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Nick's Film - Lightning Over Water
Nick's Film - Lightning Over Water
Actors: Gerry Bamman, Ronee Blakley, Pierre Cottrell, Stefan Czapsky, Mitch Dubin
Director: Wim Wenders
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Horror
UR     2003     1hr 31min

Director nicholas ray is eager to complete a final film before his iminent death from cancer. Rays original intent is to make a fiction film about a dying painter who sails to china to find a cure for his disease. He & wim...  more »

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Movie Details

Actors: Gerry Bamman, Ronee Blakley, Pierre Cottrell, Stefan Czapsky, Mitch Dubin
Director: Wim Wenders
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Horror
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Horror
Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
DVD Release Date: 01/07/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/1979
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1979
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 31min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 2
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A Deeply Moving Documentary
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Wow. Watching Nick Ray die of cancer is not an easy thing to watch. Still, he had the desire to make a final film and even had an idea to make a movie about the painter from Wenders' "American Friend" sail to China in search of a cure for cancer. Given Ray's state of health, such a film was unrealistic, but Wim Wenders did rise to the occasion and help Ray complete this movie which ends up being about his own death.

Parts of it started out as being scripted, so the result is a part fiction/part documentary look at Ray's final days. One cannot help but be moved by such an intimate look at Ray and those who love him surrounding him.

The film transfer on this DVD is far superior to the old Pacific Arts videotape and laserdisc. Those older releases were not even made up of the proper cut of the film, so people now have a chance to see the definitive version of the movie (in it's correct aspect ratio) likely for the first time.

Ronnee Blakley's songs shine on the soundtrack and Wenders' commentary track (done in the Fall of 2002) is very insightful.

This movie can hardly be described as a happy film, but it is rare to see death addressed so honestly and with such care as it is in this movie. This is a great DVD."
Paco Rivero | Miami, FL | 10/15/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)

"Nick Ray is the director of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, JOHNNY GUITAR, THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, and THE LUSTY MEN, among other movies. In 1979, still a heavy chain-smoker, Nick Ray is dying of lung cancer. As a final wish, he wants to make one last movie, and places it in the hands of German New Wave director Wim Wenders. The result is LIGHTNING OVER WATER, a documentary record of Wender's complete failure to come up with a film about anything other than the dying of Nick Ray.

Wenders, who was concurrently at work on a project in California which required him to interrupt the making of LIGHNTING OVER WATER, basically moved into Nick Ray's New York apartment, with no other object than to film Nick Ray dying. But the two men were at cross-purposes. While Wenders wanted to film a documentary capturing the death of Nick Ray, Nick ray himself wanted to make a fictional (yet semi-autobiographical) film about a dying painter. It is sad to see the old man realize during the making of the film that it is actually a movie about himself dying. Wenders hadn't a clue as to where to take the film (he admits as much in his director's commentary, a DVD extra). Basically, the camera was just there to be with Nick in his final days.

The situation in the film is summed up in an exchange between Wenders and Ray in which they try to decide what the movie is going to be about, in order to give it direction.

Wim Wenders: I guess we just go on making this film?

Nick Ray: Well, I have one action, which is to regain my self-image . . . And for you, you have to select your own action, that which is closest to you.

Wenders: My action is going to be defined by yours. My action is going to be defined by your facing death.

Ray: Well, that would mean you're stepping on my back.

If this somewhat aimless documentary can be said to be about anything, it's about Wim Wenders stepping on Nick Ray's back while Nick Ray dies. (Nick passed away during the making of the film.) Having brought a mass of insecurities to the project, Wenders unloaded them on Nick, even confessing at the outset that he's afraid the film might end up merely exploiting Nick and his frail/vulnerable/naked state. In my opinion, that is actually what ended up happening. Worse, I feel that Wenders subtly tormented Nick's final days by constantly--and annoyingly--pointing out to Nick that he (Nick) is dying, as though Nick needed to be reminded of it every second of the day.

About fifteen minutes into the film, Wenders tells Nick, "I didn't come to talk about dying, but we might have to." The problem is that just about everything that comes out of Wender's mouth basically rubs Nick's nose in "mortality." In contrast, Nick still wants to live. Even though he's riddled with cancer and has only weeks left, Nick amazingly still manages to get excited about his life. Even in his final days during the making of the film, Nick manages a lecture at Vassar College (the full lecture appears as a DVD extra) and is hard at work directing a stage monologue based on Kafka.

Wenders constantly throws a wet blanket over Ray's good moods, reminding Ray of illness and impending death. Near the end of the documentary, Nick tells Wenders: "You're making me sick to my stomach, you realize that? You are. I don't know why. . . I am sick, and you are making me sick." Nick died soon after. Let me echo Nick and say that Wenders made me sick to my stomach also with this aimless movie. I feel that Wenders did not do Nick--or the project--justice, that he refused to really listen to what Nick wanted the movie to be about. Or perhaps Nick was just asking too much. In either case, I found the result exploitative rather than inspirational.

In 2002, Wenders recorded a commentary. The DVD gives you the option of watching the film while Wenders comments on it. What struck me most about the commentary was the complete lack of acknowledgment by Wenders of the way he adversely affected Nick throughout the making of the movie."
Lightning Over Water
John Farr | 09/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"An intimate portrayal of a brilliant artist's last days that manages to convey a sense of love and hope, without ghoulishness or maudlin sentiment. It's clear the two men not only admire each other's work, but are genuinely fond of each other. Ray comes off as remarkably gutsy and forthright in his predicament, and Wenders is the best of friends-someone quietly, patiently, willingly there for the ailing Ray, and who records the fading of his light as a final, heart-felt affirmation of who Ray is, and of all he did.

A Legal "Snuff" Film...
Kenneth A. Nelson | Pensacola, FL | 12/21/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)

"Although in obvious pain and near death, Nick is badgered and filmed in what should have been private moments with the people closest to him or not, at their descretion. Any "stranger" who gets pleasure out of watching an elderly man who is in the last stages of Cancer and counting his remaining minutes should evaluate their interest in the macabe.

I felt there is enough evidence of Elder Abuse to put the director and crew away for the prodding and torture they put Nick through to make this poorly made documentary. Had the dying man been payed by an actor, I might have been interested.

Watching the actual terminally ill person die was NOT entertainment. What's next... cameras in Hospices to film group sorrow and death?