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Dr. Ray and the Devils

Before I write more about Serbian film premier on the International Film Festival FEST 2012 I would like to present you Dinko Tucaković, Serbian film director, film historian, critic, essayist and the principal of Belgrade’s Kinoteka (Yugoslav Film Archive). This time he made rather interesting film with great care and distinctive humor depicting the old communist state of mind in Yugoslavia in 60s. The film’s called,  Dr. Ray and the Devils (Doktor Rej i đavoli)  film that closed the International Film Festival FEST 2012, 3 days ago and has already made great impact on Belgrade audience.

Two main roles in this film were given to a British actors and theatre directors Paul Murray for the role of Nicholas Ray and Gordon Murray for the role of Orson Welles. So here it is, an exclusive interview (Part I) with Serbian film director Dinko Tucaković, a man who “signed contract with the devil” and became cinematic Macbeth depicting a little part of the great Ray Nicolas’ life, for those with interest for Serbian cinematography, talking about his latest film Dr. Ray and the Devils.

FFM: Why film about Nicholas Ray?
Dinko Tucakovic;

Last year was 100-year celebration of the birth of great film director Nicholas Ray, where there was an attempt of celebration of this anniversary done by Nicholas Ray Foundation, in an attempt to regain interest for such a great author. We know that when we talk about the history of film writers such as Hitchcock, Kurosawa or Nicholas, with their quality bring up certainly the best out of film. It seemed for us to have acquired all the right circumstances to shoot such a film on this territory. His wife, Susan Ray made a documentary about her husband Nicholas Ray that was shown at the festival, and we here got involved in something very exclusive: to film the story about Nicholas Ray in  the 60's when he tried to resurrect his directing career that was in decline. Unfortunately, he did nothing much until his death, he failed to make a film, but nowadays he is still a cult films author. In private life, as in his career he had falls as well. And we think that the story is exclusive, and that is absolutely unknown to the general public in the world, that all this is good motivation to make a film, and to use his personality to tell the story of the Serbian 60's movie industry, and films that we are known by. I am thinking about production of films at Ratko
Dražević’s Avala Film productions to  the period of the cult Yugoslavian authors of so called old Yu new wave Žilnik, Makavejev, Saša Petrović, etc ...


FFM: What is the film Dr. Ray and the Devils actually all about?
Dinko Tucakovic:
This is the kind of film such as Edd Wood (Tim Burton), it is a genre that is called fiction-faction. We have based film on authentic figures on research and documentation of events that have occurred, and had artistic freedom to make situation eg. Orson Welles other great maverick or outcast from Hollywood, tried to shoot film in Croatia at the same time. The film was called The Deep, and we gave ourselves the freedom to assume that they
have met there. Therefore, we created a scene between Nicholas Ray and Orson Welles meeting in Croatia. They, in real life were great friends and both were born in Wisconsin, US. Nicholas Ray is a kind of mirror represent of a cultural scene in Belgrade 60s in our film, which at that time was very exciting period.  
Paul Murray as Nicholas Ray 

FFM: What was the interest of Ratko Dražević, the great communist leaders and director of Avala Film in shooting film by Nicholas Ray? Surely there was some interest, as for the politicians in Yugoslavia, given the rigors left-wing censorship of films and directors who were at that time coming into the country.
Dinko Tucakovic:
Dražević was very well informed man. As such, it was practically very strange encounter; it happened when Ray had no idea where he is or what he is. Dražević was the politician at the top of Yugoslav Communist elite at that time had a sense of its potential to collect Ray Nicholas to bring him to country. One of favorite movies of great communist president Tito, who was great film lover, was a film that has achieved great success as a social drama with us, and that started a brand new fashion trend, Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean in leading role. Dražević being very informed immediately realized that the lead authority of such name in Belgrade will make a blockbuster, as they have dreamed about winning Oscars. This has led to a very complex cooperation between two men who were very different. Essentially, but both had tremendous energy. They were visionaries on their own way; they both were lefty whatever that means: on one hands the world of Nicholas Ray and on the other side the world of communist Dražević. I think that was conflicts of interest and somehow metaphorically speaking about the situation and the times in which we live now. Goddard said that people should never make costumed film and should always make a film of their own time.  We have made movie about 60s that is a political metaphor of time in Serbia we live in now.  

Gordon Murray as Orson Welles        FFM: What was the movie wanted that Nicolas Ray wanted to shoot in Yugoslavia? Because he wanted to use horror script, written by Dylan Thomas? Thomas is, besides being a fantastic writer, was a strange and mystical man of who were told different things: one of the assumptions of Thomas that he was a man of British Intelligence. Making a horror film was against all political and other trends in communist Yugoslavia.
Dinko Tucakovic:
It was a mix of different genres, but was essentially a horror story: these are the famous and authentic characters, two men from Edinburgh who were robbing graves for corpses and were selling it to a professor of Edinburgh University. This is the famous story based on a true story in 19 century. It is not about the story here; it is about the way he wanted the story to set. I have original set design sketches of Ray for the film and I have a picture of the poster for the film, and everything indicates that story meant to be a horror film.

This Dylan’s scenario was realized at the end by Freddie Francis in the British production, and went off not to well, because the film was too limited, one-lined, chamber shooting style. Even though the film being rich in production, Francis was the director who also did a great photography on the film. The film was all nicely packaged. I know that Ray wrote good script, and I can say that the story's cast is not enough. Ray had lot of attractive ideas: his idea was for film to begin with scene where he would be standing with his associates on the cemetery, which is building further film. It is a scene when they would tell what will happen and how the film will roll. They would shoot the scene at the Zagreb cemetery. This is one of the few records that still exist and that was very modern for his time. We thought that our film Dr. Ray would begin with semi-documentary narrative sequence too.

I am very sorry that the film was not made: I think that was a good idea. Ray’s last two films were not so successful. Among other things, the last film that Ray shot in Beijing, and later in Spain, were great but not completed. A proof of how he was serious in its intentions to do something here in Belgrade, were well said through two anecdotes. One anecdote was that Ray offered to Dražević to mediate between the Avala Film and Wolcwagen Company and another anecdote was to sell his restaurant in Madrid, one of the most attractive ones in Madrid, and for that money to buy an apartment not far from here. He seriously wanted to situate the continuation of his career in Belgrade. Imagine that Nicholas made movie here how that would be reflecting to Serbian establishment. Unfortunately, it did not happen. I know how important it was for Orson Welles to stay in Croatia for the filmmography left behind. Therefore, you see, we can only regret what we did not have.     

FFM: Did Nicholas Ray actually knew Dylan Thomas?
Dinko Tucakovic:
As far as I know, Ray was in correspondence about the scenario with Dylan Thomas and his secretary Lucy who lived in London and that was direct contact between them because of the copyright law. Dylan Thomas was an enigmatic person, very interesting. I grabbed a book of his scenarios, and as far as I know Emir Kusturica in his American adventure, wanted to work by Dylan’s script White Hotel, which is now considered as one of the cult scenarios of our time. However, Dylan Thomas in film circles was considered as bad luck, just as Macbeth in a theater establishment. All Thomas' scripts are difficult to make a movie from because they are too good. Even as scripts are brilliant, it is difficult to make a good film by it. Somehow, his scripts are followed by bad karma. I think that the biography of Dylan Thomas would be extremely interesting film. There is an interesting stuff, for example, Dylan’s connections to British Intelligence, his interest in the occult, there are variety of things. He and Nicholas Ray were serious drug addicts, which very much influenced their writing.

FFM: The political attitude of old Yugoslavia and Tito for Nicholas Ray and his stay in Belgrade?
Dinko Tucakovic:
That was a great tennis game. In the sixties, there were the emergences for a new caste. People wanted to live better. They have not made films that have dealt with luxurious view of socialism. On the one hand, that was a period to work on ways of making models of socialistic regiment, of communist economy, on solidarity and on the other great actors of Hollywood came to Yugoslavia to film the big productions: there were big incidents occurred. For example. Richard Widmark was a great actor known as political right-winger who did not fear to speak dirty against former Yugoslavia.

Therefore, Dražević had to smooth things up upon the arrival of Nicholas Ray in Yugoslavia. However, with Nicholas seemed to be easy, because he fled from Hollywood and declared as lefty, and he wanted to engage and cast James Mason and Geraldine Chaplin. Chaplin came to Yugoslavia for the costume testing in Belgrade. Some costumes from the set remained in Avala Film and have been used for some other films afterwards. Stevan Petrovic was assistant to director Nicholas Ray on his film.

I did my research in 1980 on these people, including Ratko Dražević. My general impression is that no one made problem here in Serbia about film by Ray. The problem was the rivalry between Zagreb and Belgrade: Jadran Film and Avala Film, two film production companies in Serbia and Croatia, were disputing about the place where to shoot a film. And on the other hand, Ray was going through a dramatic phase in his life, because he was in a great crisis due to his drug addiction, he drank a lot, he was bisexual, which for Belgrade in that period was inconceivable. To that end, Ray was a charismatic figure. He found his way while in Belgrade really good; he drove red Porsche, which is for Belgrade at that time as if UFO landed. He liked to visit the studio of Serbian painter Mica Popovic, they were friends, he was part of the constructed cultural elite of the 60s, and I think that he liked good atmosphere and tension that existed here.

All this dramatically ended: he went from Yugoslavia to Germany and then went to Sweden and since then we have a history of his projects that he tried to hold on to. He has recorded episode omnibus called Wet Dreams, and Dušan Makavejev, Serbian director, did one of the episodes of omnibus. Producer of the film was a woman who produced porn films, Regina Miller, and later on with Wim Wenders, Ray made an experimental film called Lightning Over Water, during the filming he died of cancer.
  To be continued…. 

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