Thursday, August 18, 2011
They Live By Night. A
His most ardent fans have called him Nicholas "the cinema" Ray, which is a little like Steinbeck referring to East of Eden as "the first book." Pretentious to some, yes, but not a big deal as long as the genius and his work is worthy of it. Ray was an adventuresome, curious filmmaker driven by passion, booze, and the idea of exploring to create something that no one had ever seen before. He wore an eyepatch in his later years, which, along with his thick white hair mess is a literal and figurative representation of a man who lived it to the end. Yet for such a radical, mischievous eye, Ray liked tender stories dominated by love, which leads to a theme prevalent in his best work: using events that break the pattern of normal life (usually crime) to join a man and a woman together only to have them broken apart by that which united them in the first place. Ray's masterpiece, In a Lonely Place, exemplified such an idea, and it can also be seen in his astonishingly potent debut, They Live By Night. The movie could be praised as perhaps the finest first feature for any director, but really it's just a great film in general. It stars Farley Granger, a terribly underrated actor, as a young man with a good heart who suffers from bad influences. He's in cahoots with a couple of thieves, and at the start of the film they've just broken out of prison. Granger soon falls for the daughter of a friend, who shares his sentiments, and struggles to escape his life of crime. Their romance is destined to fall apart, but before it does Ray creates a love story road movie parable that almost too impressively encapsulates young love and its bitter terminus. These two people are so eager to be a couple that they jump off a bus and are married by a man who does weddings quick and cheap with a batch of second-rate rings, two employed witnesses, and an organ. Ray shoots the movie with haunting compositions as well as a series of innovative helicopter shots that suggest that someone, maybe God, is watching Granger and making sure he doesn't get away. His mistakes eye him, follow him, and destroy him.