well
as on post-classical filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Curtis Hanson, Jim
Jarmusch, and Wim Wenders

• What happened to Nicholas Ray?

• Other topics are imaginable and welcome.

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Sons of Anarchy: Caregiver

The family troubles continue in the most recent episode of Sons of Anarchy, Caregiver. The episode is named for the caregiver of  Nat, Gemma’s father. Because Amelia observed Nat’s dementia induced attack on Tig, and realized that the refusal to take Tig to the hospital is suspicious,  Gemma has tied up Amelia the caregiver in a wheelchair in the basement, as she seemed far too interested in the $25,000 price on Gemma’s head. If this sounds a little bit like a plot from a Stephen King book, well, no surprise, as King himself in a cameo role shows up to help Gemma out with her caregiver problem. King looks good in his leathers riding up on a motorcycle. “How’s the drain in that slop sink?” he asks Gemma, and we don’t want to know why. King’s character’s name is Bachman, a reference to King’s own nom de plume.

The gang is dealing with the repercussions of the attack at the funeral. The good folks of Charming are turning a collective cold shoulder to SAMCRO, as they blame the actions of the motorcycle gang for the outbreak of violence.

Also showing up in this episode is Robin Weigert, Deadwood‘s Calamity Jane, which just adds to my hope of a future all-Deadwood-cast episode of either Sons of Anarchy or Justified.

More on Sons of Anarchy

“You got to hold onto family, kid. That’s what will get you through,” Gemma tells Tara over the phone during  “Oiled,” the most recent episode of Sons of Anarchy, a frequent theme of Gemma’s conversations, and a frequent theme of the series. At times, there are as many little homilies about family in an episode of Sons of Anarchy as during a prime time speech at the Republican National Convention. And, come to think of it, Gemma is much more of a Mamma Grizzly than Sarah Palin could ever hope to be.

This was a fairly slow-moving episode, seemingly transitional to the larger story arc. Jax finds out via a photo taken at a ticket booth that Abel is still alive. We discover the cause of the attack at the funeral in the previous episode. Again, the most interesting part of the episode involves Hal Holbrook, who plays Gemma’s father, and whose deteriorating mental condition (dementia) makes him believe that his dead wife is still alive. So, Gemma is trying to hold onto family, even while a fugitive from justice, but I’m not sure how much holding onto family is getting her through, as Dad’s erratic behavior nearly gets her in trouble (Spoilers follow!).

Nate comes upon Tig in flagrante delicto with Amelia (Nate’s nurse), and he mistakes his nurse for his wife, grabs a rifle, and defends his honor by shooting Tig (in the shoulder, and, Tig, who seems to be in no danger, also seems amused by the whole scenario, which tells you much about Tig, I suppose). The fact that they refuse to go to the hospital reveals to Amelia that something is up with Nate’s daughter, and she discovers that there’s a reward for information on Gemma. Dad’s gonna kill me indeed. I’m not sure what we’d do without family, but family allegiances in Sons of Anarchy seem to lead to trouble more often than helping them get through it.

The FX network continues to be place to find former Deadwood actors. Between Justified (star Timothy Olyphant, several guest stars) and Sons of Anarchy, there must be about a third of the Deadwood cast who have moved from the old West western to these two contemporary westerns. Dayton Callie (Deadwood‘s Charlie Utter) has played Charming’s compromised sheriff from the first of the series. Titus Welliver (Silas Adams in Deadwood) plays one of the Irish who are conspiring against SAMCRO. And Paula Malcomson (Deadwood‘s Trixie) is busy taking care of the kidnapped Abel.

Maybe FX will one day gather all the actors together and give us all another episode of Deadwood.

WLA Conference 2010

If you are seeking information about the upcoming Western Literature Association Conference in Prescott, Arizona, I’ve gathered together various bits of information posted previously:

Online registration for the Prescott Conference is available now: http://www.usu.edu/westlit/2010ConfRegForm2.html.

A couple of bugs still need to be fixed, so (1) don’t be alarmed if your receipt says “Conference Registration – 2009.” You’ll be registered for 2010. And (2) disregard the AV question. If you haven’t already indicated your AV needs in your proposal, you cannot add or change AV requests now. That line will be deleted soon.

Conference Schedule

The schedule for the 2010 Western Literature Association conference is available as a pdf download at the WLA website:

2010 WLA Conference

Getting to the Prescott

There are three options if you wish to travel by air: the first is through Phoenix Sky Harbor; from there, you may rent a car or take advantage of Shuttle U’s special WLA round-trip rate from the airport to the Prescott Resort. You can reach Shuttle U at 1-800-304-6114; mention WLA for $50 roundtrip rate. http://www.shuttleu.com/. It’s about 90 miles from the airport to the Prescott Resort.
Second, the regional carrier Great Lakes Airlines flies direct into Prescott from a few major hubs, including Ontario and Denver. http://www.flygreatlakes.com/. Finally, if your travel plans include visiting the Grand Canyon and you would like to fly into Flagstaff (about 75 miles northwest of Prescott), book with US Airways.
WLA field trips
Arizona is home to several world-class tourist destinations you won’t want to miss while you are here for WLA’s 45th annual conference. I am pleased to announce two field trip opportunities to the Grand Canyon state’s unique natural and cultural treasures. Both trips are scheduled to depart from the Prescott Resort at approximately 12:15 pm on Saturday, October 23rd. You will travel roundtrip on Shuttle U’s comfortable 13-seater vans with professional drivers.
Arcosanti http://www.arcosanti.org/ is an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona. Built according to architect Paolo Soleri’s theory of “arcology,” (architecture + ecology) Arcosanti is a living example of sustainable community. You will take a comfortable shuttle to the beautiful urban laboratory, be greeted there with a tour of the extensive, fascinating grounds, and have the opportunity to eat at the café and experience this amazing place on your own. Arcosanti is about 45 minutes from Prescott. This trip will return to the conference hotel by about 5:30. $35 per person.
Grand Canyon Village, a 90-minute drive from Prescott, is located on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Your driver will stop first at Hermit’s Rest, architect Mary Colter’s 1914 canyon-side masterpiece http://www.nps.gov/archive/grca/photos/colter/index.htm. Look for other Colter buildings as you stroll the rim of the majestic canyon. This field trip allows you enough time to eat at the one the rim’s fine restaurants and catch a breathtaking sunset before heading back to Prescott at 7:00pm. $45 per person.
If you are keen on planning a do-it-yourself trip, I recommend a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway http://www.thetrain.com/. If you wish to visit one of the charming nearby cities, consider historic downtown Flagstaff http://www.flagstaffarizona.org/, artsy Jerome http://www.azjerome.com/, or majestic Sedona http://www.visitsedona.com/. Finally, Prescott is located nearby several beautiful, family-friendly national monuments like Montezuma’s Castle http://www.nps.gov/moca/index.htm.

New Season of Sons of Anarchy

The FX network continues to be the network of the post-western, contemporary tales that evoke the classic stories of the Old West in modern settings. Sometimes those settings are the contemporary West, or, like the series Justified, even in Kentucky. The third season of Sons of Anarchy, which aired last night, is another contemporary western, set as it is in California. At times, the plots are so close to classic westerns that you could substitute the Sons motorcycles for horses and have a traditional oater.

Last season focused on a rape and revenge story (an extended version of Haddie Caulder, perhaps). This season takes another classic western topic–captivity–as its central story. The infant son of lead character Jax has been kidnapped–and, well, let The Searchers begin!

As the season begins, Gemma, wife of Clay (leader of the SAMCRO gang), is on the lam, in part as a result of her revenge against the members of the rival gang that raped her, and, in part, because of the machinations of my favorite federal agent, Agent Stahl (wonderfully portrayed by Ally Walker). Jax, in despair over the disappearance of his son, is a wreck. He’s spending a lot of time in this episode hanging around in a graveyard.

(On a side note, blogging as I’m watching the episode, Sons of Anarchy seems to be jointly sponsored by Harley Davidson motorcycles and Subway sandwich shops, an interesting combination to say the least).

Searching for clues to the whereabouts of the man who kidnapped Abel, the SAMCRO boys end up in a pretty good motorcycles and car chase. These chase scenes, which occur with some frequency in the series, remind me in style of the classic western outlaws on horseback robbing a stagecoach scenes.

Jax notes that he’s having trouble finding a balance between his allegiance to the club and his responsibility to his family. Maybe one key difference between the outlaw of the classic western and the contemporary western outlaw is that the contemporary outlaw has family issues to work through. Butch and Sundance never had to worry about having a son kidnapped—not to mention dealing with the kind of issues that Jax has with his father (deceased), his mother (Gemma), and his step-father Clay.

Ally Walker’s Agent Stahl is back! She does a great job of leaning menacingly against a wall during an interrogation. Stahl  is part of the reason Gemma is on the run. Stahl may have a “black heart” as Clay tells her, but she’s my favorite part of the show.

The best part of this episode: Hal Holbrook’s cameo as Gemma’s father, barely a minute on screen, but very moving, both in his emotional response to seeing his daughter (who he doesn’t recognize at first) and in his then calling for his wife (who’s been dead for six months) to come see her daughter. And, in a nice western allusion, we see father and daughter watching a black and white western on television (looks to involve some version of the shootout at the OK Corral—and not to give away too much about the end of the episode, but one might call that clip a bit of foreshadowing).

From this point on, SPOILERS FOLLOW, so proceed with caution:

Thinking back to the end of  “So,” it was a very effective conclusion to the episode, which erupted into the burst of violence that seemed just beneath the surface of much of the episode. The choice of Richard Thompson’s “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” as the background music was also inspired, as the choice resonates in multiple ways in the final scenes. The “Dad” of Thompson’s song is ‘Dad, short for Baghdad, and the “I” of the song is a soldier during the war in Iraq, lamenting the various dangers he is facing (Baghdad’s gonna kill me). The violence that erupts at Epps’s funeral, a drive-by shooting, combined with the song, suggests that Charming, California, has become a war zone, one where combatants and non-combatants alike are endangered, where a child can be caught in the crossfire. Also, by the coffin, we see a photograph of the “prospect” (Epps, who has been throughout the series a prospective SAMCRO member) who has been killed, and the photo shows him in military garb. ‘Dad didn’t kill him. He survived the war in Iraq, but he couldn’t survive his association with SAMCRO.

And the repeated refrain “Dad’s gonna kill me” might just as well be about Dad as Baghdad, as we’re left to wonder whether Abel’s dad Jax is ultimately going to get him killed. And step-dad Clay’s advice to Jax at the coffin may very well get him killed as well. The main characters in Sons of Anarchy all have their Daddy issues to work through, and the saving grace may be as Gemma states to “hold on to family,” but family is also what’s most likely to get them killed.

See Motorcycle Westerns for an earlier post on Sons of Anarchy.

A Western Themed Emmy Awards

The Emmy Awards this year not only included multiple shows with western settings (Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, etc.) nominated in various “best” categories, but several of those shows actually came up winners. The biggest winner of the group may have been Temple Grandin, HBO’s biopic of Dr. Grandin, who appeared dressed for the award show appropriately in one of her trademark western shirts. The Temple Grandin website posted this report on the Temple Grandin sweep in several categories (for the full report, click on the excerpt):

The very talented cast and crew of the HBO film Temple Grandin received most of the major awards in their catagory! It won for Best Made-for-Television Movie, Best Director, Best Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Music Composition, and Best Camera Editing at the 62nd Emmy Awards on Sunday August 29, 2010.

At the podium, the cast members humbly redirected the spotlight to Dr. Grandin herself, who attended the award ceremony with her mother, Eustacia Cutler. The movie’s director, Mick Jackson, said of Dr. Grandin, “She was an inspiration to all … and a hero to everyone in the autism world.” Claire Danes, who portrayed Temple in the movie, said, “It was an honor to portray the life of this brilliant woman.”

And Temple Grandin fans won’t want to miss this red carpet interview with her.

One of our favorite televisions shows here at the WLA Blog, Breaking Bad, did very well, with the Best Actor Emmy in a Drama going to Bryan Cranston for his performance as Walter White, the meth-cooking ex-high-school Chemistry teacher at the center of the series. The bigger news, perhaps, is that Aaron Paul, who plays Jessie Pinkman, Walter’s partner in meth-related crime in Breaking Bad, won a (much deserved) Emmy in the Best Supporting Actor in a Drama. Although I think of Paul as Cranston’s co-star more so than as a supporting player, it’s still good to see him recognized for his work.

Aaron Paul as Jesse in Breaking Bad.

If only Anna Gunn, who plays Walter’s wife in the series, could have won an award (she was nominated in the actress category), Breaking Bad would have had quite a sweep.

The Left-Handed Gun (and Peckinpah’s Kid)

The Left-Handed Gun (and Peckinpah’s Kid) created on 5 September, 2010 @ 18:56 [Autosave]
Title The Left-Handed Gun (and Peckinpah’s Kid)

For anyone who reads this and doesn’t know me or the terminology for the blog, let me note that I’m David Cremean, Past-President of the Western Literature Association (2009), and “Paha Sapa” is Lakota Sioux for “Black Hills,” where I teach and live, in Spearfish, just off of I-90, near Deadwood and a scant 10 miles from the eastern portion of Wyoming.

Well, it’s only been a bit over a year-and-a-half since I created this blog, and I’m finally using it for the first time. I doubt the world was any poorer for my non-blogging or will become any richer now that I’m trying to kick start it like a stubborn horse, but here it is. Last night I rewatched (on Netflix direct feed) this post’s title, Director Arthur Penn’s “classic Western” for the first time since, well, childhood or adolescence, and I’m now 52.

Penn is, of course, most famous for Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man, and as far as I can tell is completely unrelated to Shaun Penn or the other two Penn brothers. Well, in keeping with both of those films, this one is another 3 word title if we count the hyphenated term as a single word: The Left-Handed Gun (1958). It was Penn’s first film, and that fact shows all too well. It was also one of Newman’s earliest roles, and I think that shows a bit too well, too, though as always, Newman has his moments. The best-acted part is John Dehner’s Pat Garrett, though he too is given some awful lines and scenes.

So, as for Penn here: this black and white film, based on some type of script originally written by Gore Vidal and rewritten by Leslie Stephens, is pretty much an incoherent mess with little plausibility or believable suggestion of cause and effect and no apparent themes. It doesn’t even have a mood. Perhaps in the existential and Beat-laden late-1950s that incoherence is the point, though I doubt it. LHG also probably sticks too close to history in some ways (though not close enough in others; see below), or at least fails to use the historical or even the legendary aspects very well. Of course, with a director’s first film in particular, it’s hard to say what a studio may have done to destroy it all. Nevertheless, the outlaws themselves are made far too “good” and thus one-dimensional in Penn’s version.

Newman was in his early 30s when he played this role, supposedly a late teen-, earlier one-score-aged character. This problem has of course been a common one for so many Hollywood films (including many a Western, perhaps most egregiously in recent memory All the Pretty Horses). Of course, Yosemite Sam Peckinpah’s Billy, Kris Kristofferson, created a similar stretch, but in Peckinpah’s case it works because being older is intentionally a major part of the theme and the film’s world: KK’s Billy is not supposed to be “historical” or young. And Penn was reined in a great deal by the restrictions of his time: so many laughably bloodless shooting deaths here. As well, Newman seems too busy trying to do his best Montgomery Clift/Marlon Brando/James Dean (for my money, the greatest of these is Clift, a major influence on the other two). Newman also often overracts, though in this film he’s hardly the only one who does.

Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid obviously owes a great deal to this film and clearly references it at many a turn. Granted, both follow a lot of the historical/legendary facts about “The Kid,” but Peckinpah makes them fit his film. Typical of the Wild Buncher–see also Major Dundee–confusion surrounded his version (there are 3 different film cuts of it still available). Peckinpah’s film, at least in “his” preferred version, is easily the better of these two and to my mind easily the best of the many BTK films: it is at once more focused and more profound. Both films are full of cruciformic imagery of surrendering or dying men (though at least as I recall, it’s only with Billy in Peckinpah’s, and in Penn’s it is each of the 3 main outlaws: Billy, Charlie Boudre, and Tom Folliard).

One wonders if Cormac McCarthy’s kid/man’s demise in the Dantean “jakes,” the end-game in _Blood Meridian_, is an ironic reference to Billy’s use of the outhouse in Peckinpah’s film (in LHG, it is simply the semi-veiled Billy’s need for a trip “outside” that covers anything scatalogically). Even Bob Dylan’s mysterious (and alas, badly acted role) “Alias” in Peckinpah’s film has a precedent in LHG: Hurd Hatfield playing an odd and mysterious hero-worshipping southerner, Moultrie. (Hatfield is most famous as the star of the film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray.)

In addition to Dylan’s fine soundtrack for the Peckinpah film–though Peckinpah had few kind words for Dylan (of course, like John Ford, he rarely had many kind words for anyone). Riding along the same trail, the score for Peckinpah’s film involves the hymnic Dylan classic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” used in the film’s single most poignant, memorable, greatest scene, the death of the gutshot Slim Pickens character (one of Garrett’s allies) in the arms of his wife, played by the equally legendary Kay Jurado, as he moves down by the river for a variety of suggestive/symbolic reasons. One of these reasons is that he will never sail in let alone finish his boat (referenced by Gene Hackman’s Bill Daggett in Unforgiven, who never gets to finish his house, which produces William Munny’s greatest line of all, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it”).

Finally worth noting is that Billy the Kid was, of course, apparently right-, not left-, handed, since the famous photograph of The Kid holding a rifle in his right hand and wearing his revolver on his left resulted from a reversal of the negative. This photograph is actually part of Penn’s film and portrayed incorrectly, when at Garrett’s wedding Billy is photographed holding a rifle in his right hand and wearing his revolver on his left side.

Trivial Pursuit elements (along the lines of iMdb): At least one song I’m aware of and own on a vinyl album directly mentions the Peckinpah movie, is built around it in fact: the late, great folk-singer John Stewart’s “Take Me to Durango” (Mexico, where SP’s version was filmed): “I could play that part just fine you know,” “I never saw old Peckinpah,” “it’ll be the best Billy the Kid of ’em all,” and “shot him down in (New) Mexico,” among other lines. . . . Denver Pyle (as the ill-fated Ollinger, a part that in Peckinpah’s film is utterly inhabited by RG Armstrong) and James Best as Billy’s sidekick Tom Folliard later became Pa Duke and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coletrain, respectively, in _The Dukes of Hazzard_, the ridiculous but for a couple years of its run fun hit television show with plenty of Western elements built into it. . . . And speaking of Cormac McCarthy, likely one of his reasons for interest in “the kid” is that Henry McCarty (not William Bonney) was apparently Billy the Kid’s real name. This kicks up even more interesting serendipitous dust, at least forme: as I learned only 4-5 years ago, the Cremean family name descended from McCruimmen/O’Cruimmen/ McCrimmin/etc., which comes out of Counties Cork and Kerry in Ireland–and was a sept of the McCarthy Clan (also out of Cork and Kerry) and uses the McCarthy/McCarty coat of arms. McCarthy often seems to play with elements of his heritage, such as this. Adding to the serendipity: Hurd Hatfield from LHG died in either Rathcormac or Monkstown, County Cork, Ireland.