Let’s look at some pictures together. In one, a white-haired man stands wearing a black shirt and leopard print bikini underwear talking passionately with another man. They stand in what looks like a faded apartment surrounded by 16mm cans and reels, the tools of small-scale filmmaking. In another picture, the white-haired man sits at a desk surrounded by jugs of cheap wine. In others, young filmmakers work at makeshift edit stations, cutting the film on kitchen tables. In one more, the man stands shirtless, a patch over one eye, downcast, and pensive.
The man is Nicholas Ray. The place is the Chateau Marmont, a legendary Hollywood hotel. The pictures date from 1973 and they show a major film director at the bottom of his career. The pictures are powerful, even tragic, but only if you know who you are looking at. When I shot them I didn’t have much of an idea.
When I first met Nick, it wasn’t because of movies but about drugs. Many of the people I knew back thenwere … colorful … at best and had always been that way. So at first, I thought Nick was just another character. But Nick was different, for a while, he had been the highest paid director in Hollywood. He had married movie stars, made and lost millions and seemed a god to the French auteurs. Then he lost it all, (except the respect of the French) but even at the bottom, there was something that drew you to him. So I helped him out with the drugs he was looking for, hung out with him for a few weeks, made a few pictures, then moved on.
The images sat in a box for forty years, until I finally dug them out in 2012. Looking at them fresh, I realized they were special, printed them and had my first show. People came out to see and lauded the work; we had a lovely evening. A few weeks later the show was over. I packed the prints away and went on to other projects, but I didn’t exactly forget about them. More exactly I didn’t forget about Nick. When you spend time with special people, they leave an impression on you and even drunk and sick Nick was special. Not movie playacting special but the real gift from god fire inside power that burns a little hotter, and others can sense. Seeing the pictures reminded me of all that.
When I started writing stories about my life it was inevitable I would write about my encounters with Nick. I called the story Nicholas Ray at the Chateau Marmont, and in it, I told about how we came to be involved, our eventual drifting apart and then how we renewed our friendship in the last year of his life. I published the story on Medium in 2017, and people read it and liked it and for a while that was enough.
But as time went on, I slowly developed an itch to read aloud to others and to tie my pictures and stories together. So when Will Gillin, curator at The Door Gallery in Hollywood offered me a chance to read one of my stories there I jumped at the thought and offered him the Nick story along with the Nick pictures.
The Door is an unusual gallery. It’s connected to the oldest bar in Hollywood; a loud, dark dive called the Burgundy Room. It exists because the Burgundy wanted to add a couple of booths. To do that, they took over the place next door and cut through the dividing wall making spaces just wide enough for two small booths and leaving protruding walls on the gallery side that mark where the booths are on the bar side. The place makes no pretense of being high art. The floors are dirty concrete, and there’s usually a motorcycle parked inside, not to make a statement, but so Will has a place to park. For this story and these pictures, it seemed perfect. Not that Nick had sought out places like this but that it created an atmosphere where you could imagine a story like this had happened.
On September 7th we had an opening, and it was great. Friends came, and I read the story of Nick as I stood in front of the pictures I had made of him long ago. The noise from the bar competed with the words of the story, so people leaned in to listen, and I’ll tell you why I think this is important.
Telling the story adds a dimension to the pictures. Listening, Nick came to life in the minds of people who never knew him. And listening as a group, individuals become an audience, no longer separated by their own thoughts. As a group, we shared the experience, and a common emotional attachment was formed in the telling of the tale. Together, the story and pictures brought the audience into Nick’s world in 1973 and afterword they looked with fresh eyes to see what they had heard about.
There was music that night, and Scot Sothern read some of his stories and Will Gillin read one too, and I thought to myself that too often the gallery demands a high price of the artist. Because there is so much at stake we invoke aesthetics and talk about the influences of the artist, and we behave ourselves, standing in perfect white rooms sipping white wine and chatting. The celebration of the mystery which is our life and creation is often nowhere in sight. Last Friday night we celebrated by bringing pictures and the people who were in them back to life for a little while, and that felt like a very fine idea. – Andy Romanoff
Nick Ray at the Chateau Marmont
The Door Gallery
1621 N CahuengaBlvd., Hollywood, CA