With a wealth of experience across the USA, and in spite of an infamously tumultuous personal life, American director Nicholas Ray (1911-1979) worked in Hollywood as one of the defining (and redefining) figures of post war classical cinema. His contribution is underscored with poetically expressive and sensitive content articulated through his iconic, groundbreaking style. Ray’s dynamic filmmaking ability – and his proven success moving from black and white to colour film, from soulful melodrama to film noir – will be honoured in a season recognising the centenary of his birth.

You Can’t Go Home Again: The Ballad of Nicholas Ray opens with two pictures starring the iconographic existential Hollywood hero, Humphrey Bogart. Ray was something of an existential figure himself, with In A Lonely Place (1950), Knock On Any Door (1949) and, most famously, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) exploring themes of social injustice, personal isolation and the destructiveness of irrational stereotypes.

They Live By Night (1949) is widely regarded as the greatest debut feature in cinema history and first explores the vulnerability of youth, a theme that continued throughout his career. Johnny Guitar (1949), a kind of hyper-stylised feminist western, was ultimately despised by Ray due to the infamously difficult temperament of his star, Joan Crawford. Yet this extravagantly baroque film, shot in CinemaScope, is regarded as one of his best and most bizarre moments. Along with Party Girl (1958), this season of 35mm films celebrates the diverse talent and remarkable ambition of a Hollywood great.

You Can’t Go Home Again: The Ballad of Nicholas Ray launched last night and will screen for the next two Wednesdays, July 6 and 13, at ACMI.

melbournecinematheque.org