This documentary, which was undertaken soon after James Dean's death, looks at Dean's life through the use of still photographs with narration, and interviews with many of the people ...
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This documentary, which was undertaken soon after James Dean's death, looks at Dean's life through the use of still photographs with narration, and interviews with many of the people involved in his short life. Interviewees include the aunt and uncle who raised him after his mother's death (when James was 9), his fraternal grandparents, a cabdriver friend in New York City, and the owner of his favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. James's father, who was alive when the film was made, does not get a single mention. Written by
David Glagovsky <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Somewhat Stilted but Penetrating Biography of the 50s Icon
Released two years after Dean's death at the untimely age of twenty-four, THE JAMES DEAN STORY is a valuable document as it includes interviews with many of the family and close friends who knew him - his grandmother, his aunt and uncle, his acquaintances in New York and Hollywood, and other workers who befriended him. Sometimes their testimonies seem somewhat stilted on screen, as if co-directors Robert Altman and George W. George had rehearsed their dialogue beforehand and were prompting them into making reactions. On the other hand their love for Dean seems palpable, despite his reputation for being difficult.
Narrated by theater actor and sometime director Martin Gabel, the film paints a portrait of a troubled personality whose father and mother died young and who was brought up in rural Indiana by his aunt and uncle. Although extremely helpful with the chores, young Dean always appeared lonely, as if in search for something he could never access. Apparently he used to spend a lot of time under a favorite tree, that not only served as a place of sanctuary but gave him the time and space to reflect.
He cut his theatrical teeth at school, and then decided to make the big move from Indiana to New York. After a short time in the wilderness, he landed a role in the short-lived production SEE THE JAGUAR (1952), but shot to stardom two years later in THE IMMORALIST, adapted by Ruth and Augustus Goetz from the novel by André Gide. His raw energy, stimulated by loneliness, produced an electrifying performance that outshone those of his costars Geraldine Page and Louis Jourdain.
Yet this was not enough for him - after a dispute with the producer, Dean walked out on THE IMMORALIST to seek his fortune in Hollywood. After spending many nights sequestered in local hostelries, hobnobbing with stars and hangers-on, he landed a leading role in EAST OF EDEN (1955), directed by Elia Kazan. The rest, as they say, is history.
Gabel's narration sounds a little portentous at times, but nonetheless we are given a portrait of a complex personality at once alienated from yet keenly desirous of praise from the world. His career really took off with the help of father-figure directors such as Kazan and Nicholas Ray, who understood his potential and made every effort to develop it. Dean was a mercurial actor - even more so than his illustrious contemporary Marlon Brando - who never gave the same performance twice, either on stage or screen. If a director could develop that raw energy, then they could be assured of a memorable performance from him.
True to the spirit of the late Fifties, we are not told about the actor's alleged bisexuality. Our attention focuses rather on the way in which the actor did not perform on screen at all, but simply drew upon his perpetual feelings of alienation and loneliness to produce a series of electrifying screen characterizations. Truly he was an icon of the times, whose early demise only served to enhance his legendary status.
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