Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Filmmaking > Lightning Over Water (Nick's Film)

Lightning Over Water


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: C+



Wim Wender’s visits and co-directs the last days of veteran director Nicholas Ray in Lighting Over Water (1980) with Ray himself.  Or does he?  Ray is supposed to be the subject of the film, but it also lands up being about Wenders.  The film is supposed to be a film with scenes of fictional narrative solely written by Wenders, but those moments eventually break down and pale as compared to the documentary moments.  Those scripted moments are docudrama, further confusing the matter.


In all this, Wenders gets overrun by his own pretensions and nearly trivializes Ray and his final days in the process, obviously unintended.  Film is inner-spliced with very bad analog videotape footage, a forerunner of the most visually pretentious thing going on in cinema right now, even if the video is digital.  But it is Ray that is the sole reason to watch, even when that becomes very hard to do.


For all of Wender’s admiration and film knowledge, it is most disappointing that Ray’s film career is not addressed at any length.  This may be a way of being different, but doing this would further explain Ray’s falling-out with Hollywood.  Many have tried to say it was over his 1963 film 55 Days in Peking, where he needed help to complete the film from director Andrew Martin.  He had alcoholism problems that did not allow him to complete the film as he should have, supposedly giving him a bad reputation, but many establishment figures were gunning for him after subversive works like Johnny Guitar (1954) and Rebel Without A Cause (1955), but you will find out little about this in the film.


There is the commentary by Wenders, where he discusses what he should have talked about in the film.  Does this guy love to do everything backwards and different or what?  There are brief bios on both directors, but the part of the entire disc is a 38-minutes-long piece called Nicholas Ray: Especially For Pierre, shot on the same lousy, early color videotape featured in the film.  It is the meatiest part of the DVD, where he makes his final reflections on his career and life, which makes the DVD worth getting if nothing else.


As for the film, the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is not bad, except when the videotape kicks in.  Ed Lachman is credited as cinematographer, though “videographer” is never added.  Does this mean the footage does not count, or that they were not ready to consider that footage legitimate?  Could they seriously mean they felt the film and video was equal?  Yet another unanswered question that makes one wonder if they may have been “winging it” just a bit too much.  The film’s sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 and 2.0 Pro Logic surround, like The American Friend DVD is (reviewed elsewhere on this site), but the 5.1 is a bit better, but not by the margin on the other DVD.  His commentary is once again 2.0 Mono.  Why these older films from Wenders are in 5.1, while the recent M-G-M DVD of the later Wings of Desire is only Pro Logic surround is another oddity.  This review might just set a record for them.


Finally, though, the most important question is if Ray actually co-directed the film, or was Wenders just being nice?  Well, Ray was the subject and will always be a better filmmaker, while merely including footage form Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952) may not be sufficient for a co-direction credit.  However, there is enough of Ray here in some kind of control that the credit is valid enough, especially since Wenders seems so lost.  This is a film only for the most curious.  This is also available as one of eight films in Anchor Bay’s second volume of Wenders’ works, reviewed at the following link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com