Lightning Over Water (1980)

67% – Critics
70% – Audience

Lightning Over Water Storyline

Director Nicholas Ray is eager to complete a final film before his imminent death from cancer. Wim Wenders is working on his own film Hammett (1982) in Hollywood, but flies to New York to help Ray realize his final wish. Ray’s original intent is to make a fiction film about a dying painter who sails to China to find a cure for his disease. He and Wenders discuss this idea, but it is obviously unrealistic given Ray’s state of health.—Karl Engel

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Lightning Over Water Movie Reviews

Nick’s last stand

Painful but beautiful, poignant but disturbing, this film is unmissable for anyone loving Nick Ray’s spirit and features. This director was not a Hollywood yes man, the common boot licker facing the moguls. His entire director life was a dog fight, and because he was a very sensitive and brilliant, intelligent but fragile man, he became a drug and many other substances addict, including sex and women. That slowly destroyed him. In this film, you watch him dying, filmed by his friend Wim Wenders. Useless to say that is not for all audiences, only die hard Nick Ray’s or Wenders fans. It’s more a document than a fiction feature. It’s better to watch it on DVD with the director’s comment, with all the indications and explanations; useless to see the “naked” movie, as it better for most of regular, ordinary movies. The thing that moved me the most was Nick’s eyes, glance, the eyes of someone very intelligent, someone certainly not full of emptiness. The eyes of someone very alive. Very lucid. And believe me, this film is eveything but peeping tom oriented. No, Nick Ray totally agreed to be filmed, and not dying alone. So painful. RIP Nick.

not a simple film

Wenders gives the viewer the impression that this is a simple movie, but it is not. Fans of Wenders will recognize director Nicholas Ray’s apartment as a location for the film, American Friend. But not only is Ray simply dying, he dies, and the “documentary” has to change, and so it does, with grace, pain, uncertainty, and a host of other emotions and observations. The music, much of it featuring Ronee Blakley, doing what sounds like an attempt at light punk rock and country-folk rock, with a definite Patti Smith influence, is very effective. Like every film I have seen by Wenders, it looks beautiful and often unusual, and the pacing is leisurely, and by Hollywood standards, slow. However, anyone who likes Wenders and likes Ray–and let’s face it, if you say you are a fan of American film, and you neither like nor know Nicholas Ray, you are an ignorant piker, poser–will benefit from screening this movie, and probably be moved like hell by it.

Stagnant Mess

Neither of the two protagonists in this pseudo documentary were served well here – Wem Wender and Nicholas Ray but shame particularly on Wender who was filming the last few months of Ray’s life.

Surely there was more to Mr. Ray than what was portrayed here? Could he not have had him commenting more on his vast body of work, his marriages, his children?

It all felt highly exploitive and downright contrived but perhaps Mr. Ray had put restraints on Mr. Wender’s access to his thoughts and feelings.

But all I’m taking away from this is the nightmarish chain-smoking of Mr. Ray (everywhere, hospitals, Vassar, cabs – yeah it was 1979!) and the endless, hacking, breath-gulping, rasping sounds of his coughing from lung cancer.

1 out of 10. To see a wonderful documentary on death and dying watch “Dying at Grace”.